But what a difference a year makes. Following the worst season of his career in 2009, professionally and personally, Ordonez rediscovered his power stroke and had a resurgent first half in 2010. Not coincidentally, the Tigers were fighting with the Minnesota Twins for the AL Central lead in that time.
In late July, however, Ordonez broke his ankle sliding into home, ending his season and taking the Tigers' playoff chances with him. After the season ended, the team announced it would not pick up his $15 million option, making him a free agent. But both sides made it clear that they wanted to get back together.
It's never that easy when Scott Boras is involved, of course. Ordonez's agent saw a market for his client and tried his best to maximize it. The Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers and Philadelphia Phillies expressed interest, providing some competition for the Tigers.
But other free-agent signings shrunk that market fast. The Red Sox didn't need Ordonez after signing Carl Crawford(notes). The Phillies didn't have cash to spare after reuniting with Cliff Lee(notes). And the Rangers have had their eyes on re-signing Vladimir Guerrero(notes) all along.
Those teams weren't looking at Ordonez as a full-time outfielder, anyway. Coming off a broken ankle surely had something to do with that. Ultimately, only one team — the Detroit Tigers — offered a starting spot in the outfield with regular playing time. And though Boras claimed other clubs had offered two-year contracts, Ordonez apparently felt loyal to owner Mike Ilitch, who took a chance on him and his injured knee with a $75 million contract back in 2005.
Perhaps Ordonez also just wanted to stay where he's played the last six years. He and the Tigers have been through a lot during that time.
In particular, 2009 was a rough year for Ordonez. For the first half of the season, he looked like a player who was just about done. He couldn't drive the ball for power. He wasn't hitting for extra bases. He was overmatched by inside fastballs.
By mid-May, Ordonez was hitting .241 with just three home runs, and the question was whether or not the Tigers should release him before reaching the number of plate appearances that would trigger an $18 million vesting option in his contract.
Eventually, we learned that Ordonez had a whole lot more on his mind than baseball. His wife required emergency surgery in May, and the Tigers granted him a leave of absence from the team. It was later revealed that Ordonez's wife had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
Even after successful surgery and treatment, and his mind free to focus again on baseball, Ordonez's familiar swing didn't return right away. As a result, he was benched, moved down in the lineup, and platooned with Clete Thomas(notes).
But it all clicked back into place in August. Ordonez batted .348 for the month. In September, he hit .439 with an OPS of 1.057. With the Tigers' season on the line in a Game 163 tiebreaker for the AL Central, Ordonez went 2 for 5 with a home run against the Twins. The Big Tilde was back.
And he's back in Detroit for 2011, after agreeing to the contract on Thursday. The Tigers needed a rightfielder and right-handed run producer in their lineup. Ordonez seemingly didn't want to go anyplace else. And his clubhouse now has one more fellow Venezuelan in Victor Martinez(notes). It turned out to be the perfect fit, really.