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Ordonez's contract calls for vesting options that would kick in depending on the number of times he bats this year, so the Tigers' decision to bench Ordonez seems financially motivated. He needs 215 plate appearances for an $18M option to vest for 2010, and there's another $15M at stake for 2011.
To make his $18 million, Ordonez needs 1) 135 starts or 540 PAs in 2009 or 2) 270 starts or 1,080 PAs in 2008-09. This year, he's got 57 starts and 242 plate appearances. Last year, he got 144 starts and 623 plate appearances. To qualify at the two-year threshold, he needs 69 more starts or 235 more plate apperances. To qualify at the one-year threshold, he needs 78 more starts or 298 plate appearances.
So it's the two-year threshold he's trying to hit, and the plate appearances are easier than the games. After tonight -- Ordonez didn't start, of course -- he essentially needs to start 60 of the Tigers' remaining 95 games to get his money (or a few less than 60, but with a fair number of pinch-hitting appearances mixed in).
Can the Tigers reasonably justify playing Ordonez only 60 times the rest of the way? You bet. They could play him just against left-handers. They could play against left-handers and some right-handers. Considering his performance so far this season, the Tigers can reasonably justify almost anything, including just flat releasing the guy.
Scott Boras just doesn't have a case. Not one that would carry an arbitration case, anyway. On the other hand ... Just last season, Ordonez finished with a 127 OPS+. Not exactly what the Tigers were paying for, but exactly in line with his career numbers. I mean, exactly.
So Boras can reasonably argue that the Tigers are being myopic; that Ordonez is still a good hitter -- a better hitter than any of the Tigers' other corner outfielders, by the way -- who's just going through a rough couple of months.
With $18 million at stake, though? If you're the Tigers, you err on the side of economy. In the course of his long and fairly productive career, Ordonez may have earned the benefit of the doubt. But when you sign a contract loaded with big dollars based on playing time, you necessarily forfeit a bit of that benefit. And Boras knows that as well as anyone.