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Toronto Blue Jays' Jose Bautista hits his 50th home run of the season in his first at bat in their MLB American League baseball game against the Seattle Mariners in Toronto September 23, 2010. (FRED THORNHILL)
Toronto Blue Jays' Jose Bautista hits his 50th home run of the season in his first at bat in their MLB American League baseball game against the Seattle Mariners in Toronto September 23, 2010. (FRED THORNHILL)

Toronto teammates hope Bautista signs long-term deal Add to ...

The makeup of the bullpen remains a work in progress, and what young arms will emerge from the pack to fill the final two openings in the starting rotation is still a mystery.

However, the primary topic of discussion through the first two days of spring training continues to revolve around Jose Bautista, the Toronto Blue Jays slugger who was such an integral component of the offence last season.

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Bautista was here for a couple days, and then gone - flying out to Phoenix to attend Monday's arbitration hearing that was to determine his 2011 salary.

When the hearing was postponed at the last moment - moved to Friday to allow both sides to try to thrash out a new long-term deal with baseball's reigning home run king - optimism flowed through the clubhouse.

"Always rooting for the player, so if he gets a multiple-year deal that would be awesome - not just for him but for us, too," Blue Jays second baseman Aaron Hill said. "We saw what he was like in the clubhouse [last year] He had an unbelievable year and it would be good to go forward with him."

The cloak of silence on a potential new contract for Bautista descended over the organization Tuesday, as per the wishes of general manager Alex Anthopoulos.

There have been no reports on the specifics of the contract Bautista is hoping to wrest from the club, but a long-term pact in the neighbourhood of $10-million to $12-million (U.S.) per season doesn't appear out of place.

"He's probably looking for a four- or five-year deal, and it just depends if Alex and the ownership want to work out that kind of money," Hill said. "I can imagine he's looking for a good penny - make that a good bill."

Into the middle of this steps John Farrell, the team's new manager, who is still getting to know the player who came out of nowhere last season to wallop 54 home runs.

Farrell is counting on some quality time at spring training with Bautista, whom he is planning to convert to third base from right field, where the player feels he is stronger defensively.

"If we open up tomorrow, he's our third baseman," Farrell said. "He knows that. He's also been very clear where he feels like he can best help defensively, and we respect that.

"But the fact that Jose is willing to do what's best for this team speaks volumes about the person as much as the talent of the player."

It is really no surprise Anthopoulos is taking his time with the negotiation. Determining Bautista's worth is a tough call.

Over the first six years of his major-league career, Bautista hit .238, while averaging almost 10 home runs a season and 35 runs batted in.

Last season, he exploded for 54 homers, driving in 124 runs with a .260 batting average. Bautista also exhibited a strong sense of the strike zone, amassing 100 walks, the second-highest total in the American League.

Adding to the Blue Jays' quandary is the personable Bautista has emerged not only as a leader in the clubhouse, but has also become the team's most popular athlete.

Farrell said he noticed last season, when he was the pitching coach with the Boston Red Sox, that Bautista had the ability to adjust to what the pitchers were throwing to try to nullify his effectiveness. (Bautista hit eight homers off the Red Sox in 2010.)

"We tried a number of different things and we still saw some balls leave the ballpark," Farrell said. "Those are indications that this is a pretty special person, pretty special hitter."

Blue Jays relief pitcher Jason Frasor doubts Bautista's breakout season was a fluke.

"I don't know if he's going to be able to hit 54 homers again, but it seemed like he'd really figured something out," he said.

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