DUNEDIN, Florida – Despite a tweet reporting Ervin Santana to the Blue Jays as a done deal Saturday morning, the last marquee pitcher on the market remains a free agent.
The report made for an interesting day at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, a day that began with reporters scratching their heads at the absence from camp, for a second consecutive day, of starter J.A. Happ, who's battling pain and inflammation in his back.
"If the doctor tells you to stay off your feet, you stay off your feet," said manager John Gibbons. The skipper then joked, "He's not dead, I'll tell you that."
Happ has struggled in two spring training appearances. His back hasn't been right during either, which led general manager Alex Anthopoulos to openly muse that there are two, rather than one, available spots in Toronto's starting rotation.
If multiple reports suggesting Santana has dropped the term demand of a new contract to one year are true, the Blue Jays will continue to kick the tires. There were reports on Saturday that Toronto had offered Santana $14 million for the season, which is roughly the value of the qualifying offer he turned down from his former team, the Kansas City Royals. The Baltimore Orioles also are believed to be interested, with reports they had tabled an offer with a $13 million base salary that could escalate with incentives reached.
On the surface, Santana is a risky proposition. While he has been durable, throwing at least 211 innings in four of the last six seasons, he is 31 years old and there are concerns about the health of his right elbow. Santana's patented slider accounts for more than 32 per cent of the pitches he's thrown in his career, a heavy reliance on a pitch that puts severe torque on the shoulder and the elbow.
The risk is reduced to almost nothing if Santana is signed only for 2014. The Blue Jays have the money, can afford to cough up the second round selection in June's draft (their first round picks, ninth and 11th overall, are protected) and Santana is a better option than Happ.
The club shouldn't, and fans likely wouldn't, balk at a rotation of R.A. Dickey, Brandon Morrow, Mark Buehrle, Santana and Drew Hutchison. What to do with Happ would be a matter for a later date.
While some in the organization are concerned about Santana's propensity to give up the home run, the Jays learned through a raft of injuries last season that a club can never have enough quality pitching. If Santana struggles in the meat-grinder that is the American League East, again, there is no fretting when there is no long-term commitment.
The Blue Jays value the arms of Hutchison and Marcus Stroman, believing both to be ready to contribute soon to a successful team. While neither would be hurt by more seasoning at Triple-A Buffalo, Hutchison appears ready to return to the Blue Jays after a lengthy injury absence and Stroman's major league debut doesn't have to be far behind.
Santana could serve as a viable, experienced, bridge to Stroman and Aaron Sanchez.
Hutchison started and threw three innings in Saturday's 4-3 win over Minnesota. His only blemish was a two-run home run by top prospect Byron Buxton in the third. He struck out five Twins, including the side in the second, and was routinely registering 93-95 miles per hour on his fastball.
McGRIFF'S STILL GOT IT
Former Blue Jays first baseman Fred McGriff is back in the fold, serving as a consultant and an in-uniform coach this spring.
He's out on the field, stretching with the players and taking infield. Those are get-to-know-you opportunities for the long-time big leaguer.
"I'm just trying to get to learn these guys," said McGriff. "This is my first time in big league camp with the Blue Jays and just trying to see what makes guys tick and everything and help the pitchers. If I'm running sprints or taking ground balls with the guys it's just about getting to know guys."
Now 50 years old, McGriff appears fit enough to still be able to play. He does P90-X workouts, Insanity too, although he jokes he "can't swing (a bat) … those days are over.
"Just by me stretching and running with these guys, there may be a pitcher that says, 'Hey, Fred, what did you look for in this situation as a hitter or what did you do right there,'" said McGriff. "If I'm taking ground balls, they're trying to make Moises Sierra a first baseman a little bit and they've got Adam Lind and those guys so trying to tell them little secrets I had, little things I did because I was blessed to play 18 years."
McGriff spent four full seasons with the Blue Jays, from 1987-90. He was traded to San Diego, along with Tony Fernandez, in the famous deal that brought Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter to Toronto prior to the 1991 season.
Since retiring in 2004, McGriff has dabbled in broadcasting and served as an ambassador for the Rays, his hometown team and the club for which he played twice (1998-2001, 2004) While he enjoyed visiting patrons in the luxury suites to take pictures and sign autographs, he wanted more.
As a consultant, he'll spend a week out of each month visiting one of the Blue Jays' farm cities, treks that will take him to, among other places, Buffalo, Manchester, New Hampshire and Lansing, Michigan.
McGriff could see himself in a front office one day.
"I've got a brain, I was blessed to play and I've got some knowledge," said McGriff. "I would love to try to help the Blue Jays in any way I can to get back to a World Series. Use my brain, ask me some questions about some different pitchers, hitters, maybe try to get into management, be a decision maker. Say a team may be interested in making a trade, maybe they can ask me, 'Hey Fred, why don't you go check out this player, see what you think' or make some phone calls and see how this guy is off the field."
McGriff, known as the "Crime Dog," is able to relate to today's player despite the many differences he sees.
"They make a lot more money now," said McGriff. "When I was a rookie the minimum was $62,000 and now the minimum is $500,000. It's a whole lot different ballgame with social media and everything. It's so different. Guys, you may see them leave the field and go hop on the phone and get on their Twitter account or Facebook or something like that.
"The game of baseball is still the same," he continued. "You've got to try to get 27 outs and if our pitcher is better than your pitcher we're going to win ballgames. Even though the dollars have changed and everything and everything else that goes on, it's still baseball."
WILSON PLAYS HERO
Kenny Wilson played the hero in the Blue Jays 4-3 victory over Minnesota on Saturday.
His ninth-inning triple, a drive off the centerfield wall, cashed Erik Kratz with the game-winning run.
"It was just two strikes, looking for a pitch up in the zone and I was able to put a pretty good swing on it," said Wilson.
Wilson, 24, was a second round pick in the 2008 draft. He's been slow to develop offensively but the Blue Jays saw enough value in the defensively sound speedster to protect him from December's Rule 5 draft. He was added to the 40-man roster.
"When I got the call from Charlie Wilson it was pretty surreal," said Wilson. "I went to the (Arizona) Fall League, playing there and I was really hoping I could get added to the 40-man in November and when he asked me I was really excited."
A native of Tampa, Wilson has worked with the likes of McGriff on ways to shorten his swing. He'll need to improve on a six-year minor league batting average of .229 and OPS of .640. But if Wilson gets on base, he's a threat to run. He's stolen 194 bases in 490 minor league games.
Colby Rasmus reported no problems with his neck after playing catch and taking swings in the batting cage.
He's been out for more than a week with neck spasms and received a cortisone injection to settle down the affected muscle.
The plan is for Rasmus to work out tomorrow, enjoy the team day off on Monday, then play on Tuesday in St. Petersburg against the Canadian Junior team.