Blue Jays shifting attention to pitching

After acquiring Upton Jr., Benoit, Toronto expected to continue search for arms before Deadline

Blue Jays shifting attention to pitching

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays upgraded their lineup and added to the bullpen, but the search for more pitching is expected to continue for the rest of this week.

Toronto completed a pair of deals on Tuesday. The first saw the Blue Jays acquire veteran outfielder Melvin Upton Jr. and cash considerations from the Padres for pitching prospect Hansel Rodriguez. The second involved Toronto sending reliever Drew Storen and cash to the Mariners for right-hander Joaquin Benoit.

With the non-waiver Trade Deadline looming on Monday at 4 p.m. ET, talks from around the league are starting to heat up. The Blue Jays are still looking to add depth to the starting rotation and possibly could explore adding another arm to the bullpen.

"There's not one team we haven't contacted on several occasions," Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said before the Benoit deal was announced. "We've contacted all 29 on several occasions in some way, and there's five to 10 teams we're talking to on a regular basis, and now it's mostly focused on pitching."

Toronto's needs at the Deadline revolve around the future status of right-hander Aaron Sanchez. The 24-year-old has been one of the top starters in the American League this year, but Toronto opened the year saying he would be under an innings limit, and he would eventually move to the bullpen.

Sanchez's seven scoreless frames

The Blue Jays have sent some mixed signals about their intentions since then, but by all accounts, the expectation is that Sanchez will still become a reliever at some point this year. If that happens, Toronto needs to acquire another starting pitcher, but if it doesn't, then it increases the need for more help in the bullpen. Benoit's arrival will help, but there is always the need for more.

The problem with trying to find another starter is that there are not many available. It's a very different market than it was a year ago when the Blue Jays acquired David Price, and other big arms, such as Johnny Cueto and Scott Kazmir, switched teams.

"You look at the situation we're in, maybe there are one or two teams in a better situation in terms of starting pitching, maybe there's three, but our starting pitching has been phenomenal," said Atkins, whose starting staff is second in the AL with a 3.67 ERA. "The big question is around Aaron Sanchez and how long will he [be] in our rotation. As it stands right now, our rotation is a difficult rotation to upgrade thanks to much more than the contribution of Aaron Sanchez."

Sanchez's strong outing

The list of available starters is not very long, but the group includes Philadelphia's Jeremy Hellickson, Oakland's Rich Hill (who has been out with a blister) and Los Angeles' Hector Santiago and Matt Shoemaker. A group of divison-rival pitchers, such as Tampa Bay's Drew Smyly and Matt Moore and New York's Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi, seems less likely.

The list of bullpen arms is long, and it includes players like Milwaukee's Will Smith and Jeremy Jeffress, Minnesota's Fernando Abad, Oakland's Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle, Arizona's Tyler Clippard and Colorado's Jake McGee, just to name a few.

"I do know that [the organization is] hunting it down pretty good," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "I think they're in on everybody that everybody else is -- the rumors that you hear. We've talked about some different things, [but] sometimes things come quickly out of the blue. They've thrown a lot at us, but there's only so many moves that you can make ... but yeah, I'd say that [pitching] is probably what they're focused on."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.