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TORONTO, Canada -- Vernon Wells has signed a seven-year $126 million contract extension with the Toronto Blue Jays, the sixth richest deal in MLB history.
Wells, 28, does not have a deal with a standard contract structure. He will earn a salary of $500,000 in 2008 and $1.5 million in 2009 but he also gets a $25.5 million signing bonus payable in three installments on March 1 in 2008, 2009 and 2010
His salary climbs to $12.5 million in 2010.
He will earn $23 million in 2011 and the final three seasons will pay him $21 million annually, although he can opt out of the deal after the fourth year. The contract is designed to give the Blue Jays room to manoeuvre with their payroll.
"I certainly didn't want to sign here and hinder this team from getting better," Wells said. "A big part of this was to give the team some flexibility to get better as well. It's a great deal for my family and myself, but I think it also helps the ballclub go out and get some more talent at the same time."
The Blue Jays have the dubious task of trying to compete in the same division as baseball's two biggest spenders, the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, but Toronto owner Ted Rogers made it clear that his team will do what is required to remain competitive.
"This contract is to thank Vernon for what he's done and what he's going to do," Rogers said. "It's tough for Canadian teams in professional sports these days, but we have to be willing to compete for top players. Our fans expect us to."
Wells hit .303 with 32 home runs and 106 RBI last season and won a third straight Gold Glove. He is considered one of the best all-round outfielders in the game and a great clubhouse leader.
"Once I get out on the field money doesn't matter," Wells said. "I have enough money now, my kids won't be able to spend all that money, my family is set up for the rest of their lives.
"But this is about more than the money. It's about staying with an organization that I love, that has been good to me, and committing to them in the same way they have committed to me."
Wells would have been eligible for free agency after the 2007 season.
Only Alex Rodriguez ($252 million for 10 years), Derek Jeter ($189 million for 10 years), Manny Ramirez ($160 million for eight years), Todd Helton ($141.5 million for 11 years) and Alfonso Soriano ($136 million for eight years) have signed more lucrative contracts.
Wells will be able to opt out of the deal after the fourth year.