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The Counfounding Contract of Magglio Ordonez

The Tigers are in the middle of the AL Central race. If they slip out of that division amidst a massive charge from the White Sox or Twins, they still would likely be in the thick of the AL Wild Card. They need all the pitching and hitting they can get.

So, why would they consider batting one of the team's most established hitters less than 81 times for the rest of the season? The answer is simple, and it has everything to do with money.

Detroit outfielder Magglio Ordonez's contract has a massive, $18 million team option that will vest if he reaches a certain number of plate appearances this year. Despite a long slump that stretched across a significant portion of the season, Ordonez is within only 81 plate appearances to make that vesting option kick in, a move that would kill any payroll flexibility Detroit may have hoped for.

So, what's a team to do? It's a curious conundrum, particularly considering the fact that Tigers Manager Jim Leyland is known for being a manager who A) likes veterans and B) tries to remain loyal to "his guys". While Ordonez's defense has doubtlessly grown weaker over the past two seasons, he's still a respectable outfielder (with somewhat limited range) and he has batting stats similar to Clete Thomas and Ryan Rayburn, his prospective replacements.

And while Thomas and Rayburn may have seemed like ideal replacements, Ordonez's bat has suddenly awakened, hitting .295/.340/.523 since July 4 (as pointed out in this post on MLB Trade Rumors). In his current form, Ordonez is a better batter in the middle of Detroit's lineup than Thomas or Rayburn. Even if Leyland benches Ordonez against right handed pitching (he's batting .252 against RHP as opposed to .317 against LHP), he still might get close to the 81 at-bats he needs for his option to vest, particularly if Detroit makes the playoffs.

Factor in the threat of legal action against the Tigers if they don't bat Ordonez on a regular basis -- his agent Scott Boras could file a grievance claiming future restitution-based discrimination if Ordonez was benched while on a hitting streak -- and Detroit seems to be in a lose-lose situation.

What's an AL Central leader to do? Well, R.J. Anderson of FanGraphs thinks there's still a way the Tigers could get away with holding Ordonez below the 1,080 total plate appearances needed in 2008-09 to force his option to kick in. Rob Neyer of ESPN takes the opposite approach, claiming that Ordonez's resurgent productivity makes him almost a shoo-in to hit the 81 at-bat threshold and earn himself a big, $18 million paycheck.

Me? I get the distinct impression that Leyland will keep running him out there as long as Detroit's in the midst of a pennant push ... which should be the rest of the season. Where they go from there is anyone's guess, but Leyland knows he needs this team to win to keep his own job secure. When that's on the line, $18 million to someone else doesn't seem quite so pressing on your lineup card, I'd imagine.

What do you think? Will Ordonez get to the magical, $18 million at-bat threshold? Or will the Tigers find a way to limit his at-bats so severely over the second half that they can pay his opt out clause? And what would you do in Leyland's situation?

By Cameron Smith  |  August 14, 2009; 4:25 PM ET
Categories:  Tigers  | Tags: Magglio Ordonez, Tigers, contracts, free agency, magglio ordonez  
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Bonus enhancements are fine as long as they are in the six figure range. Why so much for plate appearances. As it is not Leyland's money and the GM cannot directly order him no to play MO (cause of action by Boras), MO gets his 18 million.

Section 204 Row H Seat 7

Posted by: adhardwick | August 14, 2009 4:59 PM | Report abuse

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