DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Every time a Major League general manager signs someone to a new contract there's an element of risk. For Alex Anthopoulos never has that risk been more apparent than when he reached an agreement with slugger Jose Bautista on a lucrative multiyear extension.
Bautista's five-year deal worth a guaranteed $65 million marks the largest contract Anthopoulos has handed out since he was put in charge following the 2009 season.
His decision to sign the 30-year-old Dominican native has drawn criticism from some fans and members of the media who believe it was premature to commit that much money to a player without a proven track record.
Anthopoulos understands where that talk is coming from but feels in this case, the potential reward outweighs the risk.
"The easy thing for me would have been to sit back and wait," Anthopoulos explained to a group of reporters Thursday evening. "If he didn't perform, nobody could criticize me for that. If he does perform, people could certainly make excuses for me and say, 'Well, how do you pay him after one [good] year?'
"That's the easy way out. If I ultimately believe in the player, and I ultimately believe in the performance, and that he's going to be a very good player for us ... then that's my job irrespective of the criticism. The risks [are] part of it, but that's part of what I do."
Bautista's 2010 banner season has been well documented. He led the league with 54 home runs while hitting .260 with 124 RBIs and 92 extra-base hits. It was a historic season, but also one that came from a player who never achieved that level of success at any other point in his career.
Part of Bautista's dramatic turnaround has been attributed to some mechanical adjustments he made at the plate. When he arrived in Toronto midway through the 2009 season, the Blue Jays felt his front foot was hitting the ground too late when he was trying to time pitches.
Bautista worked with former manager Cito Gaston and hitting coach Dwayne Murphy to rectify the problem. It didn't happen overnight and took a lot of extra work in the batting cage, but Anthopoulos believes he finally figured it out late in the 2009 season, which helped contribute to his new found power.
Toronto's GM is confident that adjustment along with other elements from Bautista's game make the signing a worthwhile gamble moving forward.
"From a scouting standpoint, we absolutely believe in the player, believe in the swing changes, believe in the tools," Anthopoulos said. "His eye at the plate we believe is going to allow him to age well and be a productive player.
"Jose has all of those attributes. He cares so much. Roy Halladay cared incredibly about winning and I'd say Jose is right there ... It's just the intense will to win that's maybe a little more vocal, a little extroverted, and something that I haven't seen before since I've been here."
When the Blue Jays entered into long-term contract negotiations with Bautista, they used the case of Dan Uggla as a reference point. The 31-year-old infielder was entering his final season of arbitration eligibility -- like Bautista was set to do -- when he signed a five-year contract worth $62 million with the Braves.
Of the two players, Uggla has been the most consistent at the plate over the course of his five-year career. He hit more than 30 home runs in each of the past four seasons and drove in at least 90 in each of the past three.
In the field, though, Uggla is considered a well below average defender. He has played second base for his entire career, but there are doubts about whether he has the athleticism to remain at the position long term.
Bautista has the versatility of being a plus defender at both third base and in right field. He also strikes out less and walks more than Uggla. All of those factors came into play when Anthopoulos ultimately decided how much to offer Bautista.
"Ultimately, it was a question of how far above Dan Uggla should he be?" Anthopoulos said. "When you start factoring it in and start comparing both players ... we end up $2 million more in salary."
More than anything else, though, Anthopoulos felt confident in committing long term because of Bautista's overall dedication to the game. He feels he has the type of character that isn't going to settle for the status quo.
"There's a lot of players out there that break our hearts," Anthopoulos said, "and that have all the ability in the world and we all sit there and say, 'Why isn't he better?' Normally it's what's between the ears. You like to convince yourself it isn't that, but it really is.
"If things don't work out for him, I know it won't be because of the way he goes about it ... I'll never question the decision-making process in terms of judging the person himself. I'll bet on a guy like this all day."