Every so often, a baseball signing just completely shocks me. Alex Rodriguez was the last time it happened, but today's (reported) signing has the same effect on me.
Magglio Ordonez has been for years one of the game's most underrated players, maybe because he played in a division no one cared about nationally, or maybe it was his consistency. Most Indians fans know how good he is from experience; him and Frank Thomas would kill the Indians time after time throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s. He's never hit 40 home runs in a season, but he's also been one of the better hitters in the American League since 1998.
But I simply can't imagine he'd ever get 75 million dollars from anyone. Especially after a career-threatening knee injury. Especially after an offseason where players like Adrian Beltre and Carlos Delgado didn't really get market value. That's what the Detroit Tigers are reportedly going to pay Magglio over the next five seasons. I had assumed that some team like the Mets or Cubs would get him at a reduced rate, he'd have a good year, and then go back on the free agent market and cash in. But I have to credit his agent for somehow getting a team to give him a five year contract.
In 2002, Jim Thome was the best position player on the market, coming off a career year, and he roughly got what Ordonez is getting. He's going to get more than Vlad got last year.
The Tigers are probably forced into paying this much because of their past history, which you can justify on some level. They struck gold after signing Ivan Rodriguez late last offseason, and appear to be following the same script with Ordonez in this offseason. But with these types of signings comes an incredible amount of risk. I always like to ask myself when I see a contract is what the dollar amounts says about the player. For instance, Alex Rodriguez is being paid to be the best player in baseball. Magglio Ordonez is going to be paid to be one of the top 10 players in baseball. The problem comes when the monetary expectations (ie the contract dollars) doesn't mesh with the baseball expectations (ie the performance on the field). I'll bring up another example near and dear to our hearts: Matt Lawton. He's a nice player, but the disconnect between his performance and his paycheck was fairly large. That's what I see with this deal, but on a grander scale. Unless Magglio somehow ups his game to Pujolsian levels over the next five seasons, he won't be worth what he's getting.
And yes, if the Indians had given out a contract like this in the past two months, I'd be saying the same thing. When dollars don't match performance, there's a big problem, because most teams only have so much money that they can spend. The larger the gulf, the bigger the problem. The smaller the payroll, the bigger the problem. Now if the Tigers suddenly start spending $100M a year, they might not suffer as much from this contract. They are one year away from ridding themselves of Bobby Higginson's Ferry-esque contract, so they'll should be all right monetarily. But the bigger issue comes from the performance on the field; this is what happened to the Indians in 2002.
This signing definitely makes the AL Central more interesting, though. If everyone's healthy, a Rodriguez-Ordonez-Young middle of the order is going to be scary to face.