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What's Rick worth?

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Somewhere, and for the life of me I can’t find where, I read a few days ago that the Cards’ likelihood of trading Ankiel this offseason was tied to their likelihood of resigning him prior to him becoming a free agent. For a moment let’s set aside the fact that Scott Boras is his agent and that Boras does all he can to see his clients (like Matt Holliday, for example) hit the market. I know that the very mention of Ankiel’s agent’s name conjures up ill feelings and makes many people’s blood boil – so let’s forget about him for now. Happy thoughts, everyone.

Below are 2 lists of players. All are outfielders who have either signed free agent contracts or contract extensions since the 2006 season ended. I excluded any OFs who signed long-term contracts with their teams while still under their team’s control since their ability to negotiate freely was limited while under their teams’ control. That excluded people like Grady Sizemore, Curtis Granderson, and one Matt Holliday. The first list below is one of center fielders, or those who have played CF in the past and have been called on to play CF after their contracts were signed. The second list is of corner OFs. Since Ankiel could possibly be classified as either (and undoubtedly will be sold to teams as having the ability to play either RF or CF) I found it prudent to evaluate both groups. Age is their age in their 1st season after the contract was signed. WSAB (1) and (2) are the WSAB for the final year of the previous contract and the year prior to that year.

CF Age Years $ WSAB (1) WSAB (2)
Mathews, Jr 31 5 50 9 2
Hunter 31 5 90 12 7
V. Wells 28 7 126 13 9
Ichiro 33 5 90 20 11
Cameron 35 1 7 9 16
Edmonds 37 2 19 5 18
Byrnes 32 3 30 13 4
Pierre 29 5 44 2 1
Rowand 30 5 60 10 0
A. Jones 31 2 36 4 12
Avg 31.7 4 55.2 9.7 8

COF Age Years $ WSAB (1) WSAB (2)
Giles 35 3 30 23 11
Drew 31 5 70 10 7
Soriano 31 8 136 16 4
Dye 34 2 22 2 7
Sheffield 38 2 28 1 21
Guillen 32 3 36 8 -1
Bradley 30 1 5.25 7 6
Matsui 33 4 52 3 13
Ibanez 35 2 11 14 8
Alou 40 1 8.5 8 11
Lee 31 6 100 12 11
Winn 33 3 23 2 9
Avg 33.6 3.3 43.5 8.8 8.9

Overall, the average age of these 22 players was 32.7 years old. Ankiel will turn 30 in his first season after signing his contract. The average contract length was 3.62 years and the average $ amount was $48.7 M. There seems to be a threshold at about 34 years old. Players 34 and older tend to get 1-2 year deals, for obvious reasons. Players younger than 34 get contracts ranging from 3-8 years w/ a couple of exceptions (A. Jones, Bradley). The players 33 and younger averaged 4.5 years and $63M per contract – about $14 M per season.

The point here is to try and get a sense of what Ankiel’s value will be on the market at the end of the season. Considering the fact that Rasmus will be making less than $1 M, and we’ll have Skip, Mather, Jay, and maybe Duncan and Daryl Jones, will resigning Ankiel be a prudent investment after 2009? If not, maybe now is the time to trade him for a young middle infielder or SP. After all, it’s not even that clear that he’ll be a type-A free agent at the end of the season, meaning that we’d end up only w/ a supplemental 2nd rounder, as opposed to the first round pick and supplemental 1st rounder we would get if he was type-A.

Last year Ankiel was 5 WSAB – clearly a notch below most of these guys. However, that’s largely based on the fact that he got injured later in the season. Playing time, rather than ineffectiveness, is largely to blame for him being at just 5 WSAB. (Note: I didn’t use Justin Inaz’s total value numbers since I needed stats from prior to the ’08 season for the free agents to whom we’re comparing Ankiel.)

In order for Ankiel to receive a contract in the 4 years/$50-55M range, he’s going to have to have roughly a 9 WSAB season in ’09. Here’s a list of outfielders who were around 9 WSAB in ’08 – B. Giles, Granderson, Ibanez, Kemp, Winn, Hunter, Rios, Burrell, Victorino, G. Anderson, Cust, Cameron (still underrated). The point being – it’s not that difficult to foresee Ankiel having a Torii Hunter-like season this year w/ the Cards -- .278/.344/.466 – in 550 or so PAs. Last year Hunter’s OPS+ was 110. Ankiel’s was 119. Playing time – that’s it. Granted, there is a difference defensively, but if Hunter can get 5 and $90, can’t Ankiel get 4 and $55 or $60?

If Ankiel can’t get 550 PAs as a 29 year old, is he really the type of player we want to invest 3 years and $30+ M in? Why pay Eric Byrnes-money for a guy we could fairly easily replace? It seems as if the only tough call revolves around Ankiel’s having a very good season. If he does, it makes more sense to resign him, yet it also make that much more difficult.

I can’t help but think that the time to trade Ankiel is now. I know that’s not a popular opinion. There are few greater stories in baseball over the last couple of years than Ankiel’s. He’s always been one of my favorites. I was glad he decided to try to resurrect his career as an OF and glad he stuck w/ the Cards, and that the Cards stuck with him, when he became a minor league free agent a couple of years ago. As a fan, I really don’t want to see him in another uniform but the reality is, I have no say whatsoever in to whether or not that actually happens. And though I really like Ankiel, if he moves on, I’ll still be a Card fan and, frankly, I’d rather win w/o Ankiel than lose with him. To me, that means it’s time to see what he’s worth.

If we can get a good young SS for him or a good young SP for him, we should. We shouldn’t dump him just to dump him but I think Ankiel has value. He’ll hit 25-30 bombs next year, he’s a good athlete in the OF, and can play any OF position. Someone will be willing to pay for that. Sure, we might have to toss in a prospect in order to get the player we want, but Ankiel’s got significantly more upside than Skip.

Can we replace Ankiel this year? Surely, yes. Rasmus can step in – he’ll probably be in the OF anyway. Ludwick in RF, Rasmus in CF, and a Skip/Mather platoon in LF sounds ok to me. Ankiel would be better than that combo, but we would gain much more at SS or in the rotation than we would lose in the OF. Like I said, if I’m wrong about Ankiel’s trade value, we can hang on to him and hope he helps us make the playoffs and net us a 1st rounder and a supplemental next June.