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Blue Jays move on from Santana, look internally

Club appeared close to deal, now looks to fill spot from inside organization

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Blue Jays move on from Santana, look internally

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Alex Anthopoulos was even more elusive than normal and sidestepped most of the questions regarding his pursuit of right-hander Ervin Santana, but it became clear over the course of several minutes there was a great deal of anger boiling beneath the surface.

Toronto officially lost out on the free-agent starting pitcher when Santana signed a one-year deal with the Braves worth $14.1 million Wednesday morning. It's rather apparent the Blue Jays thought they had a deal with Santana only to see him make a last-minute jump to the National League.

Santana's decision has left the club high and dry, and the failure to get his signature on a contract now means the Blue Jays must pin their hopes on a series of young pitchers instead of a proven veteran arm. It's not exactly an ideal situation, especially considering Toronto appeared set to move forward with Santana in its plans.

"Probably don't want to comment on how close I felt we got or didn't get," Anthopoulos said. "I think what I'll say is from what I was told he wanted to pitch in the NL. Couldn't compete with it. It wasn't money. It wasn't years. He had a strong desire to pitch in the NL, and there was no way to compete with that. 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's preference to sign with an NL club is particularly surprising considering the Braves weren't even in the mix just a few days ago. The Blue Jays appeared to be closing in on a deal with Santana on Saturday, and one report from ESPN Deportes even suggested an agreement had already been reached.

A conflicting report surfaced not long after that Santana was still trying to decide between the Blue Jays and Orioles. In hindsight, it appears as though Santana's agent, Jay Alou, might have been trying to stall the negotiations in the hopes that another team would jump into the fold.

That happened early this week when the Braves suffered a couple of major injuries to their starting rotation. No. 1 starter Kris Medlen suffered ligament damage in his right elbow, while Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor are dealing with their own injury concerns.

All of a sudden, that put Atlanta in the market for another experienced arm, and Santana decided to jump on the opportunity to pitch in a more favorable league, more favorable ballpark and on a team that still has hopes of winning the NL East.

Anthopoulos said Santana had a "strong, very strong" preference for the NL. When Anthopoulos was pressed for more details and it was mentioned that the Braves weren't even interested when Santana appeared to be nearing a deal over the weekend, all Toronto's GM would say is: "That's a good point. That's a very good point."

There also was a denial from Anthopoulos that the Blue Jays were used for leverage. "Normally I would say that, in this case, I don't think I would," he said. The insinuation appears to be that the Blue Jays thought everything was done, but when the Braves entered the negotiations at the last minute, the Blue Jays immediately found themselves on the outside looking in. That's one of the dangers of negotiating during Spring Training.

Anthopoulos spent the vast majority of a morning scrum with the media attempting to deflect most of the questions. When asked whether the Blue Jays thought they had a deal on Saturday, Anthopoulos said, "I'd rather not say, I'd probably rather not say." When asked if he was surprised or caught off-guard by Santana's decision, Anthopoulos was similar in his tone: "That's another good one. I'd probably rather not say on that one as well."

That left another big question which remained unanswered. If the Blue Jays thought Santana and his agent acted in bad faith or backed out of a mutual agreement, why not come out and say it? Why were most of the probing questions asked Wednesday morning answered with, "I'd rather not say."

"You know what? I want to be respectful of everybody," Anthopoulos said. "Like I said, I wish him the best, I would have loved to have had him, I know a lot of our players would have loved to have him. I think it's pretty obvious we were involved, it didn't work out, I'm trying to take the high road here."

Toronto entered Spring Training fully prepared to move forward with a starting rotation of R.A. Dickey, Brandon Morrow, Mark Buehrle and J.A. Happ, with a slew of candidates competing for the final spot. The clear favorite for that job is now right-hander Drew Hutchison, but over the past week, Happ's position on the team has come into question.

That leaves the Blue Jays still potentially searching for another starting pitcher. Barring any last-minute moves, that pitcher will come from a group of Happ, Marcus Stroman, Esmil Rogers and Todd Redmond. But in one of the most telling comments, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons also appeared to admit something unforeseen happened with Santana at the very last minute.

"Talking about Santana kind of put some things on hold, changed our opinions on some things, but now that he's gone, we're back to where we were," Gibbons said.

Now Anthopoulos must deal with the perception that he stuck with the status quo this offseason instead of upgrading his team. The lone addition Toronto made was signing catcher Dioner Navarro to a two-year contract worth $8 million.

The previously stated desire to upgrade the starting rotation never happened. Still, Anthopoulos thinks his team is going to prove a lot of people wrong.

"I can understand skepticism," Anthopoulos said. "It comes with the job, with the performance we had on the field last year. I think we'll show how good we are when we break. I think the guys that we have, have tremendous upside, but we would have loved to add someone just to have depth.

"If that had meant you can take a guy like Drew and send him down to have options and be your sixth starter, seventh starter, you're just stronger from an organizational standpoint, but we weren't going to force deals and do things we really didn't believe made sense just to make a splash."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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