SPORTS

Blue Jays lock up slugger Edwin Encarnacion with 3-year, US$27-million deal

07/12/2012 11:25 EDT | Updated 09/11/2012 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - Edwin Encarnacion's time with the Toronto Blue Jays appeared to be over after a rough 2010 season that saw him demoted to triple-A and ultimately put on waivers.

Two years later, Encarnacion is one of the Blue Jays' most potent weapons in a lineup loaded with offensive potential. And now there is no more uncertainty concerning his immediate future.

The Blue Jays rewarded Encarnacion for his dramatic turnaround Thursday, signing the first baseman to a three-year deal worth US$27 million with a $10-million club option for the 2016 season.

"I'm very happy to be part of this organization for the next three years," Encarnacion said at a news conference. "That's why I signed to stay here. I love this country, I love Toronto and I love the fans."

The 29-year-old native of La Romana, Dominican Republic is having a breakout offensive year for the Blue Jays. He is currently batting .295 with 23 home runs and 58 RBIs. He is currently tied for fourth in the American League in home runs, fifth in slugging percentage (.595) and seventh in RBIs.

"We've really seen him grow as a player, grow as someone who quietly leads in the clubhouse as well that's very well-respected," said Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos. "The ability's always been there. I think it finally started to show at the end of last year and currently now."

Things have not always been smooth for Encarnacion though his eight-year career. Originally a member of the Reds, Encarnacion arrived in Toronto as part of the trade that sent third baseman Scott Rolen to Cincinnati on July 31, 2009.

He struggled at the start of the 2010 season, and after a particularly disappointing West Coast road trip he was placed on outright waivers on June 20. He cleared waivers because of his $5-million contract and was sent to Triple-A Las Vegas.

He ended up finishing the 2010 season with the Blue Jays, but was waived in the off-season and claimed by Oakland. When the A's didn't offer him a contract, he returned to the Blue Jays as a free agent.

It's been a winning relationship ever since.

"This game is not easy, it has its ups and downs," Encarnacion said. "They sent me down, I passed waivers, but that's part of this game. ... That's why you always have to keep your head up, keep working hard and don't worry about (what you can't control)."

Anthopoulos said Encarnacion impressed the Blue Jays with his positive response to adversity.

"I remember when he went down (to triple-A) he had a guaranteed contract and (I thought) he's probably going to be upset. The reports we got back from the staff in Las Vegas were unbelievable," Anthopoulos said. "It's rare. he could have sat there and said 'Woe is me," he could have put his head down, but he kept fighting."

Anthopoulos said he doesn't like working on contract extensions during the season because they can be distracting, but said the all-star break proved the opportune time to sign Encarnacion before the trade deadline and silence any rumours that the Blue Jays might be interested in shopping him around.

Encarnacion said he wanted to sign the three-year deal to provide stability for his family rather than face the uncertainty of off-season free agency. He also welcomed the opportunity to continue playing with his "best friend," Blue Jays star Jose Bautista.

"When I started talking about my contract, I asked (Bautista) and he loved for me to stay here with him, because he's going to be here for four or five years," Encarnacion said.

The Blue Jays also selected the contract of left-handed pitcher Aaron Loup and placed left-hander Luis Perez on the 60-day disabled list retroactive to July 9.

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