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Encarnacion Signs With Red Birds

[December 26th] -- For a few days last spring, perhaps it was a matter of only a few hours, Juan Encarnacion was a Washington National. You didn't know about it, of course. Neither did I. But the behind-the-scenes negotiations were over, and all that was left was the cursory physical. Then it could be announced:

"The Washington Nationals announced on Thursday that they have acquired Marlins' outfielder Juan Encarnacion in exchange for starting pitcher Zach Day."

It was a good deal. The Nationals were acquiring a player with a high ceiling but as yet untapped potential. He's played for four teams in nine seasons; the Tigers, Reds, Dodgers and Marlins twice have given up on him. In return, the Marlins were getting Zach Day, another player with superb talent but sub-par statistics.

Both players were packing their boxers and baseballs, ready to join their new teams. Then a funny thing happened. Day didn't pass his physical. Seems the huffy hurler had been pitching for quite some time with a broken bone in his left hand, the Marlins didn't think that was fair, trading a healthy player for a broken one. Encarnacion stayed with the Marlins and Day was traded later in the season for a plan "B" player who turned out to be the under-performer of the year: Preston Wilson.

Today, Wilson is looking for a job, Day is the #5 starter for the Rockies, and Encarnacion is the newest member of the St. Louis Cardinals. He signed a 3 year deal that will average $5 million per season.

Encarnacion had a good season in 2005, going .276-16-76. He seems to be maturing as a hitter and has always been a quality defender. Yet he signed for "only" $5 million per year, and was one of the last "name" free agents to sign. The Nationals still had enough in the purse to sign Encarnacion -- Ryan Church could then be traded for pitching. I'm surprised Bowden didn't try. Of course, perhaps he did.

Alas, here's one of Jim Bowen former players who didn't sign with Washington. And that's too bad. The team could have signed him for a fair-value contract and at a fair length too. If the team is still intent on trading Church, then Eric Byrnes (2005 with Oakland-Colorado-Baltimore), the recently non-tendered semi-slugger would make a nice second choice.

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