Santana wanted to pitch in NL

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Four days ago, they were hearing reports they were “close” to signing Ervin Santana. But by Wednesday morning, “close” had turned to “never mind.”

So in the clubhouse of the Toronto Blue Jays, on the day Santana signed with Atlanta, the teammates he never joined were still trying to figure out what to make of what had just happened -- or hadn’t happened.

Asked to describe the reaction of the guys he plays with to the Santana news, Blue Jays DH Adam Lind admitted this group was “a little disappointed.” But Lind said he, personally, never allowed himself to get his hopes up.

“We had five months to do it and didn’t do it,” Lind said. “And then, kind of out of nowhere, we were in the hunt. It was just kind of bad timing -- or good timing, depending on how you look at it, from the Braves’ point of view.”

The Blue Jays will never know what would have happened had Braves ace Kris Medlen not walked off the mound shaking his forearm Sunday. But there was no mystery in the Blue Jays locker room about what Santana was thinking after the Braves joined the bidding.

GM Alex Anthopoulos told reporters Wednesday he was informed by Santana’s agent, Jay Alou, that “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.”

But that doesn’t take away the sting for a team that clearly thought it was closing in on signing Santana and one that badly needed him after finishing 29th in the big leagues in starting-pitcher ERA last season. At least it gave Blue Jays players an understanding of why Santana had just slipped away.

“I always looked at Ervin Santana as a bonus for us,” said R.A. Dickey, who went from the NL East (Mets) to the AL East (Blue Jays) a year ago himself. “I didn’t think he was a necessity, so it makes it a little bit easier.

“But at the same time, it’s hard to blame a guy for wanting to pitch in the National League. That’s what it seemed like it came down to for him. ... It makes sense to face a pitcher instead of a DH every time out, unless you’re at a place in your career where you really want to challenge yourself. And in the AL East, that’s what you really have to do.”

Without Santana, the Blue Jays are right back where they started this spring -- looking at young options like Drew Hutchison, Todd Redmond and Marcus Stroman to fit in at the back of their rotation. Dickey tried to make the case that that’s not a tenuous position as it may seem.

“I think Drew Hutchison is going to be a big part of what we’re going to be doing going forward,” Dickey said. “And we’ve got some other guys who are outliers who are going to contribute in big ways. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a big name. I wasn’t a big name in 2010.”

Nevertheless, all of those guys are still unknown quantities -- unlike Santana.

“We wouldn’t have had to protect him,” Lind said. “He’d just go out and throw his 200 innings and that would be it. Now we’re going to have to juggle some innings around, just because of the way arms are taken care of these days.”

Lind made it apparent that he has no problem with his team finding out how good its young arms can be. He’s just concerned about the ripple effects of trying to win with pitchers whose innings are going to be limited.

“It’s not a problem now,” he said. “But in August or September and we’re in a race, it’s just like [Stephen] Strasburg. And then what are we going to do?”

That, of course, remains to be seen. One thing the Blue Jays know, once and for all, is that wherever they find those innings, they won’t be getting them from Ervin Santana.