Blue Jays weigh obvious and obscure avenues at deadline

Former San Diego Padres starting pitcher Tyson Ross. (Jeff Chiu/AP)

TORONTO – Trade talks are picking up around the majors ahead of the Aug. 1 non-waiver deadline, and the Toronto Blue Jays are looking at both obvious and obscure ways to improve the team.

“I know they’re looking,” manager John Gibbons said Friday. “Everything’s started to heat up.”

“They’re getting after it pretty good,” Gibbons added, without elaborating.

While the Blue Jays have been linked to available starters, they’ve also been looking at middle relief help, catching depth and outfielders, according to industry sources. As the market develops, one school of thought is that the Blue Jays may wait until closer to Aug. 1 in the event more teams decide to sell, adding more and better trade options for buyers.

Given that the Blue Jays are likely in the position to add some payroll, they also have the option of making August deals in which they take on money. That would be in contrast to the Boston Red Sox’s approach of jumping the market and paying a premium in prospect capital as they did for Drew Pomeranz, a tactic that wouldn’t work for the Blue Jays given the need to carefully manage internal assets after last summer’s splurge.

Young arms like Sean Reid-Foley and Justin Maese are among the team’s prospects to have increased their value this season, along with Futures Game participants Angel Perdomo and Francisco Rios, giving the Blue Jays pieces to work with, in contrast to the common perception.

Where might they be looking? Here are some possibilities:

• The Blue Jays have been on the San Diego Padres for a while, knowing they’re among the teams clearly selling right now.

Starters Andrew Cashner and the injured Tyson Ross (who is working toward a mid-August return, potentially timing with Aaron Sanchez’s transition to the bullpen) are potential fits, while lefty reliever Ryan Buchter would make a good long-term piece if the price was right.

Should they want to revisit the search for an outfielder with control beyond this season, Melvin Upton Jr., could be a fit, offering some power, defensive versatility and AL East experience.

• The Blue Jays have also been watching the Philadelphia Phillies, who have right-hander Jeremy Hellickson and catcher Carlos Ruiz among their many trade candidates.

Hellickson is another potential fill-in once Sanchez transitions, but would be a rental. Ruiz, meanwhile, is a big ticket with an $8.5 million this season but comes with a reasonable $4.5 million option with a $500,000 buyout for 2017.

Russell Martin’s slip-up in the sauna underlined how thin the Blue Jays are organizationally at catcher. Adding someone like Ruiz would add both protection and help give Martin more regular rest.

• Another potential option at catcher is Erik Kratz, who recently became a free agent after being outrighted by the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Blue Jays are familiar with him from 2014, when he spent parts of the season with them before being dealt with Liam Hendriks for Danny Valencia.

• The Chicago White Sox are reportedly on the fence as to whether they’re selling or buying and while teams will be salivating at the chance to get starters Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, an interesting option would be Zach Duke.

The left-handed reliever was pursued by the Blue Jays prior to the 2015 season and he ended up signing with the White Sox. Aside from being an immediate upgrade, he also comes with another year of control at $5.5 million.

While the Blue Jays could undoubtedly use pitching help, they don’t have glaring weaknesses the way they did a year ago, when David Price replaced Felix Doubront in what was just about the biggest upgrade imaginable. With no huge splash required, the challenge becomes weighing a wide range of options before determining when and where to use their chips.

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