DUNEDIN, Florida – Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos spent a patient offseason waiting for the market value of free agent starting pitchers to drop.
In the end, Ervin Santana's desire to pitch in the National League and his willingness to play the waiting game won the day when he signed a one-year deal with the Braves worth a reported $14.1-million, exactly the value of the qualifying offer he rejected from his former team, the Kansas City Royals.
Anthopoulos was light on specifics but insisted neither term nor dollars affected Santana's decision. The Jays could have increased their offer to Santana. They can't change the league or division in which they play.
“Couldn't compete with it,” said Anthopoulos. “Wish him the best, obviously I'm sure us and other clubs would have loved to have had him but we're going to move on.”
Santana couldn't find a multi-year contract offer which suited him, due largely in part to the draft pick compensation owed Kansas City by the team that signed him. The preference to pitch in the National League, in and of itself, is understandable.
“I certainly understand it,” said R.A. Dickey, who pitched in the NL East for the Mets. “You get to face a pitcher every night, you don't have the DH and then the games are quicker and all that stuff, park's a little bit bigger. So, it makes sense logically for him on a one-year deal in particular.”
Santana is pitching for his next contract; a deal he hopes will be a multi-year pact. He will be 32 at the time. The Braves play in a division that features the young, rebuilding Miami Marlins, the Bernie Madoff-infected New York Mets and the expensive, aging Phillies. On paper, only the Nationals pose a threat to Atlanta and both could end up in the playoffs, one as a wildcard.
The Braves entered the fray on the weekend after two of their top pitchers, Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, experienced elbow pain. Beachy has had Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery. It appears Medlen is destined for the operation, which would cost him the season, although he was seeking a second opinion.
What isn't clear is how close the Blue Jays were to signing Santana before Atlanta emerged. It is clear they thought they close.
“Talking about Santana (internally,) that kind of put some things on hold, it kind of changed our opinions on some things but now that he's gone we're back to where we were,” said manager John Gibbons.
Asked if he thought Santana would sign on the weekend, Anthopoulos kept his cards close.
“Um, yeah, you know what, I'd rather not say. I'd probably rather not say.”
Was Anthopoulos surprised the Jays didn't land Santana?
“That's another good (question.) I'd probably rather not say on that one as well.”
The Blue Jays exercised a full-court press to secure Santana's services. The pitcher has a number of friends on the club – he's a native of the Dominican Republic – and he shares an agent, Jay Alou, with Jose Bautista.
None of it was enough.
The Blue Jays are back to square one. R.A. Dickey, Brandon Morrow and Mark Buehrle are locks for the starting rotation. At the start of camp, Anthopoulos indicated J.A. Happ had a starter's job, too, but has since backtracked.
Happ was away from the team for two days late last week dealing with back pain both he and the club say isn't affecting his ability to pitch. Happ has been knocked around, to the tune of a 40.50 ERA in two appearances, and is now part of the larger group of pitchers competing for the final two rotation spots.
Happ told TSN.ca on Saturday he hadn't been told of a possible change to his role. He was surprised and appeared vexed.
“Well he hasn't told me anything,” said Anthopoulos. “As far as I'm concerned, no one said anything to me, so I don't have any concerns.”