Left-hander Darren Oliver's decision on whether to continue his career is more complicated than it might appear.
Oliver, 42, wants to play, but is not willing to return to the Toronto Blue Jays unless the team increases his salary from $3 million, according to major-league sources.
The reliever would rather retire than be away from his family for a salary that is well below market value, sources say.
Oliver's wife, Melissa, and sons, Brock, 12, and Maxwell, 10, live in the Dallas area. Oliver, who pitched for his hometown Texas Rangers from 1993 to '98, 2000 to '01 and 2010 to '11, would welcome a trade back to the Rangers, sources say.
As it stands, he would be taking a significant pay cut with the Blue Jays coming off the best season of his career. The Jays, according to sources, want Oliver back, but are over budget and unwilling to extend their payroll further.
Oliver agreed to a one-year, $4.5 million free-agent contract with the Jays last January, figuring that he likely would retire at the end of the season, sources say.
The deal was front-loaded at Oliver's request, and included a $3 million club option with a $500,000 buyout. But Oliver went on to produce a career-best 2.06 ERA in 56 2/3 innings, and the Jays exercised his option on Oct. 31.
Free-agent left-hander Jeremy Affeldt, by contrast, re-signed with the World Series champion San Francisco Giants in November for $18 million over three years.
Oliver, who has produced an ERA below 2.90 for five straight seasons and 60 or more appearances in five of the last six, has outperformed Affeldt.
The problem for the Jays, sources say, is that they have shot past their projected $105 million payroll, and do not want to go beyond their current $120 million. The team might need to cut in other areas simply to accommodate Oliver at $3 million, according to a source.
Oliver's perspective is that the Jays already have demonstrated an "all-in" approach by making their blockbuster with the Miami Marlins and another trade with the New York Mets for right-hander R.A. Dickey. Why not extend a little more, particularly for a pitcher who has given the team a strong clubhouse presence in addition to elite performance?
A trade to the Rangers represents a possible compromise, and Oliver likely would be more flexible in his financial requirements if he could be closer to home.
No deal appears close, however. Robbie Ross and Michael Kirkman are the Rangers' current left-handed relievers.
"Darren Oliver has been a friend of mine for 20 years and a client for 10," said Oliver's agent, Jeff Frye. "Whatever he decides to do is his decision. I'm behind him 100 percent."