Five Cards outfielders vie for spots

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Cardinals' outfield is so crowded some players are surprised they're still around.

Rick Ankiel was a big draw at the team's Winter Warmup on Sunday with his autograph going for $60, twice as much as the going rate for manager Tony La Russa. But it's been an uncertain offseason for the former pitcher who hit 25 homers in his first year as the starting center fielder, seeing his name mentioned as trade bait for a starting pitcher.

"Are they rumors or are they not?" Ankiel said. "I mean, who knows? I heard I was getting traded, but you never know until something happens.

"You prepare to play and that's all you can do."

Skip Schumaker thought he'd be part of a blockbuster deal for former Rockies outfielder Matt Holliday, who ended up in Oakland.

"I thought I was gone, I'm not going to lie to you," Schumaker told reporters. "I thought that was a done deal, and from everything I heard and from pretty good sources I thought I was definitely out of here."

The uncertainty is a byproduct of the team's depth. Schumaker and Ryan Ludwick are both coming off breakout years, Ankiel was a force at times and power-hitting Chris Duncan appears ready to reclaim playing time coming off cervical surgery.

Plus, 2005 first-round pick Colby Rasmus apparently is ready to crack the major leagues. That makes it five players for three spots.

Thus, the rumors. Schumaker and Holliday worked out with former home run champion Mark McGwire in the offseason, and discussed the possibility they'd be trading places with Ludwick joining Schumaker in Colorado.

"He didn't think it was Oakland, he'd never heard that and I don't think anybody really did," Schumaker said. "He thought the same thing as me, that he was probably headed here and I was probably headed there."

Schumaker, who hit .302 as the leadoff man in his first full season at age 28, recalled reports last spring that he was bound for Tampa. So he's used to it. And he knows better than to think general manager John Mozeliak will check with him before completing a deal.

"It's tough to really believe you're traded until you see it on the bottom line on ESPN or your agent calls you," Schumaker said. "But no one tells us anything, they don't care what my feelings are. 'Hey Skip, do you want to go there?'

"We're definitely in the dark."

Ankiel's season was cut short by a hernia surgery in September. His biggest goal for 2009 is to be injury-free.

"I've told them I want it to work in St. Louis, but for me it's just focusing on playing a healthy year," Ankiel said. "If you don't play, nobody's going to want you."


RHPs Kyle McClellan and Brad Thompson will come to spring training prepared to start in case oft-injured Chris Carpenter has another setback. "I don't see the bullpen as a step back and I don't see the rotation as a promotion," said McClellan, a middle reliever as a rookie after making the jump from Double-A Springfield. ... The Cardinals have five arbitration-eligible players and Mozeliak expects deals soon with Thompson, RHP Todd Wellemeyer and Duncan. ... Albert Pujols' autograph is going for $175, the top price at the Warmup, with Thompson and catcher Jason LaRue ($5) at the opposite end of the spectrum. Crowds have been down due to the recession.