Detroit — Looking around at all the familiar faces at the Tiger Den inside Comerica Park Thursday morning. There was J.D. Martinez at one table, with Ian Kinsler to his left. Justin Upton was there, and later both Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander strolled in.
“It’s nice the band is back together,” Verlander said.
That didn’t seem likely back in October, when general manager Al Avila tried to brace both his players and fan base for the possibility that some popular, even iconic Tigers players could be traded this offseason.
But, due to several factors — the new collective bargaining agreement, more emphasis on clubs keeping top prospects, an unusually soft free-agent class — no blockbuster, roster-changing trades were made.
Which was happy news for players as they gathered for the annual Tigers Winter Caravan.
“Of course,” Verlander said. “I don’t have time to be part of that. It’s a long process when you start that rebuild, man. It’s not easy. It’s not like, ‘Flip the switch and we’re right back.’ It’s not as easy as people make it sound.
“It’s not over yet, but it seems like they are keeping the same pieces here and I am glad. We are lucky to have an owner like Mr. Ilitch. I’ve never walked into a spring training locker room and not felt we had a chance to win it. I don’t know if anybody else who has been in the game as long as I have can say that.”
Verlander and Cabrera were always long shots to be traded. Martinez, Upton, Kinsler and Jose Iglesias, though, were mentioned in trade rumors throughout the hot stove season. Avila smartly defused a lot of anxiety by talking to each player ahead of the offseason, warning them what was going to happen.
“I never experienced anything like that,” Kinsler said. “You get a call from your GM when the season was over saying your name is going to be brought up in trade rumors. But he was straight-up. He was honest. He told us exactly what was going to happen and that’s all you can ask for.
“As long as there is no hidden agenda, or things happening that you don’t know about, then there is nothing for you to complain about.”
Martinez said Avila told him to ignore the media rumors, that unless it came directly from him, nothing was official.
“You never want to hear that; you never want to be traded, especially from a team like Detroit, where I’ve kind of found a home,” Martinez said. “But it is what it is, it’s baseball and it’s a business. I understand completely.
“I don’t even think about it. Just prepare for February, whether I am here or anywhere. … But I hope we’re all here on Opening Day ready to go. I like our team and I like the chances we have.”
When Iglesias heard the Padres had inquired about possibly acquiring him, he took it as a win-win.
“Being mentioned in a trade is a good thing,” he said. “It means teams are interested in your service. I take that as a positive. And that Detroit kept me, I think that’s a positive. There are no negatives here. I am playing the game I love and I am also happy to be in Detroit.”
If any of the players were embittered by the offseason trade chatter, none expressed it.
“You’ve got to keep an open mind about all that stuff,” Cabrera said. “Sometimes you’ve got to do something that’s for the best of the team. If they can make a deal where you can be happy someplace and it makes the team and the organization better, then they’ve got to do it.”
Still, the sense of relief among the players at having the core of the team back was unmistakable.
“Oh yeah, I am glad we have the same team,” Cabrera said. “I am glad we are all here right now and we are going to try to win. I hope we can all come together and be a good team.”
“There were a lot of new faces last year and it took us a while to get on track,” he said. “Then we had a lot of injuries. So, naturally, you want to see what this team can do when it’s healthy.”
What all the trade talk did, though, was give the players a sense that this team might not be together much longer. Kinsler and Martinez are entering the final guaranteed years of their contract.
“We have to take good advantage of that because we don’t know how long it will last,” Iglesias said. “We don’t know if this is the last year for all of us to be together. This is special group, very talented. We just have to get together and do what we’ve got to do.
“If we can synchronize our talent, we will be in a very good spot.”
Kinsler even offered a little challenge to Avila.
“If I had a Magic 8-Ball, I think Al’s hands are going to be handcuffed at the trade deadline,” he said. “I don’t know if he’s going to be able to make many moves because I think we are going to be in a good position.
“I think we got better just because of the fact that other teams in our division had a lot of subtraction (White Sox, Twins and Royals, especially). Just staying pat makes us better.”