DETROIT -- Could this really be the same Detroit Tigers franchise that had Kevin Witt as a cleanup hitter for 24 games and Craig Paquette batting third two years ago?What was the American League's most anemic offense for consecutive seasons until last year has become something to fear in two offseason swings for the figurative fences. With Monday's signing of Magglio Ordonez, manager Alan Trammell now can look at batting 2003 or 2004 All-Stars everywhere from second to sixth in his lineup while juggling Rondell White, Craig Monroe and Bobby Higginson in left field. He now has 12 players on his roster that hit double-figure homers last season. Don't look now, but the team whose offensive struggles once made their ballpark look like pitchers' heaven now has a playoff-caliber attack. It's little wonder why hitting coach Bruce Fields made the trip in from his new baseball complex for Monday's press conference with a smile affixed to his face.
"I think that I'm very excited how the club looks," president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said Monday. "And I think it has the potential to be a very good ballclub. When you look at the lineup, it's a very good lineup."While Detroit's rebuilding process has centered around many of the same pitchers since 2003, the change in the offense has mostly come from outside the organization. Much of it came last winter with the signing of Rondell White, the trade for Carlos Guillen and the addition of Ivan Rodriguez. Those three formed the middle of the order around Dmitri Young last summer as Detroit moved from the AL cellar to the middle of the pack in hitting and scoring. The long-awaited development of Brandon Inge, Omar Infante and Carlos Pena also helped. The Tigers went into the offseason looking for one more hitter they could plug into the middle of the order, moving Young out of the cleanup spot and taking some of the pressure off of him by driving in runs. They tried and failed to add Steve Finley, J.D. Drew and Adrian Beltre in December. They then tried to add a No. 2 hitter in Edgar Renteria, but missed there, too. Instead, they eventually found someone who, if healthy, best fits the role they're looking to fill. Not only is Ordonez a .307 hitter overall in eight big-league seasons, he's batted .314 with a .551 slugging percentage and .925 OPS in 657 career games batting fourth. He hits .316 with runners on base, .320 with runners in scoring position, .433 with a man on third base with less than two outs and .354 with the bases loaded. With all that going for him, you won't find any jealousy out of Young. "I'm pumped getting Maggs," Young said by phone Sunday afternoon. "I move into the fifth spot and make this an even more lethal lineup." What impressed Tigers officials isn't so much the home-run power as the year-in, year-out production. Though critics continue to bash the notion of a right-handed power hitter having success at Comerica Park, where the left-field foul pole stands 340 feet away from home plate, Ordonez accomplishes as much or more with his doubles -- a critical component given the ballpark's deep gaps. He had at least 40 doubles in three consecutive seasons before his injury-plagued 2004 campaign, ranking fourth in that category among AL hitters in both 2002 and '03. He also cracked the AL top 10 in total bases three straight years from 2001-03. It didn't hurt that he played in at least 153 games each season from 1999 through 2003, including 160 in '01 and '03. The latter season, he racked up a remarkable 606 at-bats despite taking 57 walks. "He's done it very quietly," manager Alan Trammell said. "His numbers say that he's been a very productive player since 1999. He's a very solid player all the way around. I think that's what he tries to do is be a well-rounded player, and I think he's succeeded in that." Ordonez, for his part, doesn't worry about the numbers or the ballpark. "I don't get caught up in statistics," he said. "I just want to play my game. I just want to be in right field, play hard and win ballgames. It's what I'm here for, to be on a winning team." Trammell hasn't yet written out a lineup, but he could envision one that features Sanchez leading off ahead of the All-Stars -- Guillen second, Rodriguez third, then Ordonez, Young and White. Pena and his team-leading 27 home runs from last season would likely end up seventh in that scenario, with Inge and Infante juggling eighth and ninth. That probably won't be the lineup for much of Spring Training. Like Guillen, the Tigers plan to rest Ordonez for most of the games in Florida in order to protect his knee. "As with Carlos Guillen's case, we're concerned about Opening Day here," Dombrowski said. Monroe, who two weeks ago appeared on the verge of becoming an everyday player, would likely have to earn playing time at left field or DH. Trammell reiterated Monday that while Monroe could play center field occasionally, he doesn't fit there as a regular. Behind Monroe are a slew of other useful outfielders, from Higginson to Marcus Thames to Nook Logan. The chances of waiver pickups Byron Gettis, Dewayne Wise and Alexis Gomez making the club now look slim to none. Still, there's a bright side, and Trammell is the one to find it. "It's much more depth," Trammell said. "I don't know exactly how it's going to shake out at this point."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.