Tigers deal with weight of expectations
Offseason moves have made Detroit a preseason favorite
Suspense is in short supply as the Tigers make their way to Florida for another Spring Training. Anticipation, on the other hand, is not.
When players and coaches gathered in Detroit last month for TigerFest, it was their first get-together as a team since the trades that bolstered the Tigers into a potential American League favorite. For many players it was their first chance to truly appreciate what kind of group this club has assembled, seeing one star after another in the same place and realizing that they're all teammates. Some couldn't help but think what this group will look like when it gets together on a baseball field.
They'll have that answer soon enough.
"I'm just kind of waiting for that meeting when all the hitters get in town in Spring Training, what [manager Jim] Leyland's got to say," closer Todd Jones said. "That ought to be interesting."
It'll be interesting to have the entire group together, but given all the attention heaped upon this team for its offseason moves, it'll be interesting for the other guest that nobody sees but everybody realizes. Expectations could well be the 300-pound gorilla in the Tiger clubhouse, and they could arrive when the players check in at Lakeland's Joker Marchant Stadium.
How players, coaches and staff deal with that begins in February and continues from there.
"I don't get too excited," Leyland said during TigerFest. "We've got a good team, but I've been in the business a long time, and you've got to play the game on the field. I mean, this all sounds good. It should sound good. People should be excited. But when you're the manager, it's a little bit different, so you handle it a little bit differently.
"You don't want to send the wrong message to your players, that all of a sudden everybody's counting us as champions already. I mean, we're not champions of anything. We haven't won anything. We haven't done anything. ... So I'm not going to get trapped by all that stuff."
It's not difficult to imagine that the same topic will be brought up when Leyland has his first full-squad meeting with his team once position players join the pitchers for full workouts on Feb. 20.
Much of those expectations center on the offense, which will boast current or former All-Stars at seven out of nine positions in the projected starting lineup. And one of the exceptions in that group, Curtis Granderson, became the first player since Willie Mays to post 20 homers, 20 doubles, 20 triples and 20 stolen bases in the same season.
But there's a potential trap, Leyland says, in all that talent, and he gathered it from a talk that former Yankees hitting coach Don Mattingly had with him this offseason after all the trades. With so many gifted hitters, Leyland recalls Mattingly explaining, can come a tendency from players to believe that if they don't drive in the run or reach base to put someone in position to score them, the star hitter behind them will do it.
"We're going to try to stay on top of that," Leyland said.
Part of the effort to ward off overconfidence will come in the way Leyland and third-base coach Gene Lamont run Spring Training workouts early in camp. From the day he arrived in Lakeland two years ago, Leyland has professed his belief in having an organized camp that shuttles players from one workout to another with little downtime. An efficient workout, he believes, sets the tone for an efficient team, in part because the players are more likely to pay attention rather than go through the motions.
The rest might well come from the players, especially the key contributors and the attitude they bring into the season. In that respect, Leyland likes what he sees and hears so far.
"The one thing is, I don't think anybody's too excited," he said. "I think that's the one thing that's good about it. I think everyone has just been pretty even-keeled about it, and I think that's really good. You know, Magglio [Ordonez has] already said, 'We can't just think we're going to win.' Magglio talked to me about that on the phone.
"They know. They're smart guys. They know these other teams, how good they are, how you have to compete to win at this level. We're not going to get tricked. We might get beat, but we're not going to get tricked."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.