Washington Nationals Sign Rick Ankiel, Looking at Brandon Webb and Derrek Lee

Farid RushdiAnalyst IDecember 20, 2010

Former Pitcher Rick Ankiel
Former Pitcher Rick AnkielEzra Shaw/Getty Images

There are but a few days remaining before 2011 is upon us. With that, there is just a month before players begin to meander into Space Coast Stadium, the spring home of the Washington Nationals.

If history is any indicator, team General Manager Mike Rizzo has a week or so to finalize the majority of his remaining roster moves. Right now, the team still needs an outfielder, first baseman and a starting pitcher. Let's take a peek into my crystal ball and see what moves may be on the horizon.

The outfield situation became a little less cloudy—or more cloudy—with today's signing. Rick Ankiel, the erstwhile center fielder and former pitcher, signed this morning to a one-year contract for $1.5 million plus incentives.

I remember Ankiel as that can't miss starting pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals from a decade ago. As a 20-year-old in 2000, Ankiel went 11-7, 3.50, 7.0/4.6/10.0 and finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting that year behind Rafael Furcal.

And then—phoot! It just all disappeared. He suddenly couldn't throw strikes. In the 2000 playoffs against the Braves, he gave up four runs, two hits, four walks and five wild pitches in three innings. He was never again able to capture his mound presence and six seasons later returned to St. Louis as an outfielder.

In 2007 and 2008, he averaged (over 162 games) .270/.384/.485 with 35 homers and 107 RBI. However, over the last two seasons, he's hit just .232/.298/.388 with 15 home runs and 52 RBI, again assuming a full 162-game season.

So why did the Nationals sign Rick Ankiel? If they use him wisely, he can actually be an asset for the team. Like Nyjer Morgan, he just can't hit lefties, but as a platoon hitter he could help the team. Over his career, Ankiel has hit .254/.323/.462 against right-handers. Assuming 450 at-bats—typical for a lefty platoon—he has averaged 21 homers and 64 RBI.

And don't forget, Rick Ankiel's forte is defense. He is a gifted outfielder.

Mike Morse, assuming around 160 at-bats—typical for a right-handed platoon—would add .295/.374/.625 along with 16 homers and 36 RBI.

Based on what they have done throughout their careers, the two would combine for .266-37-96 or so for the Nationals in left field. Now, I'm not saying they would, just that they could.

At this point, I don't know if the signing of Ankiel has greatly helped the Nationals or not. If he and Mike Morse do what they have done over their careers, then the team won't notice the loss of the just-traded Josh Willingham. But that's just too uncertain at this point.

After the Nationals re-signed Chien-Ming Wang last week, most thought that the team's interest in former Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb would ebb, but as of this morning Washington is one of three teams actively pursuing the former Diamondback.

However, nationals.com's Bill Ladson is reporting that the Cubs and Rangers are now in the lead for Webb. I don't believe it. After dodging the Zack Greinke bullet on Sunday—and his $13.5 million salary—money will not be a factor as Mike Rizzo chases after Webb.

Rizzo promised Nationals' fans he would go after a top-of-the-rotation starter this offseason and I don't think he is going to head to Veira next spring without one.

If the Nationals don't sign Brandon Webb it's because they have another option they feel more comfortable with. From 2005 through 2008, Webb averaged 18 wins and a 3.23 ERA for Arizona.

First base is the final hole in the Nationals roster and Derrek Lee seems the most logical choice, partly because of what he brings as a player but mostly because he's all that's left on the free-agent cupboard (I think Adam LaRoche would have signed by now if it were ever going to happen).

Over the last decade, Lee has averaged .292/.378/.521 with 31 homers and 95 RBI while playing Gold Glove defense. However, the 34-year-old slumped to .260-19-80 last season.

Either Lee's age has finally caught up with him or that bad thumb hampered him all season and robbed him of his power. I guess we won't know until next September. That said, his numbers were much better after being traded to Atlanta last August. In 129 at-bats, he batted .287/.384/.465.

A healthy Lee—even a healthy 35-year-old Lee—should be able to give the Nationals .275-20-85 next season, certainly enough offense when you factor in the addition of Jayson Werth in 2011.

Insiders are saying that Lee is after a one-year contract in the $8 to 10 million range, about the same as what Lance Berkman and Carlos Pena received this offseason.

That works for me. While I'd give LaRoche a two-year deal, a one-year contract for Lee makes sense for both parties.

My guess is that we'll know who will be the Nationals' new starter, and new first baseman, by the end of the week, just in time for Christmas.