UCB Debate Day: Resign Ankiel?

by on April 30, 2009 · 6 comments

Today we take part in another United Cardinal Bloggers project, choosing a side of a debate topic to, well, debate with another member of the UCB blogging syndicate.

My very worthy adversary today is Andrea over at Baseball Digest.  We will be arguing politely discussing the merits of resigning center fielder Rick Ankiel at the end of the 2009 season.

All Cardinal fans know the Ankiel story, and by now have probably developed a deep attachment to the player who we have cheered, sympathized with, and now cheered again.  Each diving catch at the warning track, each home run he hits, every new facial hairstyle he sports – we are there with him, we love our little story of improbable comeback.

But I don’t think they should resign him.

Okay, ready to start reading again, or have I already lost you?

Let me make perfectly clear that I have no problems with Rick as a ballplayer, a person, or representative of “The Cardinal Way.”  I just think they have better, cheaper options.

First, you’re going to be sitting down at a table across from Scott Boras, trying to get a deal done.  (I don’t have to remind my loyal readers, all three of you, what that might be like.)  It seemed pretty clear during Ankiel’s pre-arbitration negotiations this past off-season that player and agent were expecting more.  Boras is intent on Ankiel testing the market, which means they will be seeking big dollars elsewhere in an attempt to force John Mozeliak to make a hard decision fans won’t like.

They are going to let him walk.

Who compares to Ankiel?  How can you possibly justify paying All-Star-caliber dollars to an outfielder that has yet to stay healthy for a full season as a hitter?  Ankiel will turn thirty years old in a few short months, yet his agent is still trying to sell his potential?  Sure, he can continue to develop his batting eye and his patience at the plate.  He can certainly learn to take better routes to fly balls in center field.  But how much is a team willing to pay, and wait, for him to finally fill out as a hitter?  What if this is as good as it gets?  Yes, he’s a legitimate power threat, but only when he makes contact.  His numbers are trending down and I’m not convinced he will rebound.  The book on how to pitch him develops by the day and pitchers are learning it well.  The best spot for him in the lineup would be second, ahead of Albert Pujols, but he strikes out too much for LaRussa’s liking in that slot.  (Not to mention that the kid, Colby Rasmus is doing a bang-up job setting the table for El Hombre right now.)

Let’s look at who Ankiel compares to, according to Baseball-Reference.com.

Similar Batters
  1. Chris Duncan (962)
  2. Carlos Quentin (961)
  3. Bill Howerton (957)
  4. Joe Charboneau (957)
  5. Bob Thurman (956)
  6. Cody Ross (955)
  7. Mike Simms (953)
  8. Jeff Baker (950)
  9. Brian Buchanan (949)
  10. Lou Skizas (949)

See any familiar names on that list?  Duncan, a guy who has been consistently hurt as well.  Quentin, another guy who has been hurt coming up through the minors and finally had a breakout season (in which he was injured by the end of it).  Beyond that, you see a lot of guys who have put up numbers over a multi-year career that would add up to one pretty decent season.  No real “full-time” players on that list.

Let’s look at perhaps a more telling list of comparatives:

Similar Batters through 28
  1. Brant Brown (966)
  2. Jason Lane (965)
  3. Benny Agbayani (964)
  4. Don Lenhardt (963)
  5. Bubba Trammell (962)
  6. Shane Spencer (959)
  7. Jim Lemon (958)
  8. Ryan Ludwick (952)
  9. Chris Richard (949)
  10. Dusty Rhodes (949)

Some more familiar names, and again, none of them terribly flattering.  Ludwick is probably the one Ankiel would most want to be tied to, but they’re distancing themselves in comparison with every game that passes.

So the argument is this:  how do you justify giving Ankiel a huge multi-year contract at this point?  You can bet that Boras will be after at least a five year contract, probably upwards of $30mm or $40mm dollars.  I can only imagine the Cardinals being interested in three years or less.

How do you justify shelling that kind of money out for a guy already thirty years old, with an injury history, who in my opinion still hasn’t proven he can maintain his early (and yes, it’s still early for Rick) pace of hitting?

We as Cardinal fans must all remember that there are several things looming that Mozeliak will have to deal with.  Pujols is due a large extension in the near future, and if they don’t have the flexibility to get to around $30mm per season for Hombre, you might witness an implosion of Cardinal Nation.  There are a number of young outfielders coming through the system (Jon Jay, Shane Robinson, Daryl Jones, maybe even Brett Wallace).  Why spend money on an aging Ankiel with those talents coming through the pipeline?

When it comes to comparisons, when it comes to determining Ankiel’s value to the club as a Cardinal lifer, even just holding onto the story that has been his baseball career to date – there is clearly no easy decision to be made on resigning Ankiel.

But when John Mozeliak sits down to determine what is better, on a whole, for the club?  The decision should be easy.  Look for Rick in pinstripes next season…

I can’t wait until we get to have this discussion about Ludwick!

Writing about the Cardinals and other loosely associated topics since 2008, I've grown tired of the April run-out only to disappoint Cardinal fans everywhere by mid-May. I do not believe in surrendering free outs.
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