It's no secret the Blue Jays have to retool, if not rebuild, their starting rotation after this year's meltdown. GM Alex Anthopolous, while conceding Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero would be part of the rotation, didn't commit to them being the top two. One other starting pitcher figures to come from within, perhaps J.A. Happ, leaving two to be aquired through free agency or trade.
My target would be Tampa Bay's righthanded ace James Shields. He has two option years left on his contract worth $9 million next year and and $12 million in 2014. Trades within a division seldom happen anymore but the Rays are a special case. Their attendance is not good and they are forced to live within a pretty strict budget.
The Rays also have lefty David Price, who's this year's probable Cy Young winner in the American League. They may not be able to afford both, especially since centrefielder B.J Upton is about to become a free agent. If they try to keep Upton, it's possible Shields wil have to go.
I believe the Jays could offer catcher Travis D'Arnaud, centrefielder Colby Rasmus, and perhaps one of their young pitching prospects for Shields, who would instantly become the Jays number one starter.
If you are wondering why I would include Rasmus, it would clear the way for the Jays to pursue Upton themselves or Atlanta's Michael Bourn, who would be the ideal lead-off hitter, allowing Brett Lawrie to be moved down in the order where he should be.
If you think giving up Rasmus is too much, you could substitute Moises Sierra, who would give the Rays another building block.
Other potential pitching targets are A's lefty Brett Anderson (trade), Washington righty Edwin Jackson (free agent), Matt Garza of the Cubs (trade), the Cardinals' Kyle Lohse (free agent) and maybe Angels righthander Dan Haren (trade), who's heading into a $15.5 million option year in his contract.
Haren has been in double digits in victories in eight of his 10 years in the Majors, and is routinely up around 200 innings pitched per season.
In Search of 10 Wins
Henderson Alvarez has the chance to become the Jays' first 10-game winner of the season in Monday's opener of the doubleheader in Baltimore.
Why is that significant? Well, only once in their history (1979) have the Jays failed to have at least one 10-game winner in their 35-year history up until this season.
In 1979, their top winner was lefty Tommy Underwood, who went 9-16 for a Jays team that went a franchise worst (53-109) in their final season under their inaugural skipper Roy Hartsfield.
Though injuries have factored in, the Jays only have 11 games left in the season. It would be a little bit embarrassing not to have even one guy with 10 wins. Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow both have eight victories with two starts appiece left, so they would both have a chance as well.
For the record, the Jays mark for number of 10-game winners in a season is five. In 1987, Jimmy Key, Jim Clancy, Dave Stieb, John Cerutti and reliever Mark Eichhorn all hit at least 10 wins. And in 1991, Todd Stottlemyre, Jimmy Key, David Wells, Juan Guzman and reliever Mike Timlin all turned the trick.
In the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals have caught fire at just the right time, winning six of their last seven games. It looks as though the Cards are going to hold on to that final Wild Card slot, even though they are just 2.5 games up on the Milwaukee Brewers and 3.0 ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers. St. Louis should be able to keep it going when they open a series in Houston Monday night against the lowly Astros.
There are more question marks in the American. Although the Oakland A's are 2.5 games up on the Los Angeles Angels and 3.5 up on the Tampa Bay Rays, the A's open up a difficult four-game series against the Rangers in Texas on Monday night. With injuries to Brendan McCarthy and Brett Anderson along with Bartolo Colon's suspension, Oakland is using four rookies in its starting rotation. It won't be easy for the A's to hang on.
The Detroit Tigers blew a huge opportunity in the Central Division on Sunday by dropping a doubleheader at home to the Twins. Though they trail Chicago by 1.0 game for the lead, the Tigers still have the easier schedule over the final week and a half, and the White Sox have dropped five in a row.
If a sudden death playoff game is needed, my bet is it will come in the AL Central.
A long-time member of the baseball beat, Scott Ferguson covers the Blue Jays for TSN Radio 1050 in Toronto. His baseball blog appears on TSN.ca during the season.