There have been great cries throughout the Tiger-sphere for much of the past two months. There have been those, myself included, that take a peek at next year’s payroll obligations and cringe at the thought of paying another $15 million to an under-performing, aging right fielder who can no longer hit or defend as he once did.
Those were cries that called out for the release of Magglio Ordonez, if just for the good of the franchise going forward. The Tigers could not afford to allow Ordonez to reach the magic numbers that would trigger a 2010 option that would pay him $18 million. They had to release him and pay only the $3 million buyout.
Two things are true as of today; the Tigers are sitting atop the AL Central, in the thick of a pennant race, and Magglio Ordonez is rounding into form.
In August of 1987, the Tigers were in another race. Then members of the AL East, Detroit battled the Toronto Blue Jays for the divisional crown. They made a trade for an aging veteran pitcher named Doyle Alexander and dealt away some guy named John Smoltz. The Tigers won the division, thanks in great part to Alexander and his perfect 9-0 record for the Tigers. Smoltz, meanwhile brought 20 years of service to the Atlanta Braves on his way to the Hall of Fame. Bad trade? Not at all.
I am of the opinion that you never know when you will get back to another pennant race, and such moves that are designed to win now are the right ones to make. Such is now the case with Magglio Ordonez.
It’s true the Tigers are already on the hook for more than $84 million in player salary for 2010. That figure does not include significant raises to be given through arbitration to guys like Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson, and Joel Zumaya. That figure does not account for finding replacements for the expiring contracts of Placido Polanco, Brandon Lyon, Adam Everett, and Fernando Rodney.
The 2010 Tigers will pay Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy Bonderman $12 million each, they will pay Nate Robertson another $10 million. In a struggling Detroit economy, it’s difficult to imagine that next year’s Tigers will compare favorably to the 2009 edition, just in terms of talent. Having an extra $15 million would go a long way toward keep the Tigers in contention for next season.
But next season is the unknown. Injuries can happen at any time to any player, regardless of stature. The Tigers could well revert to 2008 form and no amount of money would be able to stop that. But 2009 is the here and now, and these Tigers have played well enough to stay in first place for 110 days in a row. Simply put, this team has no choice but make its push now, and hope for the best next year. That means, not only keeping Ordonez, but playing him.
Prior to the All-Star break, Magglio hit just .260. His strikeout rates were up, his walks down, his extra base power had completely vanished. His OPS was a measly .673. In the 18 games he has played since then, Magglio is hitting a robust .323 while carrying an OPS of .901. The same man who had just 10 first-half doubles and only four home runs has posted nine extra-base hits since the break.
Pitching has carried the Tigers into the pennant chase, but as many noted at the trade deadline, the team needs more production from the lineup to stay there. Placido Ploanco has picked up some slack. In just two games, it appears as if Alex Avila will help both with his bat, and in leading to a fresher, hopefully more productive Gerald Laird. But this team will only go as far as Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez can take them. Vesting option be damned, Magglio is earning his playing time of late. If the Tigers plan to make it to October, Magglio will have to lead the way.