DUNEDIN, Fla. – Pending free agent slugger Edwin Encarnacion doesn’t have a set number in his mind.
Unless you’re asking about on-field production.
“My number? Yeah, I want to hit 40 homers,” Encarnacion said at Blue Jays spring training camp Friday morning, prompting laughter from reporters.
“Money? No. We don’t have nothing yet. We’re going to wait.”
Waiting has been Encarnacion’s mantra, at least since the winter meetings last December when his agent, Paul Kinzer, announced that he and his client would not be conducting any contract negotiations during the season.
The tactic stems from Encarnacion’s last contract talks – in the middle of the 2012 season, when the Blue Jays signed him to a three-year extension with a 2016 team option. Encarnacion said those conversations took some of the focus away from his on-field preparation.
“It happened last time, we talked about that. So I don’t want any negotiation during the season,” he said. “I want to concentrate to help this team win games.
“I don’t want to talk anything about contracts during the season because I want to be 100 per cent focused on my game.”
That gives the Blue Jays a spring-training long window to extend the first baseman/designated hitter, if they so choose. They could also make him an offer once he hits free agency.
Either way, Encarnacion would love nothing more.
“Of course I want to stay with this team. I love this team, I love this city, but it (doesn’t) depend on me,” he said. “It depends what they (are) thinking. But I hope we get it done so I can stay here for the rest of my career.”
The 33-year-old has enjoyed a renaissance in his game since signing a one-year deal with the Blue Jays in 2010.
He was originally traded to Toronto from the Cincinnati Reds in 2009, waived by the Blue Jays and picked up by the Oakland Athletics, then non-tendered by the A’s before landing in Toronto once more.
Since then he’s hit 189 home runs – including a career high 42 in 2012 – and has reached 34-plus in each of the last four seasons.
He hit 39 homers last year while driving in 111 to help Toronto win the AL East title and end a 22-year playoff drought. And he did most of that while nursing some persistent injuries.
Encarnacion experienced some left hamstring discomfort and a shoulder injury – both in June – then developed a sports hernia in July that he underwent surgery to repair once the season ended.
He also dealt with a lingering ligament strain on his left middle finger from late July into the post-season.
“It’s a ligament, it’s not broken. I don’t need any surgery,” he said minutes before boarding the bus for the Blue Jays’ first official full-squad workout. “I hope it stays the way it is right now. I’ve been taking BP, I’ve been working out, I’ve been good. So I hope it’s going to be OK.”
Even with all the injuries, Encarnacion only missed 16 regular-season games. That’s something he takes pride in.
“When you’re on the field you can do a lot of things to help this team to win games. When you’re not playing, there’s nothing you can do,” Encarnacion said of his reason for playing through pain. “That’s why I tried to stay in the game no matter what happened to me.
“I tried to do the best I can do to be on the field every day.”