The projected roster for the pitching staff has a lot of empty spaces. Justin Verlander and Armando Galarraga are the only surefire members in the rotation until Jeremy Bonderman is healthy. With Joel Zumaya coming back from injury and Fernando Rodney battling inconsistency, Leyland can't slot anybody into a bullpen role heading into next year.
That leaves a lot of open spots in the rotation and a stern challenge from the manager heading towards the end of a disappointing 2008 season.
"If you want the starting job, you have to pitch better and that goes for everybody else," Leyland said. "Simple as it is. I'm not talking about Nate. Everybody better step it up. They'd better do what they need to do. They'd better come to Spring Training in shape and win a job. Because there's only two jobs on the pitching staff right now, other than Bonderman. That's it. I don't want to hear any whining.
"I'm talking about the bullpen, too. There are no jobs. This is sad to say, but there's not many jobs that are solidified for next year, I can tell you that right now. This [habit] of keep going out there and not doing the job, it doesn't get it. Sooner or later, you have to do the job. It's that simple. I'm talking about any of them. I'm talking about players, pitchers, managers, coaches, throw us all in there."
In other words, it's a shared responsibility for the Tigers' struggles this year, and a shared challenge for improving next year.
"I'm tired of worrying about guys being sensitive and all this," Leyland said. "The facts are the facts, boys. We stunk. I stunk. We stunk. That's as simple as it is. I don't want to hear any pouting. That's over with. I can tell you that right now. Step up to the plate and show that you're one of the best. If you do that, you're going to pitch, you're going to play. It's that simple."
In terms of the bullpen, Leyland said the trickle-down effect from losing Todd Jones two months ago has forced them to use relievers in different roles.
However, he also said, "It's an opportunity for people, and not many of them have taken advantage of it."
He takes part of the responsibility for that. But he also has some to go around.
"I'm going to tell you the facts: I stink," he said. "That's the way I look at it: I stink. With the year we've had, I stink. But I can tell you one thing: I ain't the Lone Ranger."
Nor will he be next year.
"The days of the babysitting and the milking along, that's over with," Leyland said. "We're under fire because of the year we've had, and that's fine and dandy. I have absolutely no problem with that. But I can assure you this: The best guys will be pitching, and the best guys will be playing. And I don't care what the names are."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.