September 17, 2009 at 5:57 pm

Lynn Henning

Magglio Ordonez's contract a burden to Tigers

I don't know anyone other than Magglio Ordonez, his family and his agent, who is happy with the player's 2010 contract extension. And until he spoke this week with The Detroit News' Amelia Rayno, I wasn't always sure he was happy with it. He isn't talking to most of the media, angry at the coverage he has received, which seems strange.

The coverage has been fair. The Tigers' right fielder is batting .291 with seven home runs, 19 doubles and 40 RBIs. He's a below-average defensive outfielder (he might argue there) with below-average speed (he shouldn't argue there).

And for those skills he was paid $18 million this year, with another $18 million headed his way in 2010 now that his option has kicked in (1,080 combined plate appearances in 2008-09).

That's why fans aren't pleased. It's also why the team, privately, isn't exactly elated that Ordonez's option year (with a $15 million option in place for 2011) was triggered during Tuesday's game.

Bloops not blasts

The problem is simple: Ordonez, 35, is primarily a singles hitter and not a run-producer.

As costly from a club perspective is that the $18 million Ordonez will make in 2010 restricts what the team can spend during the upcoming offseason. They will likely lose several key players to free agency (Placido Polanco, Fernando Rodney, Brandon Lyon, and probably others).

A team with the fifth-highest payroll in baseball will not have any reasonable ability to spend excess money this autumn and winter -- not when the team will have drawn 700,000 or so fewer fans than in 2008, and not when so many players (Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson, etc.) are due heavy raises.

You can only lose so much cash. And the Tigers, even with the fourth-highest attendance in the American League, will take it on the chin. That's one reason Ordonez's 2010 paycheck will be an enormous burden on the club.

Next season Ordonez will put the Tigers in the same place they found themselves in 2009. He will be shooting for another option-year situation where, if he has a combined 1,080 plate appearances in 2009-2010, he gets $15 million guaranteed for 2011.

Lack of options

The Tigers won't strategically limit his plate appearances -- manager Jim Leyland refuses to consider contract issues when filling out his lineup card, and had few better options than Ordonez during most of 2009. Thus, the Tigers will be reluctant to release Ordonez in 2010 because of exactly what happened in 2009. Had the Tigers dumped him, his agent, Scott Boras, and the MLB Players Association, would doubtless have argued that Ordonez was denied a chance to earn his rightful pay for 2010.

The Tigers could have been held responsible for the full duration of his contract, including $33 million through 2010-11.

What are the chances that a hitter who at age 35 has lost so much ability to drive the ball will regain it?

It's about performance. It's about having half of the run-producing potential that a corner outfielder, or a designated hitter, must provide.

Is this Ordonez's fault? Not for a moment. It was Tigers owner Mike Ilitch who sanctioned this deal in February 2005. But with big money comes at least modest scrutiny. And what the scrutiny reveals, for as much as it bothers Ordonez, is why a team and its fan base aren't clicking heels over his return.

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