Monday, December 20, 2010, 11:15 a.m.
By Mark Zuckerman
NATIONALS PAGE NATIONALS VIDEO
The Washington Nationals have signed outfielder Rick Ankiel to a one-year, 1.5 million contract, a club source confirmed this morning.
Ankiel, the former Cardinals phenom whose pitching career flamed out nearly a decade ago, has resurrected himself as an outfielder and in 2008 hit 25 homers with 71 RBI for St. Louis. He struggled this season, though, hitting just .232 with six homers and 34 RBI in 74 combined games with the Kansas City Royals and Atlanta Braves.
The 31-year-old, however, is a gifted defensive player with a strong arm and could challenge center fielder Nyjer Morgan or left fielder Roger Bernadina for playing time next spring.
Ankiel's contract, which won't become official until he takes a physical, includes 1.25 million in performance bonuses.
A second-round pick in the 1997 draft, Ankiel sped through the Cardinals' farm system and made his big-league debut two years later at 19. The left-hander went 11-7 with a 3.50 ERA in 30 starts in 2000 and was poised to become a mainstay in St. Louis' rotation for years to come.
But he suffered from a sudden and inexplicable inability to throw the ball anywhere near the plate during the 2000 postseason -- he issued 11 walks and nine wild pitches in only four innings -- and when his control woes continued the following spring, his pitching career came to an abrupt end.
By 2007, Ankiel had made the full conversion to the outfield and battled his way back onto the Cardinals' big-league roster, homering in his first game. Following that season, he admitted using human growth hormone on the advice of doctors; Major League Baseball cleared him of any wrongdoing.
Ankiel was a regular in the St. Louis outfield for two full seasons and posted an .843 OPS in 2008. He became a free agent after the 2009 season and signed with the Royals for 3.25 million, though he played in 27 games for Kansas City due to a quadriceps injury. He was traded along with reliever Kyle Farnsworth to the Braves on July 31 and proceeded to hit .210 with two homers and nine RBI in 47 games.