TORONTO (AP) – All-Star center fielder Vernon Wells and the Toronto Blue Jays agreed Friday night to a $126 million, seven-year contract extension through 2014, the sixth-largest deal in baseball history.

“How can you not be happy?” Wells said during a telephone interview with The Associated Press several hours before terms of the deal were finalized. “Like I said, my family comes first. Obviously this gives me an opportunity to set my family up for a couple of generations. That’s the biggest part of this thing. And this gives me a chance to do something special in Toronto that hasn’t been done in awhile.”

The contract value trails only those of Alex Rodriguez ($252 million), Derek Jeter ($189 million), Manny Ramirez ($160 million), Todd Helton ($141.5 million) and Alfonso Soriano ($136 million).

Wells is due $5.6 million next season in the final year of his old contract. The extension calls for a $25.5 million signing bonus, payable in three $8.5 million installments each March 1 in 2008, 2009 and 2010. He will receive a salary of just $500,000 in 2008 and $1.5 million in 2009, but his salary jumps to $12.5 million in 2010 and $23 million in 2011. Wells receives $21 million in each of the final three seasons.

Under the extension, Wells has the right to terminate his agreement after the 2011 season and become eligible for free agency.

He gets a full no-trade clause and could earn bonuses of $250,000 for MVP, $200,000 for World Series MVP, $150,000 for league championship series MVP and $100,000 for receiving the most votes in his league in All-Star game balloting.

In addition, he will donate $143,000 annually to the Jays Care Foundation.

Wells hit .303 with 32 homers and 106 RBIs last season. He would have been eligible for free agency after next season.

He thought about trying to play with hometown Texas Rangers.

“The ballpark is 20 minutes from my house. It’s obviously a temptation, but (with) everything that I’ve gone through with Toronto and the relationships I’ve built there, it’s tough to leave,” Wells said.

The contract is the largest in franchise history – dwarfing the $68 million, four-year deal that Carlos Delgado got from Toronto in 2000.

“We’ve said all along we’re going to make every effort to sign him,” general manager J.P. Ricciardi said Friday afternoon.

Ricciardi inherited Delgado’s contract when the team’s payroll was around $50 million, but it will be more than $90 million next season. A stronger Canadian dollar and ownership of the Rogers Center is allowing the team to spend more.

In the final month of the season, Rogers Communications chief executive officer Ted Rogers agreed that the team needed to increase its $72 million payroll to compete with New York and Boston in the AL East. The Blue Jays finished second in the division, trailing New York, which had an opening-day payroll of $198 million.

Boston ($120 million) finished third.

Ricciardi said retaining Wells gives Toronto one of the best lineups in baseball.

“I know Gibby likes him in the third hole. We like our lineup. We think it’s as good a lineup as there is in the American League,” Ricciardi said.

Toronto could have traded Wells if it didn’t get an extension. While Toronto lost out on signing free agent pitchers Ted Lilly and Gil Meche, Ricciardi denied that those decisions freed up the money to sign Wells.

The Blue Jays didn’t include Wells in advertisements this winter, leading many to speculate that they wouldn’t re-sign him.

Wells said the contract doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll retire a Blue Jay.

“It all depends on where my career is,” he said.



AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum in New York contributed to this report.

AP-ES-12-15-06 2244EST


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