Rick Ankiel Inks Last-Minute Deal With St. Louis Cardinals

Derek CoffeltSenior Analyst IFebruary 13, 2009

Reruns of NBC's Saved By The Bell flashed through my head as the St. Louis Cardinals and outfielder Rick Ankiel came to terms on Thursday on a one-year, $2.825 million deal.

The deal comes just in time to avoid an arbitration hearing, which would have been St. Louis' first since 1999. Hours before the hearing was scheduled, Ankiel and the Cardinals made it happen.

The arbitration process can be something that could create tension and lingering unpleasant feelings, which is why the agreement to avoid the hearing was that much more mutually beneficial.

Ankiel's agent, Scott Boras, couldn't agree more.

"I think the arbitration process is designed to allow the parties to reach an amicable settlement," Boras said. "There are times you have to go, and I've done so. But whenever you can achieve a common objective, it [is beneficial]."

Locking up Ankiel for this year now gives St. Louis much more flexibility in the outfield. Ankiel's speed and power will help solidify the lineup, as Skip Schumaker has been rumored to being moving to second base as the Cardinals released Adam Kennedy last Monday. 

General manager John Mozeliak knew of the importance in retaining Ankiel because of what he brings to the ball club.

"We were prepared to go [to a hearing]," Mozeliak said. "But I think when we looked at all the factors, we just thought it made the most sense for the player and the club to end up where we did. ... After I met with Scott last night, and thought through it again this morning, I felt like there was far more downside than upside [to a hearing]."

Also, with Troy Glaus slated to be on the shelf well into the 2009 season, the signing of Ankiel is that much more important. The Cardinals may have depth in the third base position, but nothing replaces major league experience, something Ankiel has been doing since 1997.

He's been a lifelong St. Louis Cardinal and, according to Scott Boras, Ankiel realizes the levity entailed with putting on the jersey of the bright red bird.

"I think everyone knows this is one of those cases where the player has been a lifetime Cardinal," Boras said. "And I think all of us know what it means to be a Cardinal. I can never predict how the winds of a situation will go for an ownership group and a franchise because there are so many things to think about. We're going to let the season play and I'm sure there will be dialogue."

All-Star slugger Ryan Ludwick remains the only unsigned player, as his arbitration hearing looms next week. With an asking price of $4.25 million from Ludwick and a counter offer of $2.8 million from St. Louis, both sides will need to hammer this out.

The gap between the two sides may be big, but I'm confident that they'll build a bridge and get this deal done. Ludwick may be getting up there in age, but his offensive production last year cannot be denied: .299 AVG, 37 HR, 113 RBI.

Quotes and information from MLB.com