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December 16, 2010

Transaction of the Day

A Tiger Beat Addendum

by Christina Kahrl

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DETROIT TIGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed OF-R Magglio Ordonez to a one-year, $10 million contract. [12/16]

Well, that was timely. It's easy to consider re-signing Ordonez for $5 million less than he was due if his option had vested or if the club had picked it up nonetheless as savings of a sort, but I'm a little less wild about this than that, since it's still not just a pretty penny paid, but a billion pennies, or what still qualifies as a lot of compensation.

What does this do for the team's outfield depth? Well, taking a look at the current constellation of alternatives, you get:

Left
Center
Right
Raburn Jackson Ordonez
Boesch Wells Boesch
Thomas Thomas Wells
Strieby Kelly Thomas

... which isn't too shabby, since it shunts Boesch back where he belongs, having to prove he deserves any more at-bats after hitting just .163/.237/.222 after the All-Star break. Still, an open competition between Thomas and Boesch as the guy who spots for Ryan Raburn and Ordonez in the corners sounds fairly healthy. Moreover, if Ordonez moves to DH against lefties (with Victor Martinez moving behind the plate), that creates additional starts for Casper Wells in the outfield, beyond just spotting for Austin Jackson and whoever else if he sticks as the fourth outfielder.

Beyond their apparent fondness for the man, the question is whether or not Ordonez is really worth keeping around. Matt Swartz has argued persuasively that free agents retained by the clubs they might depart tend to do better than those who leave, but his study focused on multi-year deals, noting that a club's working on "inside information" or what I'd call familiarity, both with his virtues and his limitations.

In assessing Ordonez's performance record, his virtues aren't very mysterious at this stage of his career. He's consistently good at putting balls safely in play better than league average, whether you want to talk about batting average or BABIP. His walk rate has been league-average or better in the last four years. He's a consistent fly-ball/line-drive hitter whose HR/FB rate dropped below 10 percent when he left the friendly left-field corner of the Cell for Comerica. Unsurprisingly, his ISO dropped, and has been knocking around the .170 range--good, but not exactly excellent when you're talking about an outfield corner bat or a DH.

As a glove, whether you want to use Total Zone, nFRAA, or Plus/Minus, the metrics suggest he was only a little below average afield last year, significantly better than in previous seasons. What that says to me is that he's more likely to be a liability than not.

All in all, I could see Ordonez delivering a fine season, in the .290-.300 range in True Average (as he's done in two of the last three years). While the expense is considerable, that's a better-than-average hitter in a lineup that, as I commented this morning, is replete with average hitters.

The part about this that I like is the unintended consequence that could arise. If Ordonez is more a DH than a viable outfielder in his age-37 season, the Tigers could find themselves in the interesting position of playing V-Mart behind the plate a lot more than they originally suggested when they signed him last month. That would make for a stronger offense, while trading some ineffectuality against the running game for better outfield defense. That isn't the worst outcome for them, although they could obviously still adapt their lineup for opponents more likely to run (like the White Sox) and for starting pitchers with a little more trouble against the running game (Justin Verlander, perhaps).

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

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