ST. LOUIS -- Continuing a recent tradition, the Cardinals waited until the last minute to do their Christmas shopping. The Cards have agreed to terms with free-agent outfielder Juan Encarnacion on a three-year contract worth a reported $15 million, filling their vacancy in right field.
Encarnacion's agent, Eric Goldschmidt, confirmed the deal on Friday morning, though a physical is still pending. The club sent out an announcement at 3 p.m. CT.
"There were quite a few teams interested in Juan," Goldschmidt said. "At one time we had probably nine or 10 clubs in the mix. Juan's preference was to play right field. There were a lot of clubs looking at him as a center fielder, but he wanted to play right field, he wanted to play on a competitive ballclub and if possible, he wanted to stay in the National League and stay off the West Coast."
He accomplished all those goals and will step into the spot vacated when Larry Walker retired following the 2005 season. Encarnacion is the second member of the 2003 Marlins World Series championship team to sign with the Cards this winter, joining right-handed reliever Braden Looper.
It's the third straight year that St. Louis has made a significant acquisition after December's Winter Meetings but before the Christmas-New Year's shutdown. Last season, the Cards signed free-agent shortstop David Eckstein and traded for Mark Mulder in late December. In 2003 they signed free agents Jeff Suppan and Reggie Sanders soon after the meetings.
Encarnacion, who will turn 30 during Spring Training, is coming off one of the best seasons of his career. The right-handed hitting Dominican Republic native batted .287 and managed a .349 on-base percentage, with both being the highest full-season marks of his career. Encarnacion hit 16 home runs and slugged .447, driving in 76 runs and scoring 59 in 506 at-bats with Florida.
He's a lifetime .268/.316/.440 hitter who has 128 home runs and 119 steals in 1,028 career big league games. Encarnacion has played for Detroit, Cincinnati and the Dodgers as well as the Marlins in a career that began in 1997.
Encarnacion is considered something of an all-or-nothing player. He has the ability to hit for power -- including 24 home runs in 2002 -- but rarely walks and has often posted low on-base percentages. His defensive profile is similar, a player who has a strong arm and can make spectacular plays but sometimes makes unnecessary mistakes.
In a revamped Cardinals lineup, Encarnacion likely slots as the regular right fielder alongside Jim Edmonds, with Larry Bigbie projected as the starter in left. He might slide into the No. 6 spot in the batting order, between Scott Rolen and Bigbie.
The only remaining question in the Cardinals order is at second base. Aaron Miles, Hector Luna and Deivi Cruz may battle for the job, or the club could still sign one more free agent -- Willie Harris and Junior Spivey are both considered candidates.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.