PORT CHARLOTTE — Carl Crawford wants to win — and be paid.
The three-time All-Star left fielder reported to spring training Monday and insisted he’s focused on helping the Tampa Bay Rays get back to the playoffs, not the prospect of becoming a free agent after the season.
“I try not to think about it, just try to think about the important stuff like winning,” said Crawford, who arrived at camp two days before Wednesday’s first full-squad workout.
“We’ve got a good team this year, so I don’t want to take the attention away from that. Pretty much I’m going to do everything like I normally do, keep everything the same and pretty much go from there.”
Crawford is set to earn $10 million in the final season of a $33.5 million, six-year contract.
If the 28-year-old winds up on the open market, he’s likely to command a much larger salary than the budget-conscious Rays can afford to pay.
The team’s career leader in hits, runs, stolen bases, triples, RBIs and games played said the situation could go either way.
“I’m hoping for the best, like always. But right now, I really don’t know,” Crawford said, adding the “best” would reaching a deal that’ll keep him in Tampa Bay. “I wish something good will come out of it, but at this point we really haven’t done too much (negotiating) and I don’t know when we will.”
The four-time AL stolen base champion has batted over .300 four times in seven full major league seasons. He hit .305 with 15 homers, 68 RBIs and 60 steals in 2009, when he also was MVP of the All-Star Game after making a leaping catch that robbed the NL’s Brad Hawpe of a late-inning, go-ahead homer.
While he didn’t provide any details about what he might be looking for in a new contract or whether he might be willing to give Tampa Bay a “hometown” discount, it’s clear he’s hoping to earn market value.
“That’s what you go there for, to free agency,” Crawford said. “You go there to get paid like the guys who play against you. Pretty much, it speaks for itself.”
The Rays reached the World Series two years ago with a payroll of about $43 million. It climbed to $63 million last season, when they finished third in the AL East, and will exceed $70 million in 2010.
Team owner Stuart Sternberg said last week the club is living well above its means and that a payroll reduction is inevitable. Nevertheless, he said he’d like to keep Crawford and “we’re going to do everything we can to make sure he stays here longer.”