The past is present: Maybin grateful, fired up for third stint with Tigers

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — Don’t get it twisted. Cameron Maybin is thrilled to be back for a third stint with the Tigers.

“That’s something I thought about: Who’s ever done that?” he said Sunday, a day ahead of the team’s first full-squad workout on Monday. “Has anybody ever had three? That means a lot to me. … I take it as a compliment that they want me back for a third time.”

That aside, though, he still has a bad taste in his mouth over his free-agent experience this winter.

Tigers outfielder Cameron Maybin, left, talks with quality control coach Josh Paul at a volunteer workout.

“It was frustrating,” he said. “I’m by no means a Hall-of-Famer, but I do feel I’ve shown in my career some intestinal fortitude, the will to compete, the will to play hurt, play through rough patches. With my 13-year resume, the changes I made going back to the drawing board and changing my swing and what I was able to do (last season) in New York — if you can play there you can play anywhere, right?

“I thought it would be easier to get a big-league job.”

Maybin, who signed for one-year and $1.5 million on Wednesday and is indeed believed to be the only player to have three separate stints with the Tigers, was getting mostly minor-league offers from teams.

“I do feel like I’m a big-league talent, like I am big-league caliber,” he said. “So I just appreciate the Tigers continuing to believe in me. I’ve always believed in them and I’ve always appreciated how they’ve seen me.

“It made it a lot easier for me to say I want to go back to a place where I know I’m comfortable, with people I’m comfortable with and an organization I am comfortable with. Also an organization where I can make an impact on the next wave of guys who are coming through.”

Maybin, whom the Tigers drafted with the 10th overall pick in 2005 before trading him to Florida in the Miguel Cabrera deal, has been on rebuilding teams most of his career. Most recently, though, he’s experienced winning, a lot of it, winning a ring with the Astros in 2017 and helping the Yankees get all the way to the American League Championship Series last year.

So he’s not in the least bit interested in being part of another losing season with the Tigers this year.

“Never,” he said. “Especially now getting that taste of winning. I was one of those guys who grinded on young teams and teams that you knew weren’t going to be as good, but I just don’t feel like you have to accept that. It’s an atmosphere and it’s a culture that you build early.

“It’s a selfless culture. It’s easy to have selfish moments when you are younger. You want to do well and make a name for yourself. I realize that. But in my situation, being a guy who has had to work, success comes from having to fail a little bit and grow through it. It makes it sweeter and hopefully I can show some of that.”

Maybin can offer his young teammates an abject lesson in how to use failure as a springboard to success. He started last season in Triple-A, if you can imagine, and still wound up hitting a career-high 11 home runs for the Yankees.

He was in the process of a major swing change, which he began at the end of 2018, first with his Seattle teammate Mitch Haniger and then in the winter of 2018 with California-based hitting instructor Craig Wallenbrock.

“Struggling through spring training, I was tempted to go back to my old swing,” Maybin said. “I had to go back to Triple-A for the first time in nine years (at the start of a season), but I said I’m not going to change back. I am going to stick to what I’ve been working on in the offseason and sure enough — staying true to it and keeping my faith in the change and it came out.”

Maybin spent his career trying to hit line drives and ground balls to take advantage of his speed. Finally, into his 30s, the Yankees told him, Look, you are 6-4, 210 pounds, we want to see you drive the ball out of the park, drive it into the gaps. Get the ball in the air.

“I was like, OK,” Maybin said, chuckling. “You guys have been telling me to hit the ball on the ground forever. But I like to be coachable, you know. Tell me what you want and I’ll give it my best effort.”

Besides the 11 home runs, he had 17 doubles and posted a career-high .494 slugging percentage and a 127 OPS-plus.

“Honestly, with my athleticism, I feel like I can play for another five years,” he said. “Especially with this swing change.”

Maybin, who will be 33 on April 4, is expected to compete for a starting spot in right field with Victor Reyes as well as back up all three outfield spots this season.

“He brings a lot of energy to the clubhouse and on the field,” Tigers general manager Al Avila said. “We like that he can play all three outfield positions. He will really help us in that manner. Gardy (manager Ron Gardenhire) can hit him high in the order or low in the order. He’s very versatile.

“He’s a veteran and guys cling on to him. Our young guys are going to benefit from that. Our analysts looked at him and they felt there is still plenty of baseball left in Cameron Maybin.”

His second stint with the Tigers was in 2016. That was before the renovations at Joker Marchant, before the vastly improved clubhouse, training and eating areas. It was also before the official roster teardown started.

Needless to say, what he saw Sunday had to look completely different.

“The first time through here there were a lot more familiar faces,” he said. “Not that many now. But I still have butterflies showing up here for the first day at camp, so that’s a good thing. It’s a new group, younger faces, fresher faces — not what I’m accustomed to when I think about a Tigers roster. But I’m going to enjoy the youth movement.”

He said the opportunity to play a mentor role was part of the appeal of signing back with the Tigers.

“I know how much I benefited from being around older guys,” he said. “I know how that little bit of knowledge can help the next guy. I’m always trying to grow and get better. It’ll be fun. We’ll see how those conversations go. I’ll be on the other end of it now, guys will be asking me for advice. The tables have turned.

"I don’t try to be a leader, but I think I have natural leadership qualities. I think I am genuine and I think that helps when you are having conversations with people.”

There were a lot smiles and hugs Sunday, a lot of welcome-backs and a lot of wide-eyed introductions. It felt like the return of a very good friend.

“The best thing is, he wanted to come to us,” Avila said. “He loves Detroit. He knows what we’re all about here. He knows what our fans are all about here. He wanted to be here and that’s another big plus for us.”

Twitter @cmccosky