Rosenthal: Jays’ plans to lure Santana were widespread, ‘already done’

The participation of the union indicates just how close the Jays were to getting Ervin Santana, says FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal.

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How advanced were the conversations among several Toronto Blue Jays players about deferring money to clear payroll for free-agent right-hander Ervin Santana?

Far more advanced than I previously reported.

The players’ association had approved the deferrals in exchange for the players receiving additional money later in their contracts, according to major-league sources.

"Everyone had signed off," one source said of the deferrals. "It was already done."

Everything, that is, but the deal for Santana, who declined a one-year, $14 million offer from the Jays to sign with the Atlanta Braves for the same terms.

The participation of the union indicates just how close the Jays were to getting Santana. The union allows players to defer money only for a comparable benefit and entertains such tradeoffs only when contract negotiations are at an advanced stage.

WRIGLEY FIELD TURNS 100

According to Sportsnet.Ca, the players willing to defer money for Santana were pitchers R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle, right fielder Jose Bautista, first baseman Edwin Encarnacion and shortstop Jose Reyes.

The effort by the players, first reported by FOX Sports on Thursday night, raised new questions about the Jays’€™ payroll flexibility for 2014. The team would have ended up paying the players a similar amount of money, just not this season.

The Jays, owned by Rogers Communications, ranked 10th in the majors with a franchise-record $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, is scheduled to make his first start for the Braves on Wednesday night. He signed with the team on March 12, just three days after Braves righty Kris Medlen suffered a season-ending elbow injury that created a desired opening with a National League contender.

Prior to that, the Jays’ Dominican players had staged a fervent recruiting effort for Santana, who is from La Romana, D.R. 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."

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.

The Jays’ payroll flexibility was a topic of conversation the entire offseason. One year after 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 of withholding financial resources from the Jays’ front office in a phone interview with FOX Sports last month.

"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."

Ken Rosenthal has been the FOXSports.com’s Senior MLB Writer since August 2005. He appears weekly on MLB on FOX, FOX Sports Radio and MLB Network. He’s a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter.