Yesterday evening I found out that the Royals had came to an agreement with outfielder Rick Ankiel on a one year deal worth $3.25 mill and a $6 mill mutual option for 2011. By now we all know the story about Ankiel's incredible collapse on the mound and shift to the outfield so I am going to save us all time by not discussing this expect by mentioning that given his personal path it is tough to judge his current potential and what he could continue to become. He is 30 years old and past the normal peak age of 28-29, however given his position change and late return to hitting I am of the belief that there is still potential to be reached especially regarding his fielding.
Let's begin by looking at the terms of the deal. The dollar amount is fine with me and I think there is the possibility that the Royals got Ankiel for a bargain price as a result of being the only suitor left after Pittsburgh balked at the price. I am disappointed to find out that the option is a mutual option and not a team option. If Ankiel doesn't have a breakout 2010 then the Royals aren't going to want to pay $6 mill for an average guy, but if he does breakout then I don't believe that the $6 mill option will be large enough to keep Rick around. Overall financially I believe this is one of the better deals that Dayton Moore has been able to obtain on the free agent market. Of course if Ankiel repeats last year's horrific performance then fans will refer to it as Jacobs part 2 and rip Moore for wasting $3.25 mill.
What about last season's .231/.285/.387 slash line? Well it is well known that Ankiel was less than 100% over the course of the season. It would be unfair to judge Ankiel on last season's performance alone and in Ankiel's 167 games before the 2009 season, dude mashed. I think that if he can get back to 2008 form with an ops of .843 (which is quite possible considering his injuries in 2009) then he will be a fixture in the middle of the order and could perhaps be considered Moore's best free agent signing to date.
Even if Ankiel doesn't return to 2008 form and he can only rebound to an ops of in the .750-.775 range, Ankiel will still improve the Royals simply for the fact that he knocks Jose Guillen out of the outfield. I would argue that the Royals would receive more production from a tree planted in right field than Jose Guillen. At least a tree would block the balls long enough to allow the center fielder to get over in time to make a play. Other bloggers have discussed the terrible right side defense of the Royals in 2009 with Callaspo, Butler, and Guillen and one even equated it to the Bermuda Triangle of major league defenses. I cannot say that I disagree, but with Ankiel stepping in at right the Royals could now have an outfield that is above league average. With DeJesus, Podsednik, and Ankiel there should be a lot of ground being covered. Also, Ankiel will add one of the best defensive weapons in baseball that is his left arm.
When I first saw the deal I thought that it would be a precursor to other moves and I still feel as though this could be the case. Hopefully the accompanying move will be the release or trade of Jose Guillen. Even if we had to eat the deal I feel that it would be justified and the team would be stronger without him. Addition by subtraction so to speak. The way the Royals current roster stands, there will have to be moves made in order for the team to shake itself out.
I can understand why people would be annoyed by this deal, but I am surprised by the praise that it has been given across the blogosphere. Personally I like the deal and here is why. The Royals aren't going to be able to contend in 2010 unless they have multiple players breakout. Rick Ankiel is a guy that has a fair chance to have an .850+ ops season, afterall he nearly did this in his last healthy season. The Royals did not have a right fielder and Ankiel finally provides the team with an outfield that compliments Kauffman Stadium, fast guys that as a group will display plus range and cover a lot of ground. Even if Ankiel rebounds and it is being wasted by poor play from the rest of the team, then the Royals can flip him at the deadline or get their compensation at the end of the year. This is a good deal for the Royals given their current state and if he can return to form and a few other guys can breakout or improve, maybe, just maybe the Royals can surprise in 2010.