NOAH TRISTER,AP Baseball Writer
DETROIT (AP) — The last two American League MVPs stood about 10 feet apart in a club at Comerica Park, each surrounded by a small pack of reporters.
Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera know the drill by now — the anticipation of a new season and the sizeable expectations that come with it. Manager Jim Leyland is also familiar with high winter hopes after leading Detroit to back-to-back division titles and a spot in last year’s World Series.
“There’s no perfect team. We’re not perfect, but we’ve got a good team,” Leyland said. “I think the biggest challenge for most teams, when you’re a good team, is just don’t self-destruct. If we don’t self-destruct, we’ll be pretty good.”
There were times in 2012 when the Tigers seemed destined for an underachiever’s label, but Leyland and his team never fell apart when they trailed Chicago in the AL Central. Detroit finally overtook the White Sox, then the Tigers beat Oakland and the New York Yankees before being swept by San Francisco in the World Series.
Detroit will try to take that elusive final step this year, led again by a collection of stars that would make pretty much any team envious. Verlander was the MVP two years ago and nearly won a second consecutive Cy Young Award last season. Cabrera was voted the 2012 MVP after becoming baseball’s first Triple Crown winner in 45 years.
They were both at the ballpark Thursday to kick off the team’s winter caravan.
“This is always fun for me,” Verlander said. “Getting the opportunity to come up here and see the fans again and get people excited about baseball.”
The Tigers have had little difficulty keeping their city interested the last couple seasons, and 2013 is expected to be no different. In addition to Verlander and Cabrera, Detroit also welcomes slugger Prince Fielder back for his second year with the team, and designated hitter Victor Martinez returns after missing all of 2012 with a knee injury.
“Victor is a big part of our family,” Cabrera said. “We missed Victor a lot last year.”
Detroit made two major moves this offseason, signing free agent Torii Hunter to play in the outfield and re-signing right-hander Anibal Sanchez. There could still be more roster shuffling to come. Sanchez’s return leaves Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly to compete for the final spot in the rotation — if they’re both still with the team in spring training. Porcello went 10-12 with a 4.59 ERA last year, but although he’s pitched four seasons in the majors already, he didn’t turn 24 until last month.
That means he could be an attractive trade candidate.
“Those decisions — that’s not my job,” Porcello said. “My job’s to prepare and get ready and help the Tigers win. If something changes, then I’ll adjust accordingly, but right now I’m getting ready to go down to spring training and work.”
Detroit also faces some uncertainty in the bullpen after letting Jose Valverde go. Bruce Rondon, who posted a 1.53 ERA in 53 minor league innings last year, is a candidate to close.
“He’s going to have to blow a save to find out how he responds,” Leyland said. “Hopefully he’ll save a lot of them, but if he blows one, I think we learn more about the guy after that. That’s one of the things about being a closer. You have to have the ability to bounce back.”
The biggest question facing the everyday lineup is the left field spot. Andy Dirks hit .322 in 88 games last year. Leyland says Dirks, Brennan Boesch and Quintin Berry will compete for playing time. Berry gave Detroit some much-needed speed last season, stealing 21 bases as a rookie without being caught.
“Nobody’s been mentioning Berry,” Leyland said. “This guy did a heck of a job for us last year. He gave us some spunk at the right time.”
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