Kazmir trade leaves Blue Jays with tough choices

Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos, left, has some intriguing decisions to make after the Scott Kazmir trade. (Nathan Denette/CP)

OAKLAND, Calif. – The return of two mid-range prospects the Oakland Athletics received from the Houston Astros for lefty Scott Kazmir is sure to embolden the other buyers ahead of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

What it does to sellers, of course, is the more pertinent matter, and a handful of industry sources suggested Thursday in the aftermath of the summer’s first substantial deal that asking prices, at least for rentals, may be driven down by the transaction.

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The market buyers are sure to argue, has now been set.

Where that leaves the Toronto Blue Jays is interesting question, given that they discussed Kazmir with the Athletics but balked at demands for their top prospects – think Jeff Hoffman or Daniel Norris, who came up during the Josh Donaldson talks over the winter – in return.

No chance there, especially for a pitcher who has twice left starts early this season with arm issues. If you’re spending big for 10 or so starts you better be sure the pitcher is going to be able to make them, a factor that may impact how the Blue Jays pursue Cincinnati Reds ace Johnny Cueto, who’s had elbow issues this season.

Maybe that, combined with the Athletics landing catcher Jacob Nottingham and right-hander Daniel Mengden, a pair of A-ball prospects, for Kazmir, affects the return for Cueto. Maybe not.

Either way, the Blue Jays at this point have reason to believe they can land a top-flight rental starter without including Hoffman, which is a good thing given his especially high upside.

But important to remember is that every team evaluates prospects differently, and one team’s filler is another team’s stud. Opposing clubs may like only a few players in the Blue Jays system, and it’s those players or bust in any potential deal.

Clearly the Athletics got the players they wanted in Nottingham and Mengden, and given Billy Beane’s track record in such deals, it would be silly to doubt them.

What’s becoming more clear is that the Blue Jays seem increasingly open to taking on a rental, even if their preference is to spend prospect capital on someone with more control. To that end, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reported that they’ve spoken to the Cleveland Indians about Carlos Carrasco, whose under club control through 2018 with two club options beyond that.

Such a deal makes sense, and underlines what a wide net GM Alex Anthopoulos has been casting since he started working the phone relentlessly once the draft ended last month. Over that time they’ve discussed and scouted everyone who might become available, as they should given the obvious need for starting pitching.

The complicating factor for the Blue Jays is that they need starting pitching beyond this season, with Mark Buehrle and Marco Estrada both pending free agents, and a $13 million club option on R.A. Dickey. That leaves Drew Hutchison, the bullpen-bound Aaron Sanchez and the rehabbing Marcus Stroman as the only sure things for next season.

Hoffman, Norris, Matt Boyd and other prospects are especially important with that in mind, yet there’s opportunity for the Blue Jays this season, and the current roster has earned some upgrades, despite its flaws.

One top-flight starter could go a really long way for this team, allowing it to slot everyone else in the rotation down one spot into a more natural order. In theory, the extra innings logged would in turn help a bullpen set to be bolstered by the addition of Sanchez be more consistently effective.

A rested bullpen is an effective bullpen.

How much that’s worth to the Blue Jays in both the short term and long term is the issue the team continues to wrestle with. The Kazmir deal suggests the price may not be quite as high as initially thought.

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