DETROIT (AP) -A day before Tigers owner Mike Ilitch planned to discuss Ivan Rodriguez's $13 million option, he was full of praise for the All-Star catcher.
``Pudge did a big thing for us, putting a face on the franchise,'' Ilitch told The Associated Press on Wednesday night. ``He's made a lot of contributions.
``I don't think it'll be a tough call, but we'll see.''
Ilitch is scheduled to meet with team president Dave Dombrowski on Thursday to discuss Rodriguez, who either will be retained or bought out of his contract for $3 million. Dombrowski acknowledged it will be an important decision.
Ilitch spoke after his Red Wings beat the Anaheim Ducks 3-2 in Detroit's NHL opener. When told it sounded like he was leaning toward bringing Rodriguez back, Ilitch cut off the interview.
``All right, that's enough,'' he said with a smile.
The Tigers have up to 10 days after the World Series to make up their mind, and Dombrowski said Monday the ballclub might use all of that time.
Rodriguez struggled at and behind the plate last season, hitting .281 with 11 homers and 63 RBIs. Runners trying to steal against him were successful 71.2 percent of the time, a high rate against one of baseball's greats.
But Detroit doesn't appear to have many good options if it chooses to let Rodriguez go for $3 million. And as Ilitch pointed out, Pudge has played a big part in Detroit's turnaround. Rodriguez turns 36 next month.
When nobody wanted to play for the Tigers - at any price - Rodriguez signed a $40 million, four-year deal with them after they lost an AL-record 119 games in 2003. Rodriguez had helped Florida win the World Series, earning the MVP award in the NL championship series.
Rodriguez hit .300 last season, threw out a baseball-best 51 percent of runners attempting to steal and had a .998 fielding percentage that was tied for the best in the majors.
He was an All-Star in each of his four seasons with the Tigers, earning a spot in baseball's midsummer classic this year for the 14th time. He also won two more Gold Gloves - giving him a record 12 as a catcher.
Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente and Rodriguez are the only three players in baseball history with at least 12 Gold Gloves and a career .300 batting average or better.
Rodriguez has caught 2,061 games - including at least 123 each season in Detroit - to trail only Carlton Fisk (2,226) and Bob Boone (2,225) in terms of longevity behind the plate.
Scott Boras, Rodriguez's agent, has sounded optimistic about the chance of Detroit exercising the option, but his client was not so sure.
``I don't know what is going to happen,'' Rodriguez said toward the end of the season ``I'm just going to play as hard as I can until the end of the season, then I'm going to relax.
``I'm going to continue playing this game for many years to come. I've got a lot of baseball in me.''

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