Jays slugger Encarnacion keeps focus on season, not future
DUNEDIN, Fla. (AP) Edwin Encarnacion reported to Toronto Blue Jays camp Friday morning for the team's first full-squad workout with a number in his head.
''I want to hit 40 homers,'' he said with a laugh.
That's the only number the two-time All-Star first baseman/designated hitter is focused on - for now.
Eligible to become a free agent at the conclusion of the World Series, the 33-year-old Encarnacion and his agent, Paul Kinzer, have set an opening day deadline to get a long-term deal worked out with Toronto.
Encarnacion said negotiating during the season would cause an unnecessary distraction.
''I just come here and try to concentrate on my team, and try to concentrate on doing my work and my job to get this team better and try to make the playoffs again,'' he said. ''That's my goal right now, and I don't need to talk anything about contracts right now. I'll leave that with my agent and he knows what he's going to do.''
Staying healthy is another goal the slugger hopes to reach in 2016.
Despite dealing with a rash of lingering injuries, including a strained ligament in his left middle finger, hamstring tightness and a sports hernia that required offseason surgery to repair, Encarnacion still managed to play 146 games. His 39 homers and 111 RBIs were key in ending Toronto's 22-year playoff drought - then the longest in North American professional sports.
''There's something to be said for being out there,'' manager John Gibbons said. ''Very rarely are you ever 100 percent. That (strained ligament) is a pretty painful injury when you're swinging a bat. But he sucked it up and it really didn't affect him too much.''
Encarnacion insisted he is now fully healthy.
''When you're on the field, you can do a lot of different things to help this to win games,'' he said. ''So, when you're not playing, there's nothing you can do to help your teams win games. That's why I try to stay in the game no matter what happened to me. I try to do the best I can do to be on the field every day.''
If the sides cannot come to an agreement by Toronto's opener at Tampa Bay on April 3, Encarnacion said the Blue Jays will have an equal opportunity to sign him if he becomes a free agent.
It's all up to what the team wants to do, he said.
''Of course I want to stay on this team,'' Encarnacion said. ''I love this team and I love this city. But that doesn't depend on me, it depends on what they're thinking.''
''I hope we get it done so I can stay here for the rest of my career,'' he said.
NOTES: OF Domonic Brown, who signed a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training Thursday, arrived to the clubhouse and participated in drills. Wearing No. 81, the former NL All-Star said he's just happy for the opportunity. ''I'll play wherever the team needs me to play,'' Brown said. ''Whether it's left-handed catcher or whatever. We can do this Little League style. I'm not trying to come in here and be cocky about anything. They told me about No. 81, so put Terrell Owens on me if you've got to. I'm just willing to work hard.'' . Gibbons said OFs Michael Saunders and Kevin Pillar are the top candidates to bat leadoff this season. C Russell Martin will also get time in that role during exhibition games, but only for additional work.