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Blue Jays sign Encarnacion to three-year extension

TORONTO -- What a difference the past three years have made for Edwin Encarnacion.

The native of the Dominican Republic was acquired in a deal with the Reds at the 2009 non-waiver Trade Deadline, sent to the Minors after slumping in 2010, designated for assignment, then recalled the following month.

On Thursday it all paid off, as the 29-year-old slugger agreed to a three-year contract extension worth $27 million -- including a $10 million club option for 2016 -- in a deal that will keep him in Toronto until at least 2015.

Encarnacion has become not only a key bat for the Blue Jays this season but a core piece of the organization moving forward.

"The ability has always been there. I think it finally started to show itself at the end of last year," general manager Alex Anthopoulos said during a news conference at Rogers Centre on Thursday. "The fact that Edwin wanted to be here and wanted to stay here -- and we obviously wanted him to stay -- it was a no-brainer for us to try to get this done."

Both the club and Encarnacion had options. The Blue Jays could have pursued a midseason trade or made a qualifying offer to Encarnacion at the end of the season that would have guaranteed the club Draft-pick compensation had he left. Encarnacion, meanwhile, could have created a bidding war for his services as one of the top free-agent bats on the open market.

Encarnacion, however, is happy it didn't get to that point.

"I love this country, I love Toronto and I love the fans," Encarnacion said. "I don't have to think when the season is over where I'm going to go. Now I know I'm going to stay in Toronto. We have a great group, a great time. I think we have a lot of opportunity for making the playoffs in the next couple of years."

Anthopoulos said he had no intention of trading him, and Encarnacion hadn't thought about his contract year. They both wanted to get the deal done, and Anthopoulos said the process moved quickly.

It wasn't until the start of the All-Star break that things grew serious, according to Anthopoulos, but he was able to quickly hammer out a deal with Encarnacion's agent, Paul Kinzer.

"If we were going to get this done, I wanted to have this resolved by the end of the All-Star break," Anthopoulos said. "I didn't want to start the second half still having him talking about a contract extension, maybe worrying about having to perform.

"I just didn't want it to be a distraction at all."

Neither did Encarnacion.

"I was thinking about the team, to help my team win games," he said about his mind-set. "I want to be in the playoffs; I concentrate on that."

Encarnacion has developed a strong relationship with All-Star teammate Jose Bautista, someone Encarnacion considers one of his best friends, and said that Bautista is very happy that he chose to ink a long-term deal.

Bautista's not alone.

In addition to Encarnacion's family, left-hander Ricky Romero attended the news conference -- the only Blue Jays player to do so.

Anthopoulos spoke to Romero during a recent offseason and was told how good of a teammate Encarnacion is, something the GM took to heart.

Encarnacion joins a roster of Blue Jays whom Anthopoulos has signed to multi-year deals since taking over as GM in 2009 -- including Romero, Bautista and Brandon Morrow -- something that Romero thinks speaks volumes.

"It shows you that he is building a core and that he wants to stay with this core," Romero said. "He sees the potential that this team has, that we all have. He is bringing us all together and trying to maintain the key pieces to this team.

"That's very important."

Anthopoulos talked with Encarnacion after Adam Lind was optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas, and the topic of Encarnacion's demotion to the Minors in 2010 came up, with Anthopoulos saying to Encarnacion, "I'm sure you didn't like me a whole lot."

But that time period is what Anthopoulos believes helped Encarnacion become the player he is today, and Encarnacion agrees.

"That is part of this game. You have to be prepared and ready," Encarnacion said. "Anything can happen in this game. That is why you always have to keep your head up."

In Encarnacion, Anthopoulos sees a player who has matured a great deal, and someone for whom he has the ultimate respect.

"I think, sometimes, when you hit rock bottom, sometimes that is where you find the inner strength, really find out what someone is made of," Anthopoulos said. "The reports we got back from the staff at Las Vegas were tremendous. ... His attitude was unreal. He could have sat down there and put his head down, but he kept fighting.

"That was a telling sign for me, as a general manager, of what the makeup was like in terms of work ethic and his competitiveness and his desire and drive."

Encarnacion is hitting .295 with 23 home runs and 58 RBIs while splitting time between first base and designated hitter, and his ability to play first is something Anthopoulos thinks makes him even more valuable.

Manager John Farrell could not be more thrilled about the signing.

"He has evolved into a true middle-of-the-order bat," Farrell said. "The fact that he is coming into his prime ... He has the opportunity and every ability to be this type of hitter for years to come."

Encarnacion worked diligently this past offseason and made a change to his swing -- keeping two hands on the bat throughout the duration of his cuts. That, along with the determination to reach his full potential, are just two of the reasons Farrell believes he has blossomed into the player he is today.

"Every hitter makes adjustments along the way, as we've seen -- it has been well documented with Jose [Bautista], now what Edwin is doing with a subtle difference to the finish of his swing," he said. "He has been able to produce a more repeatable swing. When he has gotten his pitch, he hasn't miss it too often.

"I would hate to see where we would be ... without his performance."

Encarnacion ranks among the American League's best in several statistical categories. He's tied for fourth in home runs and is fifth in slugging percentage (.565). He's also seventh in RBIs, total bases (174) and on-base percentage (.382).

The right-handed-hitting Encarnacion spent parts of five seasons with Cincinnati before being traded to Toronto along with pitchers Josh Roenicke and Zach Stewart in exchange for third baseman Scott Rolen on July 31, 2009. Anthopoulos was the assistant GM at the time; he took the reins from then-GM J.P. Ricciardi in October of that year.

"This is the right move for this organization," Anthopoulos said. "I think anybody would want to bring this guy back."

Toronto Blue Jays, Edwin Encarnacion