Leyland relishes target on Tigers' back

LAKELAND, Fla. -- On the day of his speech to the full squad, Tigers manager Jim Leyland touched on the usual topics. He wants players to be on time. He wants them to embrace expectations. He wants them to work hard, but also work smart.

Then he made the big point he told reporters earlier: The Tigers are a target.

He wants that to be seen as a good thing.

"I love being a target," Leyland said on Friday. "That means we have a good team."

That means expectations are high for what the Tigers can do, not just among Tigers fans, but around baseball. That means opponents viewing the Tigers as the team to knock off.

"What I meant by it," Leyland said, "is other teams are going to get sick of reading about how good of a team the Tigers have. I mean, I would. So I just want to warn guys: Don't get wrapped up in all this, because there's going to be stuff that comes out that's going to tick a lot of other teams off. And it's not our fault. It's just the way it is.

"We have a good team, so people are saying we have a good team. But if I'm sitting, say, in Kansas City, I'm saying we have a pretty good team, too. Chicago, we're pretty good, too. And all these other teams. You're either the hunted or you're the hunter. We're going to be the hunted, because we were the winner. We were the American League champions. That's a good thing, but my point to all the guys is how you handle that is important."

Early indications suggest a lot of people will be writing about the Tigers this spring. A different national writer has been in camp every day this week, a rare stretch for this early in camp. Leyland, who said at the start of camp that he wasn't going to give daily updates on Bruce Rondon, has nonetheless had to answer a different question about Rondon every day this week.

One, he said, came from a reporter who called him "coach" and asked him what he thought of Rondon as the closer so far.

All those questions from all those reporters turn into a lot of copy to read, and a lot of potential headline material to post.

Leyland's point: Don't make too much of it.

"Clippings mean nothing," Leyland said. "They don't win squat."

Alex Avila, for one, likes being the hunted. Moreover, he doesn't think it's any different from the last couple of years.

"Every year since I've been here, I've always felt that way, that we were always the team to beat," he said. "Because I've always felt that we've had the talent to not only get to the playoffs, but to win a World Series. Obviously, every year, it seems like we've gotten a little bit better. It seems like every year we've not only gotten a little bit closer, but we've improved the team a little bit.

"I think just the success that we've had since 2006, the success that the Tigers have had, I think we've always been the team to beat the last few years for sure."