The biggest topic out there for the Cardinals right now is their reported interest in Carlos Beltran.
While Beltran may be a solid addition to a lineup that lost a huge bat this off season, two other names on the free agent market will be looking for contracts from a new team and St. Louis would provide a bit of a homecoming. Both Ryan Ludwick and Rick Ankiel will be hoping to grab some playing time somewhere, despite many reports suggesting that they would be best served as platoon or bench players.
Could the Cardinals catch lightning in a bottle and find some level of success with either of these players? Do they have anything left to offer?
We all know the story of Ankiel. A phenomenal left handed pitcher with all the promise in the world, he fell apart in the playoffs eventually “retiring” from baseball as a pitcher and reinventing himself as a center fielder with a power bat, a cannon arm, and above average instincts.
Why should the Cardinals consider Ankiel? There are various reasons. They could use a strong left handed bat off the bench. They could use an established, major league outfield talent to back up some of the youngsters. His defense is a step above most anyone the Cardinals have that can play center.
Most of all, when Ankiel fell apart on the mound, Mike Matheny would have been the catcher had he not had an accident with a hunting knife. Matheny has been quoted many times saying that he could have kept Rick calm and gotten him through that game. He has also stated that Rick showed signs of losing control throughout the second half of that season and Matheny was able to keep him in check. A reunion between the former battery mates might be just what the doctor ordered for Ankiel’s career.
Why should the Cardinals avoid this trip down memory lane? Just how good of a bat Ankiel provides is a debate in it of itself. Rick has been on the decline since before he left St. Louis and despite multiple venue changes (Atlanta, Kansas City, Washington) he has shown no signs of turning it around. His strikeout rate is still higher than most power hitters, limiting his value as a bench asset.
Ludwick arrived on the scene in St. Louis as a player forgotten in 2007. He quickly showed the world why they should have kept paying attention and put together a few solid seasons while playing right field and wearing the birds on the bat. A surprise trade that would send Ludwick to San Diego in 2010 and he would find some playing time in Pittsburgh last season after being traded back into the Central Division.
Why should the Cardinals consider Ludwick? Ludwick was loved by the fans and seemingly loved the city. His playing time in St. Louis was the pinnacle of his career and he still seems to have something to offer. Where Ludwick tends to struggle is when he is the focus of the offense. He struggled in St. Louis when key players were out and he was the premier bat in the lineup. With Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, David Freese, and Yadier Molina in the lineup, that problem would seemingly be gone. Ludwick has remained sturdy, avoiding long stints on the disabled list and proving that he would be in the lineup day in and day out. Despite his drop in production, he has been able to continue to produce Runs Batted In throughout his career.
Why should the Cardinals avoid this trip down memory lane? About that drop in production…Ludwick will turn 34 next season and shows very little sign of returning to the player of old. A strong defender with a plus arm, he hasn’t performed well at the plate since his breakout 2008 season. He is best suited at a platoon situation at this point in his career. His strikeout rate has continued to climb over the past few years, though that can be explained a bit by lack of protection in the lineups he has been in. Most importantly, Ludwick plays the corner outfield positions and the Cardinals are set there, the bigger need in St. Louis is in Center.
Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
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