After Rick Ankiel's great pitching performance in 2000 (11-7, 3.50 ERA, 194 K, 9.98 K/9, 7.05 H/9), Tony LaRussa trusted him with Game One of the National League Division Series.
How did he respond? With his best "Nuke" LaLoosh impression.
After a relatively uneventful first two innings, Ankiel lost it in the third. All said and done, he allowed four runs on only two hits due to four walks and five wild pitches.
In spite of his performance in the regular season, it appeared his career was in jeopardy due to the fashion in which he failed. He would continue to make cameo appearances for the Cardinals in both starting and relief roles over the next few seasons, but he never recaptured that same dominance he demonstrated at times in 2000.
In 2005, Ankiel announced he was switching to the outfield. Scouts were immediately impressed with his defensive abilities, but were concerned with his hitting.
In 2007, Ankiel made the AAA All-Star Game while playing with the Memphis Redbirds. He hit .267, 32 HR, and 89 RBI through Aug. 8 when he was promoted to the big-league club. He made an immediate impact and was an obvious crowd favorite.
He was able to remain productive in St. Louis until last season when he was plagued by shoulder, groin, and achilles injuries, and batted only .231.
This history lesson is meant to detail exactly why the Kansas City Royals have no real idea what they have in Rick Ankiel. What they do know is that they have retained the services of a talented athlete for a very reasonable sum.
This move all but locks Jose Guillen into his new role as the team's designated hitter, as the Royals crowded outfield just became more congested. While this might illustrate poor inventory maintenance on behalf of the club, I am confident the move will improve defensive play and the lineup all at once.
With Guillen slotted as the DH, he will likely stay healthy and add a quality bat behind the emerging stick of Billy Butler. Jose Guillen's bat will also have some protection now, as well, since one thing the Royals know they have in Ankiel is proven power.
An "as-is" rough draft of their Opening Day lineup is as follows:
LF - Scott Podsednik
RF - David DeJesus
1B - Billy Butler
DH - Jose Guillen
CF - Rick Ankiel
2B - Alberto Callaspo
3B - Alex Gordon
C - Jason Kendall
SS - Yuniesky Betancourt
So the Royals potentially added a bat to the middle of their lineup and upgraded defensively in center field for about the same price as retaining the services of Jason Kendall, making this a low risk/high reward possibility.
Since the Royals are still in a stage of building, they need to make more low risk/high reward type trades, even if they don't work out. If this year is already lost—as most analysts would lead you to believe—then why not try to hit a home run in free agency instead of simply filling holes?
Sure, a true free agency home run is landing a Matt Holiday or Roy Halladay, but the Royals do not have the funds available for such a contract. The next-best thing is landing tier two and three free agents with incentive-laden or second-year option contracts.
That is why the acquisitions of Mike Jacobs and Coco Crisp a year ago weren't as bad as many made them out to be. Sure, the Royals sacrificed the bullpen to acquire long shots, but they had a lot of possible reward to offer; it just didn't pan out. The bigger sin was the relievers Dayton Moore brought in to replace the lost talent. Luckily, since Jacobs and Crisp's contracts were not long term, the Royals were able to get out from under these players and limit their losses.
I like the acquisition of Rick Ankiel. I also like the fact we signed him for one year with a second-year option. I do not view him as the long term answer in center field—here's looking at you, Derrick Robinson —but I feel that the solution is still a year or two away from arrival.
As are the Royals.