The Cardinals avoided what would have been their first arbitration hearing since 1999 when they reached a last-minute settlement on a one-year contract with outfielder Rick Ankiel on Thursday. The deal came after a face-to-face meeting between general manager John Mozeliak and Ankiel's agent, Scott Boras, on Wednesday night.
"If you add the human element to it, that helps," Mozeliak said on Thursday afternoon.
The deal is worth $2.825 million, which is the exact midpoint of the figures submitted by Ankiel and the club last month. Ankiel requested $3.3 million in his final season before being eligible for free agency, and the club countered with an offer of $2.35 million.
The two sides chose simply to split the difference rather than going to a hearing, which can be an unpleasant or at least contentious experience.
"I think the arbitration process is designed to allow the parties to reach an amicable settlement," Boras said. "There are times you have to go, and I've done so. But whenever you can achieve a common objective, it [is beneficial]."
Ankiel and the Cardinals were literally down to their last couple of hours to get a contract done. Their hearing was scheduled for 3 p.m. CT, and the involved parties had all made their way to Arizona to take part. The club confirmed the deal shortly after 1 p.m.
"We were prepared to go [to a hearing]," Mozeliak said. "But I think when we looked at all the factors, we just thought it made the most sense for the player and the club to end up where we did. ... After I met with Scott last night, and thought through it again this morning, I felt like there was far more downside than upside [to a hearing]."
With the priority on securing a deal for this year, Boras said that the two sides did not discuss a longer-term arrangement for Ankiel, who has been in the Cardinals organization since he was drafted in 1997. However, Boras did not shut the door on the possibility of working something out before Ankiel hits the open market.
"I think everyone knows this is one of those cases where the player has been a lifetime Cardinal," Boras said. "And I think all of us know what it means to be a Cardinal. I can never predict how the winds of a situation will go for an ownership group and a franchise because there are so many things to think about. ... We're going to let the season play and I'm sure there will be dialogue."
St. Louis still has one remaining arbitration-eligible player who has not signed. Ryan Ludwick would have a hearing on Tuesday if no deal can be reached before that time. Ludwick has asked for $4.25 million, and the club has offered $2.8 million. The club holds out some optimism that a deal can be reached with Ludwick before a hearing.
"I met with his agent last night," Mozeliak said, "and we're very hopeful we can get something worked out."
Ludwick is represented by the Beverly Hills Sports Council, the same group that represents Albert Pujols, among many other prominent players.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.