DETROIT - Ivan Rodriguez stared through a window at the snow-blanketed ballpark he will now call home and answered the question many have asked.
Why would he go from the World Series champion Florida Marlins, to the worst team in baseball, the Detroit Tigers?
“The owner showed me respect, and that is the reason I’m here,” Rodriguez said Monday after finalizing a $40 million, four-year contract.
“Everybody is saying I’m going from a World Series team to a losing team, but I don’t think of the Tigers as a losing team. I think the Tigers just had a bad season. It’s going to be completely different this year,” he said.
The Tigers — who haven’t had a winning record since 1993 — lost an American League-record 119 games last season. They were one loss short of baseball’s post-1900 record for futility, set by the 1962 New York Mets.
But thanks to owner Mike Ilitch’s checkbook and general manager Dave Dombrowski’s leadership, the Tigers appear to have a chance to be respectable in 2004.
Their new catcher is a 10-time All-Star, a 10-time Gold Glove winner and was the MVP of the NL championship series last season.
“If you don’t mind for a moment I’m going to soak this up a little bit,” said Tigers manager Alan Trammell, who indicated Rodriguez could hit third in his revamped lineup. “This is how it starts. This is how we get better.”
It didn’t come cheap.
Rodriguez gets $7 million this year, $8 million in 2005 and $11 million each in 2006 and 2007, according to contract information obtained by The Associated Press. The Tigers have a $13 million option for 2008 with a $3 million buyout.
Rodriguez would get $50 million over five years if the option is exercised or $40 million over four if it’s declined.
Detroit has protection against lower back injuries. If Rodriguez goes on the disabled list for five of more weeks, the Tigers would be able to end the contract after two or three seasons.
“We just felt we had to address those concerns for the long term,” Dombrowski said.
Rodriguez had a $10 million, one-year deal with the Marlins last season. He asked for a $40 million, four-year contract from Florida, which broke off talks Dec. 7.
Rodriguez, 32, said the reported offer of $24 million over three years from the Marlins was inaccurate. Some of the money in that proposal wasn’t guaranteed and much would have been deferred.
“If that offer was true, I would’ve probably taken that offer, but it was not that offer,” he said.
Scott Boras, Rodriguez’s agent, said his client was excited about playing in the AL Central.
“Pudge said to me, ‘I know that division. That division could be mine,”’ Boras said.
As giddy as the Tigers were about their latest move, no one was ready to project Detroit’s record this season.
“I’m just a little gun shy, to be honest, in terms of making predictions,” Trammell said. “But I’m excited, I think you can tell that. When you look at our projected lineup from today and from a year ago, it’s night and day. We should be significantly better, but to put a number on it, I can’t do that.”
The Tigers have been active this offseason, but they had not signed an undisputed star such as Rodriguez.
Second baseman Fernando Vina and outfielder Rondell White agreed to $6 million, two-year deals in December, and starting pitcher Jason Johnson agreed to a $7 million, two-year contract later that month.
The Tigers also traded for Seattle shortstop Carlos Guillen.
“What the organization has done this winter is incredible,” said Dmitri Young, Detroit’s lone All-Star last year. “To get a player that’s going to be in the Hall of Fame after the other guys we added is icing on the cake I don’t want to jinx us, but it doesn’t take a Las Vegas oddsmaker to know that the Detroit Tigers are not going 43-119 again.”
On Monday, the Tigers were 200-1 longshots to win the 2004 World Series after opening at 300-1, according to Glantz-Culver.
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