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jeff samardzija featureKinda sorta apropos of this morning’s discussion about big money extension for starting pitchers, and the woe that the Detroit Tigers are reaping right now with respect to Justin Verlander’s extension, there’s another angle on the Jeff Samardzija trade rumors to discuss.

On the whole, it feels like the American League is down so far this year. In recent years, there always seemed to be a few behemoth teams that, even by this point in the year, were clearly going to run away with things. This year, thanks in large part to a scuffling AL East and a disappointing Tigers club, you can really point to only two teams that stand out over the rest of the league (and not by much): the Oakland A’s and Toronto Blue Jays.

Each team leads its respective division, and, by drilling down into the data, totally deserves to. These are legitimately good teams and figure to be in the playoff picture long into September. But each team also has one glaring weakness: the starting rotation. To be sure, so far, each team has had good pitching overall (the Blue Jays have the 6th best team ERA in the AL, and the A’s have the very best), but when you actually review the starting rotations from top to bottom, you don’t exactly see a surefire playoff crew. Is Mark Buerhle going to keep pitching like a lefty ace? Can Sonny Gray be a staff ace and throw 200+ innings in his first full big league season? Can J.A. Happ be anything more than a serviceable 6th starter? Can Drew Pomeranz keep dramatically outpitching his peripherals?

I could go on.

Ken Rosenthal took on the A’s and the Blue Jays, in part, and within the context of their need to add a starting pitcher. The Blue Jays have obviously been involved in the Samardzija story for a great long time, and Rosenthal reiterated that they blanched in the offseason at a deal that would have sent Samardzija to Toronto for starter Drew Hutchison and one of pitching prospects Marcus Stroman or Aaron Sanchez. Further, Rosenthal says the Blue Jays are still indicating a preference for a rental, not wanting to commit the steep price it would take to pick up a Samardzija.

But they should, says Rosenthal. This season presents to the Jays a rare opportunity to not only make the playoffs, but make a run in the playoffs. Given the depth of organizational strength in the AL East, how many years is the path going to be this clear? Samardzija solidifies that roster in a way that just about no other available move could.

With respect to the A’s, Rosenthal specifically questions whether they’ve got a rotation that makes sense in the postseason (given Gray’s youth, Scott Kazmir’s fragility (adding another 20+ innings to his season?), and the unpredictability at the back of the rotation). He brings up the logical fit in Samardzija, but believes it’s unlikely that they’d go after him, in large part because they’d have trouble meeting the “exorbitant” price. Without a deep system – there are some really nice pieces at the top, though – and without any interest in dealing young talent off of the big league roster (because obviously), it’s hard to disagree with Rosenthal.

Indeed, the A’s had the 28th ranked farm system coming into the season, according to Baseball Prospectus. If you exclude top prospect Addison Russell (a shortstop), and you don’t dip into the big league roster, there are just a whole lot of question marks (including Tommy John patients Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin), and not really the makings of a package for Samardzija.

On the balance, then, this is probably about the last time you’ll hear Samardzija and the A’s connected in a trade discussion. Jason Hammel? Well, maybe. But we’ll get there when we get there.

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