The Nationals’ first significant move of the offseason came last week when they signed Chien-Ming Wang to a one-year deal, leaving them seven of their own free agents to either sign or let walk. Three of them – outfielder Rick Ankiel, catcher Ivan Rodriguez and infielder Alex Cora – are represented by agent Scott Boras.
Boras, who also represents high-profile free agents Edwin Jackson and Prince Fielder, said he and General Manager Mike Rizzo would sit down this week, which would give him “more clarity on [the Nationals’] plans,” Boras said.
Boras said he’s received interest in all three players, with “a lot of teams” having inquired about Rodriguez, a future Hall of Famer who likes Washington but may not find the playing time he wants behind Wilson Ramos. Last week, the New York Daily News reported the Mets had considered Ankiel for their outfield.
The Nationals, of course, have a need in center field. Their public declaration that they’re searching hard for a center fielder shows they don’t consider Ankiel a proper candidate after he started 84 games there this season. Playing around two disabled list stints, one for a sprained wrist and the other with a rib cage muscle strain, Ankiel hit .239/.296/.363 with nine homers in 380 at-bats.
Well-liked by teammates, Ankiel became part of the clubhouse’s bedrock. He played frequently exhilarating defense, changing several games with his arm, perhaps the strongest outfield arm in baseball. Fighting injuries and sometimes inconsistent playing time, Ankiel endured some dismal stretches at the plate. But he could also get hot – from the start of July through mid-August, Ankiel hit .320 and blasted a home run once every 17 at-bats.
Boras made the case that Ankiel, despite being 32 years old, has yet to reach his full potential as a hitter. Ankiel famously switched from pitching to playing outfielder in the middle of his career, and he has been a full-time outfielder since 2005, and in the majors since 2007.
“Rick’s situation is unique,” Boras said. “He’s still a player who is advancing himself in the major leagues. We have not seen his best years. It’s certainly clear the Nats liked what they saw. It’s just pretty hard to find guys who can play center field, who have that arm strength and who can hit for power. Ank’s in great shape. He runs well. His chronological age and what he is as a player are not the same.”
Boras said Ankiel liked playing for the Nationals and would consider playing for them again. If the Nationals could not find a center fielder via a trade or the thin free agent market, they could turn back to Ankiel. That, though, is a back-up plan at best, and if they do have interest in Ankiel, it would be as a fourth outfielder.
Ankiel, who made $1.5 million in 2011, would seemingly be open to that if he does not receive a starting opportunity from another team.
“When you’re a position that Ankiel is in and you’re in a position that the Nats are in, there are certainly thoughts of going both directions,” Boras said.