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Choose Your Future

Howdy, folks. Right off the bat, let me apologise for the late post today. Quite sorry.

I was actually lucky enough to attend tthe game last night with a group of friends. It was one of the craziest, backward, and just flat out exciting games I believe I've ever seen in person. From the multi part error that put the Padres up on the Maddux bunt attempt to the Ankiel home run, I don't remember the last time I went to a game and was jerked around that much by the Cardinals. Utterly fantastic.

You want to know how much I know about baseball? Well, I'll tell you. During the Ankiel at bat last night, when he was facing Joe Thatcher, after his first swing, I turned to one of my friends and the two of us pretty much simultaneously groaned. Rick looked so bad on that swing that we began calling for him just to go ahead, take his second strike, and sit down. He obviously wasn't going to need all three; he was already out.

Goes to show what we know.

Yawn. Just another epic at bat for Roy Hobbs, just another story we'll all tell our descendants one day when we tell them the legend of a man named Ankiel.

No less dramatic, though, and no less important, either, was the Ludwick home run off of Maddux. If the Cardinals don't score there, I think the Padres very well pull away from them. The previous half inning had seen the Cards make two errors on the same play and Braden Looper give up three runs total. Everyone in the stadium could feel the momentum beginning to build behind the Padres; the Cardinals were in definite trouble. But Puppy Kicker came in and got the job done, and Ryan Ludwick- pardon me, All Star Ryan Ludwick- took an 84 mph heater and turned it right around into the seats. There was still plenty of yo-yo action left, of course, but if there was a single point in the game where it was in danger of slipping out of the Cards' grasp, that was it. They needed to get at least a run or two back; Luddy gave them more than that.

Which brings me to my point for today. I happen to like the future. I'm sure you've all figured that out by now, considering how much I enjoy writing and talking about the minor leagues, the draft, and all those sorts of things. I like those sorts of hypothetical situations, to look at a roster and try to properly predict what direction it's going in. I'm sure at times that some think I put too much stock in the future and not enough in the present, and those people could very well be right. Just one of those things.

I must admit, though, that while sort of mulling over where this team is headed, there's an arear that I very rarely fixate on, and that's the Cards outfield. I constantly try to figure out where they're going to find a bat for the middle infield, and the pitching is always of great concern. The outfield, though, feh. The outfield will just take care of itself. Rasmus is on his way, and the guys we've got out there are doing a job I had no idea they were capable of doing. No need to worry about the outfield. Those guys are good.

But at some point, we do need to start looking at the outfield, and just how it's going to be constituted for the next few years, at least.

The thing is, I think we can pretty much unanimously agree on which players we think should be out there. Besides Colby, who has to be figured into any long term plans, I would venture to guess that nine out of ten dentists would recommend Ankiel and Ludwick without reservations. That's all well and good, of course, but then the question of how to keep them here rears its head.

Both Ankiel and Luddy are currently on one year deals. Both are under team control for next year, at least. Ankiel, who's currently making $900K this year, is arbitration eligible after this season, and it should be his last. He currently has slightly over four years of MLB service time, which I believe is current to the beginning of this season. Arb rules confuse me a bit, to be perfectly honest, but I believe next year is the last year he'll still be under club control. With Scott Boras as his agent and Babe Ruth as a career comp that gets thrown around a lot, I have to wonder what Rick is going to begin looking for in the way of compensation.

Ludwick, on the other hand, is still well within his arbitration years. He began the year with just over two years MLB service time, so he should still be under team control for the next couple of seasons. He's only making $411,000 this year, though he does get a ten grand bonus for making the All Star team. (Congrats to you, Mr. Ludwick, by the way.) That's right, our all star right fielder, the guy with twenty two home runs and a boat load of RBIs, is only making a tad over 400K. Now that's bang for your buck.

The question is, though, what do you do about locking these guys up long term? If they're really the players they look like at the moment, then the Cardinals have two all star calibre outfielders that need contracts. The problem, of course, is that neither of them has any kind of track record, really, to go off of.

So that's my question for all of you today. Just what do you do contract wise for these two guys. Ankiel is the more pressing question, of course, since he's much closer to being able to become a free agent. Have we seen enough of Rick to offer him a long term deal? Again, the track record probably isn't nearly as long as you would like, but every day that Rick goes out there and performs like he has been is another day he gets even more expensive. I have a hard time believing that Ankiel, even under the advisement of the devil, would try to stick it to the Cardinals too very much. After all this player and this franchise have been through together, it's tough to believe he would try to really play hard ball on a salary and all that. Rick just doesn't seem like the type. Then again, lots of people have probably had the exact same thought about their spouses, only to find themselves in nasty divorces just a year or two down the road.

At season's end, Rick will be 29 years old. Actually, today is his 29th birthday, come to think of it. Happy Birthday, Rick! He's probably got two big paydays in him. Do you offer him a big contract now? Do you wait until the end of the season? Do you let him go through the whole one year deal process again this winter and then try to talk extension later? How long a contract are you willing to offer this guy?

Ludwick, on the other hand, may be even trickier, but without some of the emotional baggage. He's actually a little older than Rick, having just turned thirty less than a week ago. The service time is the odd thing with him. He's had so few chances to actually stick in the majors, constantly being hurt or getting Juan Gonzalezed, that he's only got a little over two years of service time. The Cardinals could, technically, just let him go year to year, going through the arbitration process if necessary, for the next three seasons.

Of course, that does raise the question: is that something that you want to see happen? Do you want to see Ludwick and the Cards dance around salary figures for the next three seasons, each side constantly putting out little bits of info on what the other isn't willing to do, and all that sort of stuff? That could get ugly, to be perfectly honest. Do the Cardinals really want to be seen as that team? It could end up hurting them down the road with other players, you know. Players do talk, and if a guy feels like he's being let dangle out there, you can be sure that plenty of other guys are going to hear about it. Does that damage your ability to try and bring in other players in the future? Tough to say, but I don't think you can dismiss the notion.

On the other hand, with Ludwick in particular, the Cardinals do have plenty of talent in the minor leagues coming up in the outfield. Do they need to be making a move to lock up a thirty year old outfielder, potentially blocking a guy? Again, we assume that Colby will be a part of this outfield sooner than later. We've seen Joe Mather play, and play pretty well for his first taste of the big leagues. Is he a regular? I don't know, but can you afford to not find out? The Cards have Jon Jay at Springfield hitting up a storm now that he's healthy again. He might be a fourth outfielder, but he just might not. Daryl Jones, an absolute tool shed of a young player, is really beginning to put it together this season after tantalising the Cards with his potential ever since they drafted him in 2005. Again, nothing is guaranteed for any of these players, but can we afford to just shut the door on them at the big league level?

So there it is. Ankiel and Ludwick. Do you think we need to move quickly to try and get them signed up on multi year deals? If so, how long? Are you willing to commit five years to Ankiel? Say, three years plus two club options? Something shorter? How about Ludwick? Do you sign him now, or just let the system take care of him and keep him on your team? Do you try to maintain flexibility as you develop more talent in the outfield or do you run with what you've got right now, seeing as how they're not doing too very badly. Do you even believe either of these players are for real long term?

The Cardinals have a ton of talent in the outfield, both present and future. At some point, they're going to have to make a decision regarding just exactly what the vision for the outfield is.

Discuss. I'll have a game thread up shortly before 3 pm Central. Later.