There has been a lot of discussion on whether or not we should trade Rick Ankiel. If not, should we extend him? He's got All Star potential, a great arm, and a fuzzy, warm story to tell the kids. Baseball, however, isn't all about heart warming stories. What we must begin to ask ourselves, is do we have someone who can make up for his production? The answer is yes, we have Joe Mather.
At age 29 with only a few years of hitting experience, Rick Ankiel is a valuable player. In 653 major league PAs so far, Rick has mashed 36 homers with 110 RBIs. I don't think anyone will argue about how much he will be worth to the team he plays for in 2009. The problem is, the Cardinals really need to consider the fact that he only has one contract year remaining. Is he worth signing to a long term deal? If not, should we trade him? If we do trade him, won't that hurt our offense? I don't want to pretend to have the answer to these questions, but I want to present an argument. Joe Mather, given regular at bats, will be at least as good as Rick Ankiel.
First, let's look at their AAA numbers (Rick's 2007, Mather's 2008):
Ankiel: 389 ABs .267/.312/.568 23.1 K% 0.28 BB/K .357 wOBA
Mather: 211 ABs .303/.395/.630 17.1 K% 0.89 BB/K .420 wOBA
Notes: Ankiel has more ABs and was still new as a hitter (Just so you know that I know)
Mather obviously put up some scary numbers in AAA. Based on my "concessions" above, you may doubt their relevance in relation to Ankiel. Here's another comparison, Rasmus 2007 in AA versus Mather 2007 in AA. (I know Mather is no Rasmus because Rasmus is younger..., but this still shows something)
Rasmus: 472 ABs .275/.369/.551 22.9 K% 0.65 BB/K .394 wOBA
Mather: 234 ABs .303/.380/.607 13.7 K% 0.91 BB/K .417 wOBA
Again, this cleary shows that Mather has some serious potential. He stuggled in his first stint in AAA in 2007, but rebounded in 2008. As opposed to Rick Ankiel, he also struggled in his first stint in the Show:
Mather 147 PAs .241/.306/.474 24.1 K% 0.38 BB/K .335 wOBA
Ankiel 190 PAs .285/.328/.535 23.8 K% 0.32 BB/K .364 wOBA
Rick's numbers show that he did not stuggle upon promotion to majors. Mather did. That line is well below Mather's past couple of years in the minors. We can almost certainly expect an improvement. His BABIP was only .258 in STL which we can expect to rise. Rick's 07 BABIP, on the other hand, was .317.
Is Joe Mather the next Cardinals great? Probably not. However, he is going to be a star player very soon. He has the potential to be better than Rick Ankiel. At age 26, he's got time to prove himself. He is under team control for longer than Rick Ankiel and he is cost controlled. Joe Mather is Rick Ankiel version 2.0. We can trade Rick Ankiel to address an area of need and the offense will not miss him. After all, we have Joey Bombs.