Magglio Ordonez broke in with the White Sox during the 1997 season and took over in right field full-time in 1998. In his 8 seasons with the White Sox, he was an above-average player; he made four All-Star teams and finished in the Top 12 in the AL MVP voting twice. During his last season in Chicago, he only played 52 games because of injury, and at age 30, the White Sox decided to let him go. He signed a 5-year, 75 million dollar deal with Detroit to last from 2005 to 2009, which also had 18 million dollar club options for 2010 and 2011 that would vest if he met certain playing time criteria. If Ordonez hit 540 plate appearances or 135 starts in 2009 (or 1,080 PA or 270 starts in 2008-2009), his 2010 option would become guaranteed. Same with 2010 regarding his 2011 option.
Well, 2009 didn’t go so well for Maggs and there was a lot of chirping about whether or not the Tigers should bench him to avoid having to pay him in 2010 and 2011. He struggled with injuries in 2004 and 2005 (his first year in Detroit) and hit for less power in 2006, making him just a slightly above-average hitter for a rightfielder. In 2007, he bounced back in a BIG way, finishing 2nd (deservedly so) to A-Rod in the MVP voting. He remembered that he didn’t have to swing at everything, played a fairly good right field, and to be fair, got a little lucky with some extra hits finding their way. His 0.363 batting average was inflated by a 0.381 BABIP, 60 points higher than any other season in his career to that point (previous BABIPs ranged from 0.290 to 0.321). He didn’t hit more line drives or hit a lot more fly balls for home runs; nothing in his profile suggests this was any part his skill. Nonetheless, it was a memorable season for a good player.
In 2008, Ordonez lost 45 points from his batting average, 60 points from his on-base percentage, and 100 points from his slugging percentage. The main culprits were BABIP and his inability to control the strike zone, but it brought him back to pre-2007 levels. In 2009, the drop was even worse. In 131 games, he hit 9 home runs; his home run rate dropped to a career low (8.0% home run per fly ball) and his ISO was a 0.118. In the end, his option vested despite the fact that he was at-best an average major leaguer in 2008 and 2009; the Tigers would owe him 18 million dollars in 2010.
I have to admit, I didn’t know this at the time, but his wife was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2009. Whether the Tigers played him because they thought he gave them the best chance to win (the way he was playing, he didn’t and they had other options), or because they were going to stick by one of their guys as he and his family were going through a tough time, we might never know. But clearly it affected Ordonez and his play suffered; whose wouldn’t?
So far though, he’s proved to be worth it. His 0.314/0.386/0.481 line resembles his career line. His power has come back to some extent, but given that he’s now 36, his peak power days are probably gone. He does have 10 home runs, the second highest walk rate of his career, and the second highest home run rate of his career. He’s hitting more line drives and fewer fly balls. He’s played in 73 of Detroit’s 85 games and has been worth roughly 2.6 wins, which places him 17th in the American League among position players. Given that he’s on pace to be close to a 5-win player in 2010, his 18 million dollar option is almost a bargain (as much as pay 18 million dollars for something can be a bargain).
Also, who had any idea that Magglio Ordonez was a career 0.312 hitter or that he had 2,063 hits in his career? That 0.312 BA is tied for 88th all-time and is 11th among active players. His career OPS is 0.884 (90th all-time) and his OPS+ is 127. He hasn’t reached the true decline phase of his career, so these averages might be weighed down by his final seasons, but just from a cursory look at things, he might be one of the best 300 or so hitters of all-time. That might not sound like a lot, but it’s nothing to sneeze at either. He’s not going to make it to 3,000 hits and he only has 287 career home runs (not enough for a corner outfielder in this era to make a case for the Hall of Fame), but Magglio Ordonez has been a damn good hitter for a long time.