LAKELAND, Fla. — Miguel Cabrera had to take a peek.
The 39-year-old MLB veteran was chatting up his teammates inside the Detroit Tigers‘ clubhouse. He slowly opened the door and looked outside, then went back into hiding. He repeated the antics again and again.
A few minutes later, he burst out into the open.
“Good morning,” Cabrera said.
How are you?
“I’m really good — now,” Cabrera said. “It’s time to go.”
The MLB lockout is over, after more than three months, and spring training has finally arrived. The Tigers opened their facility in Lakeland on Sunday for MLB’s mandatory reporting day, though some players showed up as early as Friday.
Cabrera — entering his 20th season in the big leagues — is back in TigerTown, along with outfielder Robbie Grossman, third baseman Jeimer Candelario, catcher Eric Haase and the pitching triumvirate of Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning.
A fresh face emerged, as well, walking out of the clubhouse next to Candelario.
Javier Baez, the new shortstop who signed a six-year, $140 million contract in December, has arrived for his first spring training with the Tigers. He hit .265 with 31 home runs in 138 games for the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets last season.
The two-time All-Star and 2016 World Series champion traveled from Puerto Rico to Florida on Friday.
“We’re going to follow him, you know what I mean?” Cabrera said. “Where you go, we’re going to go. I’m really excited to play next to him. Hopefully, we can have a great year together and put this team in the playoffs.”
Cabrera hit .256 with 15 home runs in 130 games last year. He has two seasons remaining on his contract with the Tigers and previously stated he plans to retire from MLB after the 2023 season.
His mindset, as his Hall of Fame career enters its final chapters, is postseason or bust.
“Your goal always is to win,” said Cabrera, who reached 500 home runs in August and is 13 hits away from 3,000. “We got an opportunity to do that here, so I’m really excited.”
Baez, 29, has similar goals.
“First of all, to be healthy, the whole team and the whole young system,” Baez said. “Obviously, we’re trying to win. Trying to make the playoffs first, and then see how far it goes into the playoffs.”
[ Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter. ]
The Tigers finished the 2021 season with a 77-85 record, good for third place in the American League Central. They went 39-36 when facing opponents with a .500 record or better. But the Tigers struggled against division rivals, posting a 30-46 mark.
Since then, manager AJ Hinch has received three difference-making veterans from the front office: Baez, left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez (five years, $77 million) and catcher Tucker Barnhart (trade from Cincinnati Reds).
And don’t forget about the top prospects: first baseman Spencer Torkelson and center fielder Riley Greene. Torkelson is ranked as the No. 4 prospect in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline, while Greene comes in at No. 7. Both players are competing to make the Opening Day roster.
“There’s a buzz in the clubhouse, and we brought in some really good players, and we’re only going to be better,” Grossman said. “Our expectations just keep getting higher and higher.”
Those expectations aren’t unrealistic.
The Tigers have enough talent to compete for a spot in the 12-team postseason, expanded from 10 teams as part of the new collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the MLB Players Association.
Sunday was only the beginning.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Hinch said. “But I think you show up in the spring wanting to and expecting to make the playoffs. Am I declaring this a playoff team? I have no idea. We don’t know how the health is going to go. We don’t know how the wins are going to come.
“But for us, when we show up to spring training, I’ve always told every team I’ve ever managed: We need to win our division and we need to make the playoffs. I don’t know why this would be any different.”
Contact Evan Petzold at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.