Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Would the Tigers Really Release Mags?

The Tigers entered Wednesday in a virtual tie with the Royals for the best record in the AL Central Division. Miguel Cabrera and Brandon Inge have been hitting well with Edwin Jackson carrying the rotation. This team needed a strong start given the precarious economic condition of their city, and attendance hasn't been too bad so far (hovering around the 21,000-27,000 mark). But they've got one tiny little problem: one of their highest-paid players is performing well below expectations. And they might be forced to pay him even more if they don't cut bait on his contract soon.

Magglio Ordonez has been ice cold in 2009, with three extra-base hits and a pedestrian .634 OPS in 112 at bats this season. He's making a cool $18 million this year with another $18 million due next year should he hit 135 starts or 540 plate appearances in '09. That option has a $3 million buyout, plus there's also the matter of a 2011 option for $15 million with no buyout should he reach the same plateaus in '10.

Jim Leyland has been dropping Mags, 35, down in the order and taking him out of games for defensive replacements of late. Is this an indirect attempt to decrease plate appearances so he won't trigger the $18 million option for next year? 

Or, why won't the Tigers just bite the bullet, release Ordonez and save themselves millions in the process, as has been rumored for some time now? They'd still be on the hook for about $17.5 million this year and the $3 million 2010 buyout. But that's a lot better than owing him an additional $15 million next year and potentially $15 million in 2011. Don't forget, we're talking about an already-declining outfielder who's about to become a full-time DH in his age 36 and 37 seasons with an extensive injury history.

Alright, lets hit the brakes on this one for a second. The Tigers are contending, even surprising in 2009. People are still turning out to the ballpark and summer is fast approaching. Even though Mags has struggled, dumping a player with his track record (after all, he hit .363 only two years ago) would send the wrong message to Detroit fans. 

If they want fans to keep filling up seats, a sure-fire way to divert their attention away would be to say, "Well, we've got a solid club but we're going to send one of our veteran leaders packing for nothing so we can save ourselves $30 million over the next two years. But hey, bleacher seats are only $7! Come on out to Comerica!"

Also, who's to say Ordonez won't turn it around? The season is still young, and he's never hit lower than .282 during any season of his career. Sure, he can't play the field everyday like he used to and will need to DH quite a bit. But isn't that part of the reason why they dumped Sheffield over the spring? He's also averaged 24 homers over the last three seasons. He's not dead yet. If I can talk myself into a David Ortiz turnaround, then surely Mags can do the same.

But that number looms large: $30 million. For an aging slugger. In a town that's short on luck and hope, let alone money. It's a tough call. As long as the club is contending, they have to hang on to Ordonez. But if things go south come July or August, and that 540 PA appears within reach, the Tigers won't have much of a choice. The sensible move will be to move on from Mags.

It's a sad reality that we even have to have this discussion. But as Brandon Flowers sang at Mohegan Sun the other night, this is the world that we live in.

No comments: