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Orioles and Blue Jays are finalists for Ervin Santana

FORT MYERS, FLA. — The Orioles remained in negotiations with free-agent pitcher Ervin Santana on Saturday evening and — along with the division rival Toronto Blue Jays — the club appears to be a finalist to land the 31-year-old right-hander.

Both the Orioles and the Blue Jays have made Santana a one-year offer that would pay him close to the $14.1-million qualifying offer he declined this offseason, according to an industry source, but at this point, Toronto’s offer is slightly more attractive than Baltimore’s.

Negotiations with Santana — the top free-agent starting pitcher remaining on the market — are moving fast. With just over three weeks until Opening Day, Santana wants to get into a camp. A deal could come within the next few days.

If the Orioles land Santana, it would mark the latest move in a remarkable spring training by Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette, who has already manipulated the qualifying offer process – which is designed to help teams that lose their free agents to big-market clubs by rewarding them with draft picks when they lose a free agent — to sign right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez (four years, $50 million) and outfielder Nelson Cruz (one year, $8 million) to below-market deals.

The addition of Santana would give the Orioles three of the top offseason free agents, all signed since the beginning of spring training following a sleepy offseason. The Orioles have also signed South Korean pitcher Suk-min Yoon to a three-year, $5.575 million deal, but he seems destined to open the season in Triple-A.

Earlier in the offseason, Santana was seeking a four-year deal in the $50-million range, but he was unsatisfied with the multi-year offers he was receiving, so he is now seeking a one-year deal so he can test the market again next offseason.

Santana is tied to draft-pick compensation through the qualifying offer process, but since the Orioles have already forfeited their first and second round picks to sign Jimenez and Cruz, the club would only forfeit their third-round pick by signing Santana.

The Blue Jays' first and second round picks are protected.

When asked if he and Duquette had talked Saturday specifically about Santana, Orioles manager Buck Showalter smiled and said, “You are trying to make me lie? Yes [we have].”

Earlier in the day, a report out of the Dominican Republic said Santana has agreed to a one-year, $14-million deal, but a source said that was not true. Duquette was asked Saturday about an report that Santana signed with an AL team. “I haven’t heard that,” he said.

It is believed that Santana received multiple multi-year offers, including one from the Orioles, in the realm of three years for $30 million.

But if Santana is able to attain a one-year deal similar to this year’s qualifying offer of $14.1 million, he — worst case scenario — could be in line for another qualifying offer next year that projects to be in the $15.1 million range.

Even though he hasn’t been on the disabled list since July of 2009, there has been some concern about Santana's long-term health — he reportedly had a sprained UCL in his throwing elbow in March 2009 — but Santana appears committed to prove he can record back-to-back strong seasons.

The addition of Santana would raise the Orioles' club-record payroll to around $118 million and make for a murky starting rotation. All five rotation spots are slotted, even though some spring competition exists for the back-end spots.

Santana was 9-10 with a 3.24 ERA in 211 innings over 32 starts last season with the Kansas City Royals, but he's a fly-ball pitcher with a penchant for allowing home runs — he led the American League with 39 homers allowed in 2012 — and owns a 6.38 ERA in seven career starts at Camden Yards.

That’s a better deal for Santana, because he’d be essentially looking at roughly a two-year, $29 million commitment instead of the three-year, $30 million deal he was offered this offseason.

eencina@baltsun.com

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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