- Associated Press - Thursday, February 17, 2011

DUNEDIN, FLA. (AP) - Jose Bautista is ready to prove he’s much more than a one-year wonder.

The Toronto Blue Jays are counting on it.

After leading the major leagues with a team-record 54 home runs last season, Bautista finalized a $65 million, five-year contract with Toronto on Thursday. By making that kind of commitment, the Blue Jays are banking long-term on Bautista, who had never hit more than 16 homers before last year.

“If we can’t bet on him, we can’t bet on anybody. That’s what it really came down to,” general manager Alex Anthopoulos said at a news conference to announce the deal.

The 30-year-old Bautista was eligible for arbitration. His hearing was postponed Monday at the request of both parties.

Bautista gets $8 million this year and $14 million in each of the following four seasons. Toronto has a $14 million option for 2016 with a $1 million buyout.

“I don’t think the pressure’s on now,” Bautista said. “I think the pressure has been on me since I made it to the big leagues, with the Pirates in 2004. You’re expected to perform as soon as you step on the field, no matter who you are or what your contract says.

“That being said, though, my work ethic, my preparation, it’s always going to be there,” he added. “I’m always going to be working hard and obviously playing hard, so hopefully I get the same results, or close to it, as I had last year. Most importantly, I’d like for us to win more games and hopefully make it to the playoffs and win championships.”

Bautista had requested $10.5 million and the Blue Jays had offered $7.6 million when players and teams exchanged proposed arbitration salaries last month.

Anthopoulos said giving Bautista a lengthy contract “is part of the risk” of signing a player after one exceptional season.

“The easy thing for me and the organization to do was to not do anything and say, `Well, it was one year,’” Anthopoulos said. “The conservative approach was to let him play it out. If he has a great season maybe he prices himself out of what we thought made sense. If he doesn’t have a good season, well, it would have been a good move not to sign him.

“But that’s not what this organization believes in,” he added. “We wholeheartedly believe in Jose Bautista as a person more than anything else. The ability speaks for itself. We’ve analyzed it up and down and the longer I’ve been in the game _ it hasn’t been that long _ but over time and the more I’m around players and observe things, you’re betting on people more and more.”

Bautista hit .260 with 54 homers and 124 RBIs for the Blue Jays last year, when he played 113 games in the outfield and 48 at third base. Toronto is set to use him at third base this season.

The contract is the fourth-largest in club history, behind those given to Vernon Wells (seven years, $126 million), Alex Rios (seven years, $69.8 million) and Carlos Delgado (four years, $68 million).

“Speaking for everyone in uniform, I think we’re all elated that he’s going to be here for quite a while,” new Blue Jays manager John Farrell said.

“I think the message that is sent to every other player in the clubhouse is, you play here, you perform well, you’re going to be retained. That goes without saying, but I think the fact that there’s no distractions for Jose going forward, any kind of continuity or stability that you create for a player, they’re going to be more comfortable and likely to be as productive as their talents allow them to be.”

Bautista has also played for Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Kansas City and Pittsburgh during his seven seasons in the majors. The Blue Jays acquired him in a 2008 trade with Pittsburgh.

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