The Tigers were confident that they had a team that could compete in 2005, but they weren't necessarily ready to proclaim such a thing yet, especially after a free agent period in which the Tigers struck out on almost every target, except for closer Troy Percival.
But when the rest of the free agents fell off the board, one still remained. That one was Magglio Ordonez, the power-hitting outfielder from the White Sox, coming off a season ending knee injury.
When it became apparent that the Tigers could be a player in the Ordonez sweepstakes, they pulled out all the stops – flying down to Florida for a face-to-face meeting, phone conversations between Ordonez and owner Mike Ilitch, and most importantly, offering a contract no one else would compete with.
On the surface, the deal stands at 5 years for $75 million. That includes a $6 million signing bonus, and a $6 million salary for 2005. But only that first year salary for $6 million is guaranteed, nothing else.
Should Ordonez spend more than 24 days on the disabled list due to his left knee injury, the Tigers hold the option of voiding the remainder of the contract at the conclusion of the 2005 season (that includes the signing bonus, which is due to him in November). If that isn't an issue, Ordonez will have 4 more years (2006 at $12 million, 2007 at $15 million, 2008 at $12 million, and 2009 at $18 million).
After that, the Tigers hold an option for 2010 for $15 million. Should they not exercise that option, they'll have to buy it out for $3 million. Should that option be exercised, there would then be another one come 2011, also for $15 million but without a buyout.
Ordonez contract also stipulates that the 2010 option would become guaranteed if Ordonez accumulates 135 starts or 540 plate appearances in the previous season (or 270 starts/1,080 plate appearances over the previous two seasons). If this happens, the guaranteed salary would jump to $18 million for 2010. The same provision would then remain in effect for 2011, except the salary would remain at $15 million.
Obviously, the biggest question surrounds the health of Ordonez's knee, and why he flew all the way to Austria to have it examined. But President/CEO Dave Dombrowski insisted that the knee wasn't a major concern, especially with the out-clause added into the contract.
At the press conference Dombrowski stated, "We feel very good about where Magglio is with his rehab. He feels great, basically been working out for a couple weeks, working out and running for a couple weeks without pain. We're very encouraged by his progress at this time."
As for the soft-spoken Ordonez, he didn't have too much to say, only that he was ready to get started and very happy to be here in Detroit (and it should be noted, Ordonez's first language is Spanish and it is still his preferred language). Ordonez would rather let his numbers speak for themselves, stats that include averaging 30 home runs and 118 RBI over the 1999-2003 seasons.
But when asked why he came to Detroit, his answer was simple:
"I want to win. I want to win now."
With Ordonez in the fold, the Tigers just got one step closer to making that happen.