Monday, December 20, 2010

Tigers Bring Back Magglio Ordonez

With his teams greatest needs - catching and bullpen help - completed, and outfield stars Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth signed away on absurd contracts, Tigers General Manager Dave Dombrowski has made perhaps the Tigers last significant signing of the off season by bringing back long-time right fielder and former MVP Magglio Ordonez on a one-year, ten million dollar deal.

After a down 2009 season, there was a lot of hand-wringing within the Tigers fanbase about whether or not he'd be a capable option for the team in 2010. In detailing players who needed to bounce back last March, I identified Magglio Ordonez as one of the two candidates on the Tigers, surmising;

"...while there was a significant decline in power production, there wasn't much change in Ordonez' ancillary numbers. His strikeout, walks, and line drive rates remain essentially unchanged. The one huge difference was in ground ball rate. Magglio, as is the case with most power hitters, has always been an extreme fly ball hitter. Last year that changed radically as his ground ball rate shot up to 51% from a career rate of 44.2%.

To me, that suggests a mechanical issue, and mechanical issues can be fixed with good coaching. I'd be far more concerned if we were seeing declines in the other numbers, as that would suggest lower bat speed, or declining ability to recognize and react to pitches. We don't see any of that. With a fine spring training under his belt where he mashed six extra base hits along with a pair of homers in just 51 at-bats, I'd expect Magglio to produce just fine in the middle of the Tigers order and provide a lot more run producing power to a lineup I think will surprise a lot of people in 2009."
Let's forget the last part about a lineup I expected to surprise people and focus on the GOOD prognostication about Ordonez having a solid bounce-back year shall we?

In general, that was precisely the case as Ordonez posted a .852 OPS. Not quite a return to his previously prodigious levels of production, but well above average all the same. Perhaps just as importantly, Ordonez seemed to bounce back a bit defensively too, posting a UZR/150 of +2.8. Ordonez has never been a standout with the glove, and all of the advanced defensive metrics has suggested as much since around 2007. Particularly alarming is we're the back-to-back -12 UZR/150 seasons Ordonez had in 2008 and 2009. Ordonez's defense was so bad that in 2009, despite posting a still solid .804 OPS, he was worth just 1.5 WAR.

So to see Magglio have a solid offensive bounce-back and to see him posting better defensive marks was certainly encouraging. Unfortunately, he went down mid-way through the year with a broken ankle and managed to log only about 60% of a full seasons worth of plate appearances. It was a disappointing end to a season that could've seen him rack up a WAR of 4.0 or so and perhaps propelled him to one last big-dollar multi-year deal.

Of course, player contracts are a zero-sum game and in this case, Magglio's loss could be the Tigers gain as his injury might have allowed Dombrowski to make perhaps the off season's best free agent signing. In a winter that's seen outfielders near thirty (or over) getting seven year deals, a multitude of relievers being handed three-year contracts that almost never work out, and multi-year deals for middling position players - the Tigers signed a legitimate 4 WAR candidate for just one year at a rate (10.0m) that actually trends toward the lower end of his possible production level.

Obviously Ordonez, who will be 37 during the 2011 season is no spring chicken. And though he may be a shell of the player that just four seasons ago was the AL MVP after a monster season, he's still capable of producing .300/.380/.480 - .860 offense and, depending upon how his ankle heals, and how successful his rehab is, could be at least around league average defensively.

In other words, for six fewer years, and 116m dollars less than the Nationals will be giving Jayson Werth - the Tigers stand a solid chance of getting about 80% of the production in 2010. That's the definition of a savvy signing.

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