Best Cardinals Player

Juan Encarnacion

When the Cardinals acquired Juan Encarnacion in the off-season from the Florida Marlins and gave him $15 million over three years, fan reaction was, to put it kindly, muted. Cardinal Nation expected a serviceable replacement for Larry Walker, someone who'd produce something near the .287 average, 16 home runs and 76 RBI he accumulated last year with the Marlins. During a slow April our so-called best fans in baseball turned on J-Enc. "He's left more men stranded than FEMA!" someone quipped on talk radio. But by midseason Juan had turned it on — and hardly anyone noticed. His projected stats — a .280 batting average, 20 homers, 82 RBI and a slugging percentage of .448 — would be the best single-season numbers of his career. With his long stride and nonchalant gait, Encarnacion continues to be accused of dogging it defensively, but he's doing anything but. In a darkish year for St. Louis baseball fans, one that saw an inconvenient run of injuries and a veritable revolving door in the clubhouse, the unsung Encarnacion has been a rare bright spot — he's the only Cardinal who managed to crack the lineup in more than 150 games. What's more, he has gone about his business with quiet equanimity and class — the mark of what St. Louisans like to think of as a true Redbird.
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