(l-r : Ordoñez, strength and conditioning coach H. Chavez)

Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski’s decision to reward skipper Jim Leyland with a two-year contract extension just happened to coincide with the benching of struggling outfielder Magglio Ordoñez. “He’s been through situations like this before, and he didn’t get benched then,” complained agent Scott Boras, suggesting to the Detroit Free Press’ Vince Ellis, the Tigers are eager to avoid being on the hook for Mags’ 2010 contract, conditional on ’09 plate appearances. If this is indeed the Tigers’ strategy, it seems pretty wise in the eyes of ESPN’s Rob Neyer.

To make his $18 million, Ordonez needs 1) 135 starts or 540 PAs in 2009 or 2) 270 starts or 1,080 PAs in 2008-09. This year, he’s got 57 starts and 242 plate appearances. Last year, he got 144 starts and 623 plate appearances. To qualify at the two-year threshold, he needs 69 more starts or 235 more plate apperances. To qualify at the one-year threshold, he needs 78 more starts or 298 plate appearances.

So it’s the two-year threshold he’s trying to hit, and the plate appearances are easier than the games. After tonight — Ordonez didn’t start, of course — he essentially needs to start 60 of the Tigers’ remaining 95 games to get his money (or a few less than 60, but with a fair number of pinch-hitting appearances mixed in).

Can the Tigers reasonably justify playing Ordonez only 60 times the rest of the way? You bet. They could play him just against left-handers. They could play against left-handers and some right-handers. Considering his performance so far this season, the Tigers can reasonably justify almost anything, including just flat releasing the guy.