DUNEDIN, Fla. – The options continue to dwindle for both the Toronto Blue Jays and Ervin Santana, although that’s no guarantee that they’ll end up in a pairing by default.
On the surface Ubaldo Jimenez’s pending signing with the Baltimore Orioles for a reported $50 million over four years would appear to add some urgency to Alex Anthopoulos’s indifferent courtship of Santana, the last impactful starting pitcher on the open market.
But the Blue Jays at this point appear happily set to find their fifth starter internally, hopeful that someone like Drew Hutchison, Marcus Stroman or Kyle Drabek can deliver a similar level of performance to the free-agent right-hander for a fraction of the cost.
That’s a risky approach in the AL East meat-grinder, and Santana offers a more known commodity, having thrown 211 innings or more in four of the past six seasons, the type of stability the rotation needs (though there’s reason to be worried by how his career rate of 1.2 homers per nine innings plays at Rogers Centre).
At issue is just how much that’s worth, and the two sides seem to have had vastly different interpretations of that all winter.
Hurting the 31-year-old’s cause is the draft-pick compensation he’s tied to, something that also affected Jimenez. The Orioles, who were in a somewhat similar situation to the Blue Jays with a talented core and thin pitching staff, were reluctant to surrender the pick and give four years to an erratic yet talented starter, but decided in the end that they needed his upside potential.
That was the price of doing business, one the Blue Jays obviously were not willing to pay for Jimenez.
Eventually, prompted either by injury or underperformance, someone will also decide to ante up for Santana.
Other potential suitors for him may include the Seattle Mariners, who likely needed another starter even before Hisashi Iwakuma suffered a finger strain that will keep him out 4-6 weeks, the Colorado Rockies, and New York Yankees, who have already spent big this off-season but could use another arm for their staff.
The Boston Red Sox, still deep in the rotation even after Ryan Dempster’s decision to sit out the season, may emerge as well, but there are no signs pointing to that just yet.
And maybe the Kansas City Royals end up bringing Santana back after a successful season together. There's also the chance that an unexpected suitor could enter the mix, as the Milwaukee Brewers did with Matt Garza.
But at the end of the day, a pairing with the Blue Jays still looks to make a lot of sense for both team and player, a union that will only happen if both sides can adjust their expectations enough to find some compromise.