Tigers' rewards are far outweighing the risks - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

By Evan Grant

Tigers' rewards are far outweighing the risks

DALLAS -- Want to know why the Detroit Tigers are churning like a Category 5 hurricane towards a second consecutive playoff berth and perhaps a second consecutive World Series appearance?

The Tigers see things that others don't.

Three years ago when the Chicago White Sox were twiddling around with what do with Magglio Ordonez, one of the most dangerous right-handed hitters in the majors, all they saw were outrageous contract demands and let him walk in free agency. At the same time, the Texas Rangers saw those same contract demands, saw a risky knee and saw that his agent was Scott Boras and they let Ordonez, then 30, limp away.

He limped right to the Tigers. And to the bank. And to the World Series. And maybe now to his first MVP award.

The Tigers saw all the risks, too. And they also saw the rewards. They are the ones reaping them now.

With the halfway point of the season fast approaching, Ordonez has been the best offensive player in baseball.

"Quietly, he's been the best player in baseball this season," effusive first baseman Sean Casey recently said. "Everyone talks about all the big guys like A-Rod, but Magglio has the best numbers in baseball and our team is right there in the thick of it."

The defending AL champs entered Wednesday tied with Cleveland for both the Central and Wild Card leads. The White Sox? They have the worst offense in the AL (the outfield has been especially anemic) and are heading fast into the seller's category for the upcoming trade market. The Rangers? Their outfield offense is better than only the White Sox and Texas is already taking calls from potentials suitors for its available finery.

The Tigers decided three years ago that Ordonez, even if he were hurt for a year, would be a key piece in their plan to improve incrementally. In addition to him, they added guys like Carlos Guillen, Ivan Rodriguez and Placido Polanco before they were ready to win.

The Tigers paid Ordonez $12 million in 2005 to rehab and get back on his feet and he played only half the season. They paid him $15 million last year and are paying him $12 million this year. Considering the market and what they've gotten, even if you roll the 2005 salary into the two seasons, the Tigers have gotten more than their money's worth.

Ordonez was leading the majors in batting average (.383), doubles (34) and was second in RBIs (67) after Wednesday's game. The Tigers began the day leading the AL in batting average (.295), runs, doubles, slugging average and OPS. They were second in on-base percentage. Now consider the White Sox: They were last in every one of those categories.

A healthy Ordonez is obviously a huge part of the Tigers' offensive success. He's only been helped by the presence of Gary Sheffield, who in the No. 3 spot is hitting directly in front of Ordonez. Those still questioning the validity of protection in a lineup need only look at the improved Tigers lineup and the big numbers being put up by Ordonez and Sheffield to understand that the idea does have more than a little substance.

The Tigers understood what Ordonez was: one of the best right-handed hitters in the majors. They understood that good, smart hitters don't simply lose that ability at the age of 30. The Tigers saw what others didn't. They took the risks. They are due the rewards.

For more sports coverage, visit NBCSports.com

HD DOPPLER 6i
/