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10 years ago today: Rick Ankiel gets sent down

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Having walked five and thrown two wild pitches the night before, Rick Ankiel was sent down to Triple-A Memphis on this day 10 years ago.  It’d be 3 1/2 years before he returned to the majors and six before he was back for good.

After going 11-7 with a 3.50 ERA as a rookie, Ankiel experienced a meltdown in the 2000 postseason.  Named the Cardinals’ Game 1 starter in the NLDS, he threw five wild pitches and walked six on his way to giving up four runs in 2 2/3 innings.  He worked twice more in the NLCS, throwing four wild pitches and walking five in 1 1/3 innings.

The hope was that Ankiel would find his form over the winter, but while he was no longer denting the backstop in spring training, control remained a big problem.  He ended up going 1-2 with a 7.13 ERA in his six starts for the Cardinals.  He struck out 27 in 24 innings, but he also walked 25.

Ankiel then completely lost it at Memphis, walking 17 and throwing 12 wild pitches in 4 1/3 innings.  The Cardinals backed off him for a bit before sending him all of the way down to Rookie ball to get him out of the spotlight.  The treatment worked, as he came back to post a ridiculous 158/18 K/BB in 87 2/3 innings for Johnson City of the Appalachian League.

At that point, Ankiel’s stuff was still some of the best in baseball, and the hope was that he’d come back and emerge as one of the NL’s elite hurlers.  Ankiel, though, went on to miss 2002 with an elbow injury.  Tommy John surgery followed in 2003.  He returned to the majors as a reliever in Sept. 2004 and showed promise.  While he allowed six runs in 10 innings, he posted a 9/1 K/BB ratio in the process. 

Ankiel went on to pitch successfully in Puerto Rico over the winter, but he tweaked his elbow towards the end of the stint and his command issues came back after he rejoined the Cardinals.  On Feb. 28, he threw just three strikes in a 28-pitch batting practice session.  Nine days later, he announced that he’d make the full-time switch to the outfield.

Of course, the story has a semi-happy ending from there.  Ankiel returned to the majors in 2007 and hit 36 homers for the Cardinals in 585 at-bats through the end of 2008.  Unfortunately, he’s dealt with injuries and hasn’t been nearly as productive since. The Nationals opened this season with him as their primary center fielder, but he’s currently on the DL with a sprained right wrist.

White Sox ballpark to be renamed “Guaranteed Rate Field”

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 10:  General view as members of the Chicago White Sox and the Minnesota Twins stand for the National Anthem before the White Sox home opener at U.S. Cellular Field on April 10, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Stadium naming rights have long been with us. They’re just a part of the sports landscape now. Some are pretty spiffy despite their corporate underwriting: “Great American Ballpark” could be the name of a sports facility even if it wasn’t also the name of an insurance company. “Progressive Field” could be the name of a field even an anti-corporate dude like Bernie Sanders could appreciate, at least if he’s sloppy with capitalization.

Others are clunky: “Globe Life Park in Arlington” seems to have both adjective and preposition problems, as if it were run through a foreign language translator and then back again to English. The joint in Oakland went by the name O.co Coliseum for a spell. That was for Overstock.com, but it didn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

At the risk of being snobbish, I think it’s fair to say that there are also higher and lower rent names as well. Banks, airlines and beer companies, however crassly commercial they are, seem a bit more respectable and venerable than, say, the fly-by-night dot com companies which named sports facilities for several years. “Chase” and “Coors” aren’t going anyplace. Those places are named after American institutions, even if they’re still corporate institutions. I’m pretty sure that circa 2001 half the stadiums and arenas in the country were named after businesses still being run out of tech incubators in nondescript office parks, their first biggest investment being the naming rights, their second biggest investment being the ping pong table in the break room.

The White Sox have long played in “U.S. Cellular Field.” This is pretty dicey as it is, given that that company is only a regional wireless provider. Fifth largest in the country. Certainly not A-list, and likely far more identifiable to more Americans as the name of a ballpark than the name of a going telecommunications concern, thereby sort of defeating the purpose of naming rights. Which must be why U.S. Cellular is getting out of the naming rights business, leaving the White Sox to find a different naming rights partner:

As the tenth largest mortgage company in the country, is there even any guarantee that Guaranteed Rate will be in business in 2030? If the choices are “it goes under,” “it gets purchased by a larger lender” and “it’s still there,” I am not putting money on the latter choice.

That aside, it’s just a goofy name for a ballpark. It’ll better lend itself to columnist jokes about bad guaranteed contracts for bust veterans than it will to spreading awareness of a financial services company. And don’t even get me started on the dissonance between the ballpark name and its tenant’s ticket price policies:

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Best work on that, guys.

UPDATE: LOL

 

Phillies’ Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz cleared waivers

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 10:  Ryan Howard #6 of the Philadelphia Phillies follows through on a 3 RBI double in the ninth inning off of Kenley Jansen #74 of the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on August 10,  2016 in Los Angeles, California. Phillies won 6-2.  (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
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ESPN’s Jayson Stark reports that Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard and catcher Carlos Ruiz have both cleared waivers, which means the club can attempt to trade either player unimpeded. Stark adds that two teams are mulling a pursuit of Ruiz, but Howard is “virtually certain” to stay with the Phillies.

Howard, 36, has unimpressive overall stats, as he’s carrying a .198/.252/.445 triple-slash line with 19 home runs and 43 RBI in 286 plate appearances. The Phillies have limited Howard to right-handed pitching by platooning him with Tommy Joseph.

Shockingly, Howard has been one of the best hitters of the second half, as Corinne Landrey explains at FanGraphs. Using wRC+, an all encompassing offensive statistic that sets 100 at average, only Joey Votto has been a more productive hitter since the All-Star break, owning a 226 wRC+ to Howard’s 191. Howard is trailed by Freddie Freeman (179), Adrian Gonzalez (149), and Paul Goldschmidt (140).

Howard is owed the remainder of his $25 million salary for the 2016 season as well as a $10 million buyout for ’17. Despite Howard’s productive second half and even if the Phillies were to cover all of the remaining money owed, there won’t be much of a market for an inconsistent 1B/DH in his mid-30’s who can’t field, can’t run, and can’t hit left-handed pitching.

Ruiz, 37, has had a solid season, batting .261/.368/.352 in 193 plate appearances. Like Howard, Ruiz has lost playing time at his primary position to a younger player — Cameron Rupp, in this case. Ruiz is owed the remainder of his $8.5 million salary and is under contract next season if his controlling club picks up his $4.5 million option. That option may make him even more attractive to interested clubs, as Ruiz is still a valuable catcher. He has accrued 1.3 Wins Above Replacement despite limited playing time and has a reputation for working well with his pitchers. A playoff-bound club could do a lot worse.