Ankiel, Ludwick await arbitration
Cases loom for outfielders, each coming off big campaign in 2008
ST. LOUIS -- They were teammates at Triple-A Memphis. They enjoyed breakout seasons together. They endured trade rumors together all winter. Now Rick Ankiel and Ryan Ludwick are sharing one more experience: awaiting resolutions for their 2009 contracts.
Both Ankiel and Ludwick are eligible for arbitration, and general manager John Mozeliak acknowledged on Saturday that they represent his two most difficult cases. Each put up a big season in 2008, and each has little history before that emergent campaign.
For now, though, they're happy to be getting ready to go to Spring Training as Cardinals again. Ludwick was rumored to be on the way to Colorado in a deal for Matt Holliday, while rumors persist that Ankiel will be dealt somewhere for a pitcher.
"I didn't really hear much about that," Ludwick said on Sunday, speaking to reporters at the annual Cardinals Care Winter Warm-Up. "I think it was more hearsay than anything. I never got any phone calls of anything serious happening. You can't control that stuff."
Ankiel, who keeps closer tabs than some of his teammates on what's written about him and the club, has heard the reports. He understands that his contract status -- he's one year from free agency and represented by Scott Boras -- drives some of the speculation.
"Over the years, with every team, you always hear rumors," Ankiel said. "Are they rumors or are they not? I heard I was getting traded. I'm sure you guys heard it, too. But you never know until something happens. What can you do? Prepare to play. That's all you can do."
The contract situation may be more pressing for Ankiel, who has never played for any organization but the Cardinals. Boras' reputation for never negotiating before his players hit the open market has led to a perception that St. Louis may not be able to lock him up.
Ankiel was somewhat noncommittal about signing a contract that lasts past 2009, but his deep connection to the St. Louis organization is no secret.
"All I can do is focus on being healthy and playing a whole year," he said. "Everything else will take care of itself after that.
"Absolutely, I've told [Boras] I want to work in St. Louis. But for me, it's just focusing on having a healthy year. If you don't play, nobody's going to want you."
Ludwick is going through the arbitration process for the first time. He's enjoyed diving into it, studying how the negotiations might go. Mostly, though, he's staying out of it.
"Me and my agent have talked a lot about it," he said. "I'm really intrigued by the whole aspect of it. I've gotten into the numbers of past cases. I've looked up past cases from the last 10 years. It's intriguing. I really enjoy that side of the game. I don't want to get involved in it too much, because my job is to play baseball, not to crunch numbers. But it's kind of fun, looking at the numbers and comparing yourself to players in the past."
Ludwick said that the possibility of a deal longer than one year has not been broached to him.
One other similarity -- they've both dealt extensively with injuries. Ankiel is coming off yet another physical issue, a sports hernia that hindered him from soon after the All-Star Game until he finally shut it down in September. He reports nothing but good news from his recovery, though.
"I'm preparing [rather than rehabbing]," he said. "I rehabbed the first six to eight weeks, then took it slow the next, probably, four weeks, and then after that, back to the regular regimen.
"With any surgery, at first, you're never sure if it's going to go the way you want it to go or the way they say it's going to go. I watched Chris [Duncan] deal with his the year before, and he had a tough time with it. It seemed like it took him all offseason. But luckily, knock on wood, mine's gone very well."
Ludwick, meanwhile, has enjoyed a rare treat: a healthy, normal winter. He managed to stay healthy throughout 2008 and has had no rehab work to do this offseason. With a new son, Stetsen Tyler, and some sort of big payday on the way, life could hardly be better.
"I'm in the best situation I've ever been in in my life," he said. "I'm happy. I'm excited about this upcoming year. I've got a brand-new baby son. I'm on cloud nine."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.