Leyland: Cabrera situation won't be a distraction
Tigers slugger has support of his manager and teammates
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Jim Leyland didn't want to discuss Miguel Cabrera's off-field matters or team chemistry in the wake of Cabrera's arrest. He wanted to focus on the field.
"You'll have to talk to Miguel Cabrera, but I can tell you what I think," Leyland said. "I think Miguel Cabrera is probably going to have the biggest year of his life."
Brandon Inge wanted to focus on Cabrera the person before Cabrera the player.
"I want to help him," Inge said. "I want to do what's best for Miggy. Not baseball-wise, like friend to friend."
Magglio Ordonez doesn't know about Cabrera's personal life, but he wants to make sure Cabrera understands his responsibilities as a star player and a fellow Venezuelan.
"Miguel is the franchise player of this team," Ordonez said. "He understands that they're building the team around him, and he needs to put everything together."
Three of the most prominent figures in the Tigers organization had their own different views of a player whose reported personal struggles are now baseball's public knowledge. But the universal message coming out of the Tigers clubhouse Friday was that those issues shouldn't be a distraction for them.
"Look, it's not going to affect the team at all," Leyland said. "All these people that are getting dramatic about this -- it's not going to affect this team one bit. Trust me. That's all reading material, and everybody's getting all upset and getting all dramatic. Do you think Magglio Ordonez and those guys are going to go about their business any different? Nobody's going to do anything different. We're going to bust our tails."
Leyland was only speaking for himself. No official statements Friday came from team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski, who said Thursday that they're still gathering information. Individual statements and observations, though, were numerous. None of the people making those statements and observations had talked with Cabrera as of Friday afternoon, but they hoped to talk with him whenever he arrives in camp.
"It's not a distraction. It's more like concern as a family member," Inge said. "We're going to take this as a whole, as far as our team. Nothing's going to be a distraction. I don't want him to feel uncomfortable about things. This is home for him. We want him to feel comfortable."
A police report shows Cabrera was arrested Wednesday night in Fort Pierce, Fla., on charges of driving under the influence and resisting an officer without violence. Dombrowski said Thursday that Cabrera was home in South Florida, but there was no sign whether he was still there Friday, the reporting day for Tigers position players. Nor was there any indication whether Cabrera would be here for the team's first full-squad workout Saturday morning.
"Like everybody knows, he made a mistake," Ordonez said. "Now he has to deal with the consequence. Hopefully he can put that away and try to be ready for Spring Training and the season."
Inge and Ordonez both reported Friday amid a crowd of reporters, both national and local. Both tried to underscore the team's support while cautioning against the potential disruption.
"We're not disappointed. We're not mad at him," Inge said. "This is something we'll handle in our clubhouse and take care of it. It's not as big of a deal as everybody's going to make this out to be. And this is his deal, not ours. We're going to be here to support him, but this is his deal."
Said Ordonez: "He's my teammate. I'm going to support him because he needs support. He's also my friend, so when he gets here, I'm going to talk to him and I'm going to support him."
Ordonez has also been seen as a mentor of sorts, a fellow Venezuelan and one of the most accomplished players to come out of the country. Cabrera reportedly idolized him growing up and talks with him almost constantly during the season. They worked out together with the same trainer this offseason in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., as recently as early this week.
The 37-year-old Ordonez emphasized his support for Cabrera, who turns 28 in April. But he also emphasized the responsibility that Cabrera faces as his career blossoms.
"He's a superstar," Ordonez said, "and he needs to act like a superstar and he needs to work hard."
Asked if he has discussed that with Cabrera before, Ordonez said he had.
"Yeah, I told him before," Ordonez said, "and I will tell him tomorrow or whenever [he reports]."
Leyland declined to answer questions about Cabrera's specific situation, referring those to Dombrowski as the voice of the organization. After questions about the potential distractions and the impact on the team, however, he launched into a defense.
"I know for a fact -- without getting into this situation -- I know for a fact that Miguel Cabrera is in the best shape of his life," Leyland said. "He's stronger than he's ever been and he's quicker than he's ever been. [This situation] has no effect. It might make some dramatic reading material, and everybody's projecting all this and that. It's not to going to do squat along those lines, believe me -- nothing."
That was his own personal view, he emphasized, not that of the team.
"I'm the field manager. I manage the players on the field," Leyland said. "Our clubhouse will be great, and our team's got a heck of a chance to be an outstanding team, and that's going to have no bearing on it one way or the other. Trust me when I tell you that. I'm telling you our team is going to be ready."
Ordonez and Inge expressed similar sentiment that Cabrera could move on from this and be the player he was last year. But it's going to take some work.
"I know he's going to put everything together," Ordonez said. "He's going to work hard and we're going to support him. He did it last year and he was good. I don't know what happened this offseason. We trained together, but that's it."
It sounds very much like Tigers players want to know what's going on with their slugger, and what they can do to help.
"I'm not a doctor," Inge said. "I don't know how to cure someone of anything. But I know I can make someone feel welcome. That's all that I can do."