Encarnacion makes bittersweet return to face Blue Jays

May 8 2017, 3:05 am

In retrospect, it’s remarkable Edwin Encarnacion didn’t end up re-signing with the Toronto Blue Jays.

In his mind, he wanted to come back to Toronto. The Blue Jays put forth a respectable contract offer. The want and desire was there from both sides to get a deal done in principal. And yet, both went their separate ways as Encarnacion ended up with the Cleveland Indians and the Blue Jays got Kendrys Morales instead.

That’s why as Encarnacion prepares for his first game back in Toronto as a member of the Indians on Monday, this evening will be a bittersweet homecoming of sorts. It’s a reminder of what could have been with the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Blue Jays’ departure with Encarnacion was unnecessarily complicated and the breakup was messy to say the least. The back-and-forth negotiations between the Jays’ front office and Encarnacion’s agent played out for all to see, and neither side really got what they wanted.

Last month, Encarnacion told FanRag Sports about his desire to finish his career in a Blue Jays uniform:

“I was really sad. I spent seven seasons in Toronto and it was home for me. I thought I would finish my career there.”

This is a guy who genuinely adored his time in Toronto playing for the Jays. After all, Toronto is where Encarnacion blossomed into one of the best power hitters in baseball.

After seven years meddling as a struggling third baseman, something finally “clicked” with the Blue Jays during Encarnacion’s breakout campaign of 2012. Much like Jose Bautista, Encarnacion discovered his power stroke in a Blue Jays uniform.

The 34-year-old will always likely hold the Blue Jays in high regard as the team that helped him become one of the most feared sluggers in the game. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why he wanted to stay in Toronto.

For many years, it was incredibly difficult to persuade free agents to play for the Jays. To come across the border to live and play in Canada and to play on artificial turf has always been a tough sell. Prior to being a competitive club the last few years, it was like pulling teeth trying to get players to come to Toronto.

With Encarnacion, the heavy lifting was already done; he just wanted a fair offer. For whatever reason, Encarnacion’s agent felt like they could do better than $80 million from the Blue Jays and went to market. They ended up signing for $20 million less and went to Cleveland.

That’s no slight on Cleveland, they were the American League Champions last season. They pushed the Chicago Cubs to the brink of elimination in the World Series last year. For a free agent, Cleveland seems like a pretty attractive destination. But if Encarnacion’s heart was set on Toronto all along, Cleveland probably feels like a consolation prize.

Through his first 30 games in an Indians uniform, Encarnacion isn’t exactly tearing the cover off the ball, hitting for a .217 average with five home runs. Neither is his heir apparent in a Blue Jays uniform: Kendrys Morales (.246 average, with six home runs).

The scuffling Blue Jays may not be missing Encarnacion all that much in terms of production, but he left a huge emotional void for fans when he chose to sign with Cleveland.

After playing in Toronto for eight seasons, Encarnacion will always have a special place in the heart of Blue Jays fans. His walk-off home run in the AL Wild Card game last year will live on forever and go down as his seminal moment in Blue Jays history.

Without that hit, who knows if the Blue Jays even make it to the ALCS to face Cleveland. But this time around, Encarnacion dons the uniform of the very team which eliminated the Blue Jays from the playoffs last season.

Like any former beloved Blue Jays player, it will be weird to see them in a different uniform at first. But after a while, Encarnacion will become just another foe of the Toronto Blue Jays.

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