Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Tigers take chance on Grilli

According to their website, the Tigers signed former White Sox pitcher Jason Grilli to a minor-league deal.

Grilli was the recipient of a lot of nice lip services this winter from Sox GM Kenny Williams before Williams landed Orlando Hernandez. If the Sox hadn’t signed El Duque, Grilli probably would have been the front-runner for the Sox fifth starter job.

For all the nice things the Sox organization said about him, Grilli just plain sucked last year. His ERA was 7.40 in 45 innings for the Sox last year, all coming in eight starts. If you imagine what he would have done over a whole season by stretching his stats in those 45 innings into 180 innings (4 times), he would have walked almost 100 men and given up almost 50 home runs, all while batters hit him at nearly a .300 clip.

Grilli also didn’t show much at Charlotte, posting an ERA close to 5.00 over 152 innings. Despite his early departure, he led the Knights in hits allowed, walks allow, home runs allowed, runs allowed and earned runs allowed.

The Sox must have been serious about starting him in the fifth slot since they talked him up through most of the winter, but it’s hard to see how Felix Diaz wasn’t a better option. Yes, Diaz was hammered in Chicago (6.75 ERA), but he did post a 2.97 ERA in Charlotte, and he is still just 23-years-old. Grilli turned 28 in Novermeber.

The Hernandez signing made it a moot point, so Diaz probably spends this year in the bullpen and Grilli either slides into Detroit’s staff, where Comerica Park could shave a run or two off his ERA by forgiving some of his flaws, or he spends the summer as a Toledo Mud Hen.

The Grilli experiment didn’t work out so well, but the Sox should still be applauded for trying to land some talent from a non-conventional source. Williams picked him up in last year’s Rule 5 draft, and while he didn’t have the star potential many thought he had early in his career as a Giants and Marlins prospect, he could have been useful. There’s nothing wrong with taking a flier on a guy to see if your coaches can do something with him. It didn’t work out this time, but it was worth a try.

Good luck to Grilli in Detroit.

Thoughts on Ordonez to the Tigers

Magglio Ordonez finally found a taker for his services when the Detroit Tigers signed him to a 5-year, $75 million contracts earlier this week.

It’s been a long offseason for the former Sox outfielder, mainly because of unanswered questions about his injured knee, and the secretive treatment he received last summer in Austria. Ordonez’ agent, Scott Boras, originally was going to have the outfielder work out for teams at winter meetings back in December, but that fell through, leaving potential buyers to speculate even further about the status of the knee.

For a while, it looked like Ordonez would be left without a date to the big dance, especially since he and Boras insisted on arriving in a stretch limo with a fat contract in hand. Most teams, including the Cubs, Orioles and Mets, would only go for two years at around $8-10 million.

But the Tigers were also left on the sidelines for most of the winter. Although they bagged closer Troy Percival early in the hunting season, they failed to land any more big game. Carl Pavano and Matt Clement turned them down. Carlos Beltran wouldn’t return their calls. And even second- and third-tier guys showed a reticence to playing in the Motor City.

Detroit was desperate and had money to spend, so they forked over the biggest wad of cash to ever slip out of the organizations’ wallet.

So what do I think about this deal?


When I say that, I don’t mean worst Tigers deal ever… of which there are many. (IE Bobby Higginson, Dean Palmer, et. Al.) I mean the worst deal in baseball… ever.

What could have been the worst deal ever was the $140-million, 8-year contract Detroit offered Juan Gonzalez back in 2000. Juan Gone didn’t want to toss his John Hancock on that piece of paper, which was a close call for the Tigers. Gonzalez was miserable in 2000, bounced back to have one of his finest seasons in 2001 with the Indians, then signed a pair of lesser deals with the Rangers and Royals, for whom he provided fewer than 800 at-bats over three years with some league-average hitting for a right fielder.

In short, considering what Detroit would have done to his numbers through both park factors and Juan’s fleeting happiness, the deal would have been an unmitigated disaster, crippling the team’s chances of contending as the contract served as an albatross on the payroll.

Apparently, since the Tigers didn’t end up taking a bath on that deal, they didn’t learn the object lesson.

Gonzalez had been a good-but-not-great hitter before then, but he was 30 by the time he reached Motown. He should have been expected to decline, especially as a free-swinger that never walked much and had most of his value tied up in being able to crank the ball.

Ordonez doesn’t fit the same player mold as Gonzalez in that Magglio has always been better at reaching base. Ordonez’ career on-base percentage is .364 and had hovered around .380 the four seasons before last year (when he was at .351 before the knee injury). Gonzalez is at a respectable .343 – nice, but not so nice for an allegedly elite hitter.

But the same could be said for Ordonez. He’s never had an OBP above .400. He’s never slugged better than .600, even in some of the homer-happy years at Comiskey Park. Gonzalez slugged better than that four times.

So here we have a case of two guys that are overvalued: Gonzalez for being a career .300 hitter (at the time) and having a rep as an RBI guy, and Ordonez for being a career .300 hitter (for now) and having a consistency that evaporated the first half of last year.

So forgetting about the knee injury for a second, has history shown it to be a good idea to throw money at an aging corner outfielder that hasn’t been an elite hitter? The answer is an emphatic NO.

I would have expected Ordonez to age better than Gonzalez, but it in now way justifies the money he got, even if he had been healthy.

And here’s the kicker: While there are protections in case the knee doesn’t hold up. If the knee injury reoccurs, Ordonez gets to keep the $6 million signing bonus and his $6 million salary for 2005, and the Tigers are off the hook.

However, it doesn’t protect the Tigers from A) ineffective play because of the knee, B) a reoccurrence of the injury after 2005, and C) injuries Ordonez might sustain compensating because of the injury.

If Ordonez just stays in the lineup, two more years can be tacked on to the deal, pushing the overall total to $105 million.

If this deal works out as well as it possibly could for the Tigers, Ordonez would repeat his 2001-04 seasons a few couple times. They’d still be paying him more than Vladimir Guerrero, but a case could be made that Detroit had to over pay to get that caliber of player into a Tigers uniform.

But how likely is Ordonez to repeat those years?




































It didn’t look like Ordonez was beating the long arc of history before the knee injury last year. Even if you give him credit for being a better second-half player (which he has been the last three years), he was still on target for his worst year since his rookie campaign back in 1997.

When the Sox offered Ordonez $70 million over five years last year, I thought it was crazy. That was before a knee injury cast doubt on his future. What the Tigers have done is beyond crazy. It’s something that could hold down the organization for almost a decade.

I could see the need to overpay for a big-time free agent if the Tigers were closer to contention. But they aren’t that close, and Ordonez might not help them get any closer. Before it’s all over, he might keep them farther away.