DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Jose Bautista's historic 2010 campaign has resulted in the long-term security he had been searching for all offseason.
The Blue Jays officially announced the signing of Bautista to a five-year contract worth a guaranteed $65 million on Thursday afternoon. The Dominican native was eligible for free agency at the end of the year but decided against waiting to hit the open market for the first time in his career.
"This is one of the biggest days of my life, for myself and my family," Bautista said, sitting alongside general manager Alex Anthopoulos and manager John Farrell.
"Knowing what's gone on here, knowing that we're very close to being in contention for playoffs, loving the city, loving the team, why wait? I didn't see a reason to do it. They treated me fairly. I was going to be here for one more season, but I wanted to be here for longer."
The deal will pay the 30-year-old Bautista $8 million in 2011, with $14 million to come in each of the following four seasons. There is also a club option of $14 million for the 2016 season, which contains a $1 million buyout.
It's the fourth-largest contract to be handed out by the Blue Jays' organization, ranking below those signed by Vernon Wells (seven years, $126 million), Alex Rios (seven years, $69.835 million) and Carlos Delgado (four years, $68 million).
Bautista was originally scheduled to go through the salary arbitration process on Monday in Phoenix. Both sides were aware that if a long-term extension was not completed by the time the hearing started, then negotiations would be put off until the end of the season.
As the starting time for the hearing approached, both parties found themselves closing in on a deal. The number of years Bautista would sign on for had already been determined, but the total dollar value had not. Instead of going through with the hearing, they asked for it to be postponed.
"We were really negotiating up until the last minute," Anthopoulos said. "They had walked into the [arbitration] room, but we were so close. We were in the $60 million range.
"Ultimately, it's like you ask for a timeout ... just to get a little more time to talk, just because you're that close. If we were $20 million apart, then there's nothing to talk about. But we were $2 million-$3 million apart and just trying to iron out some final things."
The new deal comes on the heels of a season in which Bautista broke the Blue Jays' franchise record for home runs with 54. He ranked among the league leaders in almost every major offensive category and won the American League's Hank Aaron Award for his performance at the plate.
Bautista led the Major Leagues in home runs and extra-base hits (92) in 2010 and became the fourth player in history to record at least 50 home runs, 35 doubles, 100 runs, 120 RBIs and 100 walks in a season. The only others are Babe Ruth, Hack Wilson and Luis Gonzalez.
Prior to 2010, though, Bautista had never recorded more than 16 home runs in a season. His increase of 41 homers over his 2009 tally set a Major League record for the largest single-season increase.
That has led some to question whether Bautista will be able to duplicate his historic 2010 campaign. Anthopoulos said the team had analyzed Bautista's numbers "up and down" but what made him confident in the deal -- and Bautista's future performance -- was the slugger's overall commitment and character.
"If we can't bet on him, we can't bet on anybody," Anthopoulos said. "And that's where it really came down to.
"I don't worry about Jose Bautista. I don't worry if he's going to take care of himself, I don't worry about how hard he's going to work. I don't worry about the way he's going to carry himself. From a scouting standpoint, my eyes tell me, and our staff certainly believes the same way, that the ability is certainly there."
The Blue Jays find themselves in unique situation in that they do not operate under a set payroll. The club seeks approval from ownership on a case-by-case basis, and club president Paul Beeston said last month he could envision team salaries eventually escalating to between $140 million and $150 million, which is nearly double the current amount.
That type of flexibility is one of the main reasons the club felt it could take a calculated risk with the signing. The other factor is that it eliminated creating a potential hole that would need to eventually filled through free agency.
"We know we have the flexibility to do certain things, but if we don't have this player, we're looking for a player like this," Anthopoulos said. "On the free-agent market, it's a market for big-dollar players like this.
"I like to stay out of it because of the uncertainty. Normally, you're going more years, more dollars, no-trade clauses ... roads you don't want to go down -- you don't know the player as well as you'd like to."
Bautista's deal means he will continue working with a young Blue Jays core that has the potential to stay together for the foreseeable future. Prior to his signing, Bautista was the only core player in the organization who was eligible for free agency at the end of the 2011 campaign -- the rest of the club remains under control for at least the next two years.
Bautista's leadership and the fact that he can help bridge the gap between players from Latin America and North America were additional contributing factors in Anthopoulos' decision.
"He's not just a player -- he's a player that can be a mentor; he's a player that can be a leader," Anthopoulos said. "The higher-paid players, the ones with more experience and more time, people look at them as examples whether they want to be examples or not.
"Jose is himself, whether he was a utility guy whether he was the 25th guy on the team. We get to see him pull guys aside, we get to see him be passionate and working all the time. He just has everything you look for."