Magglio Ordonez is expected to hit in the third spot in the Tigers' lineup this season. He is batting an AL-best .323 since the start of the 2005 season. He hit .317 with 103 RBIs last season.
Tony Dejak / AP Enlarge
LAKELAND, Fla. - Magglio Ordonez is entering the final guaranteed season of his contract with the Detroit Tigers.
Ordonez, though, isn't rooting to cash in as a free agent next winter.
"Not now," he said yesterday with a grin.
The six-time all-star outfielder is batting an AL-best .323 since the start of the 2005 season and has 100-plus RBIs in each of the last three years, numbers that would make him very desirable on the market.
But the sagging economy has made free agency less lucrative these days.
Just ask Manny Ramirez, who is seeking $25 million a year but has yet to find a team to pay up.
In Ordonez's deal, Detroit has a $15 million option for 2010 with a $3 million buyout and a $15 million option for 2011 with no buyout.
But his salary in each of those years becomes guaranteed if he has 135 starts or 540 plate appearances in the previous season, or 270 starts or 1,080 plate appearances in the previous two years.
If his 2010 salary becomes guaranteed under the provision, it would be at $18 million, and the 2011 salary would be $15 million.
"I'm very lucky I signed with the Tigers when I did," Ordonez said. "Players do not get that kind of money now."
Ordonez played in 146 games last season and had 561 at-bats, hitting .317 with 21 homers and 103 RBIs.
He played in an average of 156 games during the 2006-07 seasons in Detroit, earning an all-star nod each year.
Ordonez proved he wasn't the injury-prone player the Chicago White Sox thought he was after two surgeries on his left knee limited him to 52 games in 2004.
"I'm very happy and proud that I've been healthy because it took a lot of hard work," Ordonez said. "It wasn't easy, but it was worth it to do the consistent training I did to get back to being the player I was before."
Ordonez was an all-star from 1999-2001 and in 2003 for the White Sox, averaging 32 homers, 118 RBIs, and a .300-plus average over a four-season span. But the White Sox and other teams had doubts Ordonez and his knee would bounce back.
Detroit took a gamble on him, and it paid off.
The Tigers signed Ordonez to a $75 million, five-year contract on Feb. 7, 2005, that was structured to pay him as little as $12 million for one year if his knee problems flared up or as much as $105 million over seven seasons.
"He's played well for us, and he's earned his contract," Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "He's one of the higher-paid players in the game, but he's also one of the better players. He's an offensive force who drives in a lot of runs. He's a .300-plus hitter who will drive in 100-plus runs. We're happy to have him."
After hernia surgery led to Ordonez missing almost half of the 2005 season in Detroit, he has been healthy and productive. With a powerful bat, humble ways, good looks, and curly locks spilling out of the back of his cap, he's also very popular.
He secured his place in Tigers lore two years ago with his series-winning, three-run homer against Oakland that lifted them into their first World Series in 22 years.
Tigers Hall of Famer Al Kaline, who has been part of the franchise for nearly six decades as a player and observer, considers Ordonez's soaring shot over the left-field wall as big a moment in the team history as the one Kirk Gibson hit off San Diego's Goose Gossage in the clinching game of the 1984 World Series.
After Detroit lost to the St. Louis Cardinals, Ordonez hit .363 in 2007 and won the AL batting title with the highest average by a Tiger since 1937 and finished second in voting for league MVP.
Ordonez was fifth in the AL last season with .317 average and had 103 RBIs.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland said it's difficult to help hitters improve because much of what they do happens instinctually, adding Ordonez is a player born to succeed at the plate.
"He has a real good feel - one of the best I've seen ever - as far as knowing what the pitcher is trying to do to him," Leyland said.
The Tigers plan to bat Ordonez third in the lineup, behind crafty hitter Placido Polanco and before reigning AL home run champion Miguel Cabrera.
While the 37-year-old Ordonez has many millions to gain with another strong season, he's focused on helping the Tigers win a title after being baseball's biggest flop last year following an AL championship.
"I'm very excited for this season because a lot of people are thinking we're going to finish in last place again, and we're going to prove people wrong," Ordonez said. "Last year, they thought we were going to win the whole thing, and we have a lot of the same players.
"If we stay healthy and work hard, we can win the World Series."