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Boras' business relationship with Tigers put to test

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Jon Paul Morosi

Jon Paul Morosi is a National MLB Writer for FOXSports.com. He previously covered baseball for the Detroit Free Press and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He began his journalism career at the Bay City Times in his native Michigan. Follow him on Twitter.

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DETROIT

The Tigers held a happy news conference Friday afternoon, after Jim Leyland signed a two-year extension to remain the team's manager through 2011. Leyland talked about the "great relationship" he has with team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski — one that allows them to maintain amity even when they disagree on club matters. "Contrary to what people think, I have a friendship relationship with Dave and a business relationship with Dave," Leyland said. "I think that's very good." Well, the Tigers have a "business relationship" with Scott Boras. It's been that way for years. A number of key players on their pennant-winning team in 2006 — Kenny Rogers, Ivan Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez — were Boras clients who came to Detroit via free agency. Boras' guys have helped the Tigers win a lot of games. And the Tigers have helped Boras' guys — and Boras himself — make a lot of money. Business has been good. Now, it appears the relationship between Boras and the Tigers will be tested. Leyland has said that Ordonez would be out of the lineup "indefinitely" as he attempts to rediscover the power stroke that made him a valuable member of the lineup. Boras isn't happy about that. "Great major league players have periods where they don't perform well," Boras said in a telephone interview Friday. "It's befuddling to me, why they've done this. The Tigers are treating Magglio Ordonez differently than they have in the past. "Coming off three consecutive years when he played really well for them ... this is unheard of." Let's get the obvious out of the way right now: There is a lot of money at stake here — $15 million, in fact. That's how much the Tigers would save if they cut Ordonez before he makes another 215 plate appearances this year. (If he hits that trigger, his 2010 contract will become guaranteed; short of that, the team can decline its $18 million option and pay a $3 million buyout.) The Tigers can't acknowledge that money is a consideration here, because doing so would put them at risk for a union grievance in the event that Ordonez, batting .273 with little power, is released. Boras isn't publicly accusing the team of subterfuge, but when he claims that the Tigers are handling Ordonez differently than the past, the implication is clear. Boras said he would like to speak with Dombrowski and Leyland soon. He wants to know what "indefinitely" means, which I suppose is a valid request. Leyland offered no timetable when he addressed the subject Friday. He said he's met with Ordonez three times recently. He talked about trusting his gut instinct as to when the 2006 postseason hero should play. Bear in mind: Ordonez, 35, has not hit a home run since April 27. "I don't want to say this is the last straw," Leyland said, "but this is another idea." How serious are the Tigers about releasing Ordonez? I'm not sure. But since they had the stomach to cut Gary Sheffield this spring — and eat $13.6 million — I suspect they wouldn't be afraid to cut someone when it might actually save money in the long run. For what it's worth, Detroit is 2-0 since the benching began. Marcus Thames, who figures to get more at-bats while Ordonez is out of the lineup, has hit three home runs in the two games. Ordonez, by comparison, has hit two home runs in 57 games this year. The lack of production is mystifying for someone who won a batting title in 2007 and had a respectable output last year (.317, 21 home runs, 103 RBIs). Ordonez, to his credit, has handled the situation with class. He spoke with reporters for a few minutes before Friday's game and acknowledged that he feels embarrassed. Ordonez feels great physically — perhaps the best shape of his career, he said. But this has been a trying season for him off the field; he left the team at one point to be with his wife, Dagly, while she underwent surgery. "I'm worried about things out of my control," he said, in response to a question about why he's struggled to drive the ball this year. "I've probably (forgotten) what I do best: hit and play the game. If you see my history, I've got good numbers. "I'll be OK. I'll be ready. I know how to hit. I know how to play this game. I've run into a little bump. I'll be back." Boras is confident about that, too. He draws comparisons to Carlos Delgado and Jim Thome in 2008, and David Ortiz this year, saying, "None of those players were benched indefinitely." He points out that Ordonez has batted over .300 during his past 30 games. (True.) He says that nonbenched Tigers star Miguel Cabrera has a lower average during that span. (Also true.) The counter-argument is that Ordonez has 10 RBIs (and zero home runs) in those same 30 games, according to Retrosheet.org. One scout who has watched Ordonez this season offered the following theory: Because of diminished bat speed, Ordonez has allowed pitches to travel deeper before slapping them to right for opposite-field base hits. Since he's not pulling the ball for power, the scout reasoned, maybe he's focusing on the one thing he knows he can do — put the ball in play. Is that what's going on? I don't know. The Tigers can't be certain, either. But they hope that giving Ordonez a few days off will help. Boras happens to think they are profoundly wrong and won't hesitate to tell the world why. You know what, though? He was glad to hear that Leyland got that new contract. "I'm happy for Jim," Boras said, his tone cheery again. "And you can tell him I said that."
Tagged: Red Sox, White Sox, Tigers, Astros, Mets, Magglio Ordonez, Jim Thome, David Ortiz, Ivan Rodriguez, Marcus Thames, Miguel Cabrera

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