Lynn Henning reported in an interview on WTKA today that Magglio Ordonez could be released by the Tigers before his vesting option for 2010-2011 kicks in. Thanks to Motor City Sonics for posting the link on MotownSports (He was actually one of the interviewers). Ordonez has a unique contract where an $18 million dollar option for 2010 automatically vests if he reaches 135 games or 540 plate appearances this season. An additional $15 million option would kick in for 2011 if he reaches 135 games or 540 plate appearances in 2010 or 270 games or 1080 plate appearances in 2009-2010.
If the Tigers release him before he reaches the necessary playing time, they would save $30 million dollars ($33 million in options minus a $3 million buy out for 2010). There is a catch however. According to the basic agreement, a team can not release a player for financial reasons, only for performance based reasons. Billfer wrote more about that issue on DTW a while back.
It will not be easy to release Ordonez for performance reasons but Henning says the Tigers will try to build a case empirically. If they released him today, the union would surely point to his .272 batting average and .343 On Base Percentage. Those are not Magglio-like numbers but they are respectable. The Tigers case would have to be built around his total lack of power - .343 slugging average - and his sub-par defense.
According to the Fan Graphs stats, Magglio is worth 2.3 runs less the the average American League batter ranking him 34th among 43 outfielders with 150 or more plate appearances. Defensively, he ranks 0.2 runs below the average right fielder. Overall, he is just 1.7 runs or 0.2 wins above a replacement level player. The best case the Tigers could give for releasing him might be be the fact that he ranks behind nine other Tigers in total player value.
I'm not sure any of the above is strong enough evidence to win a case against the union. There is also the issue of potentialy alienating players on the Tigers or potential free agents if they release him before his contract is up. I still believe it will be tough for them to free themselves of his contract but it is very interesting that they are apparently seriously thinking about attempting to do so.