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!

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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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{ 6 comments }

SMS_Mike April 30, 2009

Some guys are nice stories, but hard business decisions dictate whether they stay or go. Ankiel will likely fall into that category, for all the reasons you outline.

Nice article.

PHE April 30, 2009

Thanks Mike.

Indeed, I expect this to be a decision that Cardinal fans will despise at first when thinking with their hearts.

By two seasons from now when the team re-ups with Pujols to make him a career Card, all will be forgotten.

Double A April 30, 2009

This discussion takes one down an interesting rabbit hole. You currently have 3 primary OF’s, of which two of the three (Lud, Dunc) are under arbitration rights for a number of years (Lud is a FA in 2012; Dunc 2013…if my source is accurate). You also have, as mentioned, several young OFs coming up that demand playing time, such as Colby right now with players such as John Jay, Allen Craig, Daryl Jones, and the aforementioned Walrus showing up by mid to late 2010. Lest we forget, we also have Skippy hiding in the infield. Now, with all of that counter-weighted evidence, it would seem obvious we let Ankiel walk…but in the immortal words of one Lee Corso, not so fast, my friend.

The magic 8-ball piece of data here is how much will Ankiel command on the open market and how much will he accept to stay in the roost that raised him. I bet he pulls in 3 years, 30 million on the open market. Would 3 years, 24 million keep him here? 8 million a year…not chump change, but not a monster pay day either for a toolsy CF. Now, lets figure in the gorilla in the corner no one wants to talk about…Chris Duncan.

You know if he’s available, TLR will play him, no matter how many youngs studs he has piling up behind him on the depth chart. Furthermore, it is fairly likely Dunc, now that he is healthy, will rattle off a 20 HR campaign here in ’09. Those arbitration numbers will be ringing up in that case and you can figure 2 to 3 million the first arbitration year, headed upwards to 4 million by 2011 if he attains that 30 HR power level. That begs the question…if you had to choose between the two…would you pay 4 to 5 million more to have Ankiel on your roster rather then Duncan. Uh…given all the intangibles…I would…in a heart beat. Hence that voice in the back of my mind that is telling me the Cards should offer a 3/24M-type contract and trade Duncan to an AL organization after this season at a time when his trade value is restored (assuming those power numbers develop this year) and his contract status of future cheap arbitration years are a selling point.

You can bet that Ludwick will remain a Cardinal…he’s in a buyers market for his skillset (RH’ed, power bat). All of our OF’s…including the solid prospects such as Colby/Jay/Jones/Walrus…are all LH’ed (Craig, whose bat I like, being the exception). Duncan is completely duplicative. Ank at least offers a package of skills. Anyway, those are my thoughts on it…tougher decision then it looks. Ank has serious tools. He also has serious holes in his game that you have to wonder if he can close up…such as those needed (off speed) batting adjustments and the general concern of healthyness.

I’d also imagine…if he’d sign in that 8ish million/year range…that he’d be a reasonably tradable commodity (provided he keeps producing) during that contract if Jones and the Walrus prove as good as they currently look. (and for the record…if we can live with Skip at 2B, we can live with Wallace at 3B).

This reminds me of FOBL. ;)

Mark May 1, 2009

Interesting dilemma. I think the best thing you can do in this case is just wait and see how this year plays out.

If Ankiel gets hurt this season, that’s two years in a row he will miss siginifcant time. That would drive his value down.

If Rasmus develops into the player he is capable of becoming that would mean you’d want him to have an everyday job in 2010 so someone in the outfield has to go.

They already tried to deal Ludwick last year, so maybe he’s the guy that gets dealt this year. He has slowed down some recently, so it will be interesting to see if he can follow up on a brilliant 2008.

Duncan seems like the option most people would like to do without going forward, but he is cheaper. In addition to the other guys in the system remember that there are several free agents that could be worth exploring and possibly breaking the bank to acquire: Mike Cameron, Matt Holliday, Jason Bay, Bobby Abreu and Johnny Damon will have a lot to do with how the market for Ankiel plays out.

PHE May 10, 2009

@Double A – I don’t think it’s as easy as comparing Ankiel to Duncan. Rasmus is a factor in the decision, whether folks like it or not.

The real question, in my opinion, is Rasmus/Duncan/Ludwick versus Rasmus/Ankiel/and one of Duncan or Ludwick.

Eventually, one of the four is going to have to go, because they will get priced out of the outfield, given the Cards’ depth at the position.

Duncan and Ludwick are both under club control for another few years. Rasmus obviously even more so.

Right now Duncan is hitting better than Ankiel, and I have to say that Ankiel has not impressed me much at all with the swings he’s taken so far in 2009. Clearly Ankiel is defensively superior to Duncan.

Who is the better center fielder, Rasmus or Ankiel? If Rasmus is the answer (which I think it is), then is Ankiel really worth $4-5m more than Duncan to play a corner outfield spot?

Dunno, should be interesting to see how things play out. I have to believe that Mozeliak already has his decision made, and it would take some major concessions (assuming he wants a big deal) on Rick’s part for him to remain a Cardinal.

PHE May 10, 2009

@Mark

I don’t think you’ll see the Cardinals breaking their bank for anyone not named Pujols prior to extending his contract.

That’s a big part of the reason I just don’t see Ankiel with the Cards beyond ’09.

Cost-controlled is the name of the game for the Cards now until they know what AP is going to cost them. If the Cardinals can have three solid outfielders starting (and don’t forget that Schumaker is not out of this mix yet either, IMO) that are all arbitration or team controlled, they hold a huge advantage in upgrading other parts of the team and resigning Hombre.

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