One of the hardest-working Marlins, Cantu set his mind to reaching a specific goal last year. Through adversity and injury, he managed to reach it the hard way.
Before Opening Day, Cantu set his sights on driving in 100 runs. For five months, the milestone didn't seem possible. But on the second-to-last game of the '09 season, during a plate appearance at Philadelphia, Cantu lifted a sacrifice fly to right field, scoring Hanley Ramirez from third base.
Cantu returned to the dugout to congratulatory hugs after recording RBI No. 100. Consider the fact that the veteran had 71 RBIs on Aug. 26, and he didn't knock in another run in the month.
From Sept. 1 to the finish, Cantu went on a torrid RBI pace, driving in 25 runs in September. He followed that up with four more RBIs in two games in October. As if by pure will, he clipped the century mark for the second time in his career. With Tampa Bay in 2005, he drove in 117.
"It's amazing the power of your mind sometimes," Cantu said. "That was my goal on April 1 -- 100 RBIs. I always had that in my mind. My thought process was right there. My work habits were there. Everything was clicking."
In terms of mental focus, yes, Cantu was locked in on his desire to drive in runs. His body, however, almost betrayed him.
While he achieved a goal, the 28-year-old also encountered adversity. During the third game of the season, he was plunked on the back of his left hand by a 90-plus-mph Daniel Cabrera fastball. Although he didn't go on the disabled list, his hand/wrist area hurt the remainder of the season.
Whether it was the hand or an emphasis to refocus his approach to making more contact at the plate, Cantu's home run total dipped. He finished with 16, a significant drop from the 29 he belted in 2008. But he set a career high for doubles (42), and his batting average (.289) also improved.
Asked if the wrist was the cause for rounding the bases fewer times, Cantu replied: "I don't know. That was a little bit of a weight on me. When I would try to overpower my swing, it would sting. I tried not to let that thing get in my head last season. It might have cost me some home runs or maybe not. I don't know."
As Spring Training games approach, Cantu says the hand is completely healed. He recently tested it with team physician Dr. Lee Kaplan.
Another theory Cantu has for the reduced home run total is having taken a different approach.
"There is always a reason," he said. "Maybe the hand did play a part. But maybe I turned into a [batting] average hitter, or I was focusing on driving the guy in. There could be a lot of reasons that the power decreased. [The hand] might have had something to do with it."
As if trying to hit 90-mph pitches with a sore hand wasn't enough stress, Cantu also dealt with fatigue and dizziness, reactions caused by medication he was taking for a few weeks before the All-Star break.
Just when he thought he would end the season on a high, Cantu severely sprained his right ankle while running the bases at Philadelphia in the second-to-last game. The injury occurred in the at-bat directly following the sac fly that produced his 100th RBI.
Forced out of the lineup, Cantu's season was finished. He was on crutches and wearing a walking boot on the last day of the season. He was in the boot for weeks and didn't resume jogging for three months.
For precautionary reasons, Cantu plans on taping his right ankle all season. It's already started in Spring Training, as he takes the field after his ankle is securely wrapped.
"I want to be precautious," said Cantu, who also taped the ankle during his offseason training in Houston. "I'm just taking good care. I don't want it to happen again, because it wasn't fun. It took me three months to start jogging. Three months. That's a long time. I'm 100 percent now. If there were a game tomorrow, I'd be playing in it."
With his hand and ankle healed, Cantu is ready to build on 2009.
Batting cleanup behind Ramirez, Cantu sees the opportunity for another 100-RBI season, which is always his goal. He's also playing third base now. A year ago, he opened at first base. He's comfortable in both spots.
The first-base battle in Spring Training is between prospects Logan Morrison and Gaby Sanchez. If neither is considered ready, then Cantu may shift back to first base. For now, though, the team is giving Cantu a majority of his work at third base.
As long as he bats fourth, Cantu doesn't care where he plays on the field.
In his final year of arbitration, Cantu signed for $6 million, and he's been one of the most consistent players during his tenure with Florida. He's also enjoyed a number of accomplishments the past two seasons. In 2009, Cantu and Ramirez became the third Marlins duo to knock in 100 runs, joining Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Delgado (2005), and Mike Lowell and Cliff Floyd (2001).
And in 2008, he was part of Major League history. All four Florida infielders that season -- Cantu, Ramirez, Dan Uggla and Mike Jacobs -- each belted more than 25 homers. No other infield foursome in MLB history can boast that claim.
"In my time with the Marlins, there have been a lot of accomplishments," Cantu said. "My time here has been unbelievable. I'm so happy to be here."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.