Best Cardinals Player - 2006
Readers' Choice: Albert Pujols
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.