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First of all, I’m in the weeds this morning so I’m going to have to make this short and sweet. To some of you, that will come as great relief. I’m still getting readjusted to returning from Washington, DC (and trying to decide whether or not my experience would be appropriately documented in a fanpost) and I have a ton of work to do, plus we’re moving next weekend! Too much to do; too little time (so why am I wasting time, you may ask). Good question.

My 2 cents on the 3rd base situation – I know a lot of you have gone all "Yeah, David Freese!" with this, but that’s not exactly where I am. We have a ton of depth at third and I’d like to see an open competition in the spring between Freese, Wallace, and Craig. I realize that Freese is currently running ahead of the others on the depth chart, but I think we should throw the depth chart out, let ‘em play and see what happens. Give them PAs DH-ing, as well as at third and in split squad games…whatever. If Wallace or Craig can hit at the major league level, and field well enough for their bats to stick, let’s see it happen. If Freese wins the job, more power to him. The idea of sticking Joe Thurston there, however, is not at all appealing. At most, he’s a utility infielder w/ little upside. There’s nothing to be gained by going that route (and thank God that Craig Counsell resigned w/ the Brewers!). We’ve got 3 guys. One of them can get the job done in Glaus’s absence and if he doesn’t get it done, we’ve got 2 others we can promote. I see the injury as more of an opportunity than a challenge.

Second, if you saw Derrick Goold’s arbitration article the other day, you know that our roster matrix is wrong. Well, it’s not wrong yet but it will be as soon as Ludwick and Ankiel settle. I don’t see any reason that either will have a hearing. The Cards haven’t had an arbitration hearing in 10 years and that streak won’t be broken this year. Still, we have Ankiel down for $2.5 M in our matrix. He’s asked for $3.3 M in arbitration while the Cards have countered w/ $2.35 M. If it does go to a hearing and the Cards win, we’ll be very close to correct. However, I anticipate a settlement somewhere in the middle – around $2.85 M - $3 M. It won’t be a huge jump, but it will jump.

Ludwick’s the bigger "problem." Ludwick has asked for $4.25 M and the Cards have countered w/ $2.8 M. Our matrix has Ludwick pegged at $1.8 M so there’s going to be a jump of at least a million. If Ludwick wins the hearing, the jump will be almost $2.5 M. Again, the settlement will likely be somewhere in the middle – around $3.5 M – meaning an increase in what we’ve projected by $1.7 M. Add it up and our roster matrix is probably more than $2 M low and that means there’s $2 M less to spend on Ben Sheets. Sorry, guys, but I think if there was a 2% chance before that we would sign Sheets, it’s probably fallen to .2% or less. It’s just not going to happen. Teams are going to wait him out and let his price tag continue to fall, but I just don’t see it happening.

Let’s look at Ankiel, then. He’ll be earning somewhere around $3 M this year and is a free agent, represented by Scott Boras, at the end of the year. A little more than 2 months ago, I tried to estimate Ankiel’s value on the open market when he becomes a free agent. One of the comps that I saw then, and Goold sees today (see above link), is Gary Matthews, Jr. The Angels paid him $50 M over 5 years following a career year in his contract year. Think Rick has a career year in him? It’ll all depend on his ability to stay healthy.

Rick showed demonstrable improvement last year in his P/PA. In 2007, Ankiel saw 3.43 P/PA. Last year that number rose to 3.83 – a significant improvement. His offensive value is going to largely be predicated on his ability to see a lot of pitches (or at least an increasing number of pitches) and to improve his walk rate. The homers will come. The slugging percentage will be there. It’s going to be his OBP that determines whether he’s an average corner OF or an above-average corner OF. So, here we go…

What do you expect to see out of Ankiel this year? You know how it works – comma-delimited, NO SPACES (thanks to all of you who keep everyone on track)

AB,H,HR,RBI,AVG,OBP,SLG

No peeking at others’ projection pages. Please do use his b-r page to help you w/ last year’s, and ‘07’s numbers. I’ll report back tomorrow w/ the results.