03/12/2014 10:50 EDT | Updated 05/12/2014 05:59 EDT

Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos careful in his comments on missing out on Santana

DUNEDIN, Fla. - Alex Anthopoulos spoke volumes with what he didn't say on right-hander Ervin Santana.

The Blue Jays had been in the mix for the former Kansas City Royal with several Toronto players making a public plea to sign the 33-year-old former all-star. But Santana, a Dominican who counts several Jays as friends, elected instead to sign with the injury-ravaged Atlanta Braves.

"I probably don't want to comment on how close I felt we got or didn't get," the Blue Jays general manager said Wednesday.

Anthopoulos deflected many questions on Santana, leaving the impression he was not happy with the way the process had gone.

Asked if he felt used, he said "No, no. But (that's) probably the only thing I'm going to say."

Money and terms apparently weren't factors in Santana's decision to sign with Atlanta.

"He had a strong desire to pitch in the NL and there was no way to compete with that," said Anthopoulos, who is also Toronto's senior vice-president of baseball operations.

Was that always the case, he was asked?

"Very good question," Anthopoulos replied, before suggesting it was better directed at the pitcher's camp.

However the Jays GM did say he was told "recently" of that strong NL interest.

Such hints aside, Anthopoulos was clearly looking to take the high road,

"Obviously it's done. He made his decision. He's in Atlanta. Great signing for them. I wish him the best. Sorry it didn't work out with us."

Certainly the NL East, home to the .sub-500 Miami Marlins, New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies last season, might seem more hospitable than the thorny AL East. Especially when Santana is eligible for free agency again after this season.

Santana has spent his entire career in the American League, with eight seasons as a Los Angeles Angel before being traded to the Royals in 2013. His career record is 105-90 with a 4.19 ERA.

He became a free agent after turning down a US$14.1-million qualifying one-year offer from the Royals. It's the same deal he accepted from the Braves and likely in the same ballpark as the Jays' offer. Minnesota reportedly tendered a three-year offer but at a lesser annual rate.

Unlike last off-season, the Jays have been quiet in player acquisitions. So the Santana snub stands front and centre.

Anthopoulos said everyone in the organization wanted Santana to become a Jay. "I think we all feel we did everything we could," he added.

With Josh Johnson gone and question-marks over J.A. Happ and Ricky Romero, the Jays have been looking to bolster a starting rotation that features R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Brandon Morrow.

Asked about the paucity of additions, Anthopoulos instead pointed to the healthy return of players like outfielder Melky Cabrera and pitcher Drew Hutchison.

"We think Drew's got a chance to be outstanding and he's put himself in a great position to make this club. I think if he does make this club, he's got a chance to have a tremendous year."

Anthopoulos acknowledged the questions from fans and other observers.

"All that being said, I can understand skepticism that comes with the job, the performance we had on the field last year. I think we will show how good we are when we break (spring training). I think the guys that we have tremendous upside but we would have loved to add someone just to have depth."

"We weren't going to force a deal and do things we really didn't believe in just to make a splash," he added.

The GM said the Jays were "extremely close" to landing another starting pitcher in a trade only to see it not happen. He did not provide any other details.

Bottom line, he says, the Jays like their talent but know it lacks seasoning in some quarters. So the search continues for that experience.

NOTES — Happ, whose spring training progress has been delayed by back problems, threw a side session Tuesday and "everything felt good," according to manager John Gibbons. Closer Casey Janssen, who has had soreness in his shoulder, was scheduled to throw a side session Wednesday. Dustin McGowan is also back after losing eight pounds to the same stomach bug that hit fellow pitcher Sergio Santos.