Leyland preparing for Classic departures
Manager has had two springs to learn how to deal with star players being away
DETROIT -- The Tigers won't have an official list of who's going to the World Baseball Classic until the new year. Their manager is already preparing for it.
Jim Leyland already has had two Spring Trainings to learn how to deal with having star players away for the international tournament. His first camp as Tigers manager left him without Magglio Ordonez, Ivan Rodriguez, Placido Polanco and Todd Jones for a good stretch. Three years later, he was missing Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera and Curtis Granderson.
Leyland knows how this goes, missing star players for a few weeks in the middle of camp. He also knows he has more stars on this Tigers team than he did in either of the previous World Baseball Classic springs. Cabrera was one of the first commitments announced at the recent Winter Meetings, and others are likely to follow.
By the end, it'll likely deplete Detroit's roster a bit in the middle of its spring schedule. It'll mean big opportunities for some lesser-known players and non-roster invitees, but some equally big challenges building chemistry and defensive cohesiveness by the end of camp.
Like most everything involving the Major League schedule, Leyland adapts. But he also evolves. He does not complain -- not loudly, anyway.
"The Commissioner [Bud Selig] gets mad at me all the time because I'm not a big [fan]," Leyland admitted during the Winter Meetings earlier this month. "I'm not in big favor of that particularly, but I support it because the Commissioner said you better support it, and I listen to him, and I don't want to get kicked off his [on-field] committee."
He learns to adapt. The adaptations for this spring, however, are different than adjusting to the regular-season schedules.
"It is what it is, but I think that it's a little different because Spring Training, you have to do a lot more work in Spring Training," Leyland said. "You have to be a bit more organized because you've got to figure out who to bring in, who's going to be gone, piecing together the right team to make sure you take a good team on the road. You have to take a certain amount of big league players when you go on a road trip. Sometimes when they have something like [the World Baseball Classic], they make a little excuse for you and you don't have to take quite as many.
"Then you worry about what the fans that are watching our games are thinking. So it's a little more complicated than people think, because a lot of people come down to Florida. They plan their vacations to come down there, and all of a sudden, some of their star players are maybe playing in the world classic. You try to keep everybody happy. I think the concept is a brilliant idea by the Commissioner, but it can get things out of whack a little bit."
Almost surely, it'll mean more players in camp once non-roster invites are added in. Without question, it'll mean more prospects and non-roster invites sticking around longer in camp. Someone will get at-bats in Cabrera's place at third base while he's away with Team Venezuela, as will someone else at first base if Prince Fielder goes. Perhaps it'll be top prospect Nick Castellanos, who has shifted to the outfield but can play third. Perhaps it'll be Victor Martinez, who's slated to return from knee surgery and take over at designated hitter but could also back up at first base.
The Tigers already ended any speculation Martinez will play for Venezuela by saying they won't grant permission, citing his rehab status with his knees. They were prepared to do the same with Alex Avila, who had been invited to play for Spain, but the question was moot when Avila declined.
The Tigers are not expected to have concerns over any other players. Justin Verlander pitched for the U.S. National Team at the 2003 Pan Am Games while he was in college, but he wasn't part of Team USA at the 2009 Classic.