Red Rover, Red Rover, Let Ervin come Over

* The prevalent theme from Blue Jays players this weekend was a desire to land free agent pitcher Ervin Santana. Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind each echoed the sentiment. .... 2014 Canadians in College Letters of Intent 2014 Canadian draft list 2013 Canadians in the Minors 2015 Canadian draft list

By Bob Elliott

DUNEDIN -- The 4,850 fans at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium were into their usual seventh-inning refrain of “OK Blue Jays.”

Inside the Blue Jays clubhouse in the right field corner it sounded a lot like “Red Rover, Red Rover ... let Ervin Santana come over.”

Jose Reyes told how when the Kansas City Royals visited Toronto last season, Reyes had his fellow Dominican Republic countryman to his condo for dinner.

Jose Bautista spoke of attending pro tryouts with Santana in the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo.

Edwin Encarnacion talked about a home and home Little League series -- he stayed with Santana’s parents in San Christobal, Santana stayed at Encarnacion’s house on the return trip to La Romana.

And Adam Lind said adding the free agent gives the Jays better depth, allowing the Jays to be patient with their young starters.

Santana and his new agent, Jay Alou, lowered their asking price to a one-year deal. The Jays made a $14 million US offer. Far off the five-year, $100 million deal Santana was looking for when free-agent shopping season began. The Baltimore Orioles have made a similar offer, adding incentives as well. A third club in the National League is seeking ownership approval to sit at the table as well.

“Ervin and I, we’re friends,” said Reyes. “It would be good news if he signed here.”

And if he signed with Baltimore?

“It would be bad news,” Reyes said. “We’d face him and he’d be in our division.”

After Bautista graduated from high school, he went to camps with Santana, who is two years younger. Santana was signed in 2000 by the Anaheim Angels, while Bautista went to Chippola College and was drafted the same summer by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“He has friends in this clubhouse, he knows Nelson Cruz and a few other guys with the Orioles too -- I’m not sure if they’ll all make the team,” said Bautista, who like Santana, has left his agent, Bean Stringfellow, for Alou.

Bautista says the current system, which has free agents like Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew still at home three weeks before opening day, saw Ubaldo Jiminez and Cruz sign late and Santana still out there, needs to be addressed.

Encarnacion and Santana appeared in the Futures Game together as part of all-star week ceremonies, after playing on different sides in the home-and-home Little League series.

“At my place we played basketball out back on our patio, played video games (Nintendo baseball, Mario Brothers), and ate a lot of mangos from near my house,” said Encarnacion.

Yet the most resounding “Red Rover, Red Rover,” didn’t come from a player from the Dominican, but from Indiana born and bred Lind.

“This prevents us from rushing our prospects, allowing them to develop,” said Lind. “Everyone likes Drew Hutchison and Marcus Stroman, but how many innings can they throw this season? About 120?”

Hutchison threw 35 1/3 innings on his rehab trail through the minor league system after coming off Tommy John surgery, while Stroman pitched 111 2/3 innings in 20 starts at double-A New Hampshire.

“Maybe we should do what the Atlanta Braves did with Kris Medlen, having him ready for the rotation in the second half,” said Lind. “We could have one start the first half, the other the second half. If they both start in the rotation, won’t they have to be shut down by Aug. 10 or so? Wasn’t that when Washington closed it out for Stephen Strasburg?

“What happens if we’re in a race like the Nationals were?”

Right now, the Jays will go with R.A. Dickey, who started Sunday, Brandon Morrow and Mark Buehrle, with vacancies on the final two spots.

Contenders include Kyle Drabek, Dustin McGowan, Todd Redmond, JA Happ -- who has missed the previous two days in camp with a back injury -- Esmil Rogers, Hutchison and Stroman.

If Santana (“he has a real good change up, when he was with the Angels he threw it to me all the time, then last year with Kansas City he never threw it”) isn’t there, who would Lind like to see in the rotation?

“After the first three, I’d love to see Ricky Romero ... he can give us 200 innings ... and Hutchison,” said Lind. “I looked up Aaron Sanchez the other day. He might have been the best of the three prospects we had, but he threw 86 innings. He’s two years away from being in the rotation here.”

Red Rover.

Red Rover.

Let Ervin come over.

That was the prevalent theme Saturday afternoon.