Blue Jays players were willing to alter contracts to land Santana

Ervin Santana is the one who got away for the Blue Jays this offseason.

Brad Barr/Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

It was as if the Toronto Blue Jays passed around a hat, trying to collect enough money to sign free-agent right-hander Ervin Santana.

Several Jays players discussed deferring portions of their salaries to clear payroll for Santana last month, according to major league sources.

The discussions, which apparently did not progress past the conversation stage, raise new questions about the Jays’ payroll flexibility for 2014.

The Jays, owned by Rogers Communications, ranked 10th in the majors with a $132.6 million Opening Day payroll, according to the Associated Press.

The imposition of a payroll limit by Rogers would make it difficult for the team to add salaries if it stays in contention. Likewise, trading high-priced players might become a priority if the team falls out of the race.

Santana, 31, declined a one-year, $14 million offer from the Jays to sign for the same terms with the Atlanta Braves on March 12. His sudden shift occurred after Braves righty Kris Medlen suffered a season-ending elbow injury, creating a desired opening with a National League contender.

Before that, the Jays’ Dominican players had staged a fervent recruiting effort for Santana, who is from La Romana, Dominican Republic. At one point, the players texted a photo to Santana’s cell phone, according to a source. The photo was of the players holding a sign that said, "Come to Toronto."

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It is not clear whether the impetus for the talks about deferring money came from the players or from the Jays’ front office. The players, however, likely would not have engaged in such discussions unless they believed the team was unable or unwilling to pay Santana $14 million.

Any deferrals would have required the approval of the players’ union, which frowns upon players giving up a contractual benefit — in this case, up-front money — without receiving a benefit of comparable value in return. The players would have been paid the same amounts if they had deferred money but at later dates.

Two agents who represent Jays players said they heard from their clients about the possibility of deferrals but never were approached by general manager Alex Anthopoulos about adjusting the players’ contracts.

Anthopoulos declined comment.

"I never took it that seriously," one agent said. "No way it would have ever passed the (union) unless there was some gain for the players who did that."

The Jays’ payroll flexibility, though, was a topic of conversation the entire offseason.

One year after making adding numerous high-priced veterans in trades with the Miami Marlins and New York Mets, the Jays’ costliest move coming off a 74-win season was the signing of free-agent catcher Dioner Navarro to a two-year, $8 million contract.

Agent Scott Boras, who represents free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew, accused Rogers in a phone interview with FOX Sports last month of withholding financial resources from the Jays’ front office.

"There is no one who has the asset base of Rogers," Boras said. "It’s a premium city. It’s a premium owner with equity. And it’s a very, very good team that with additional premium talent could become a contending team."

Boras went on to refer to the Jays as "a car with a huge engine that is impeded by a big corporate stop sign . . . a successful and committed ownership that needs to give their baseball people financial flexibility."