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You Can't Play Follow the Leader If the Leader Won't Play

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Yesterday's Miami Herald ran an interesting article in which two Florida Marlins were rather vocal about what was lacking in last year's team. Pitcher Kevin Gregg and catcher Matt Treanor said certain players in the clubhouse showed immaturity by not taking their jobs as seriously as they should have. It was also implied that two former Marlins didn't fulfill the leadership role that had been placed upon them.

Gregg said Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera -- both now with Detroit -- were cast in a role "where they were looked up to" and they "handled some things differently than I would have handled them. Being a first-year guy, I wasn't in a spot to say some things that probably should have been said."

Other (anonymous) Marlins employees singled out Cabrera for "immature antics," including an incident on the team plane and a few instances of tardiness. While Treanor didn't pile on, he did indicate that the Marlins' best player may not have set the best example for younger players.

Asked how Cabrera's departure will change clubhouse dynamics, Treanor said, "Whatever Miguel did, he came out and [performed]... [But] if you happen to be doing something that somebody follows you around, you have to look at yourself and say maybe it's not bad for me, but it is bad for somebody else."

So what does this mean? As far as the Detroit Tigers are concerned, I think it's irrelevant. Then why did I bother linking to the article and posting those quotes? For one thing, I think the Marlins are taking shots at two guys who aren't around to defend themselves. But I also think it illustrates yet another reason this trade is going to work out so well for the Tigers, and provides a storyline for us to follow throughout the 2008 season, but it's not really something that can be quantified with statistics.

Forcing a leadership role upon someone who isn't capable of handling the responsibility or just doesn't want it is a poor method of team building. This is why young teams often add veteran players, such as when the Tigers added Kenny Rogers to the pitching staff. (I was going to use Pudge Rodriguez as an example, but has he really demonstrated leadership over his four years in Detroit?)

Yet sometimes the team insists on pushing a player into that role when he has no interest in being a leader. Look at Rasheed Wallace when he played with the Portland Trail Blazers. The guy was seen as a headcase and a malcontent. But he just wanted to play without having to set an example, and balked when that was expected of him. Once he was traded to the Detroit Pistons, however, which already had its leadership well established, Wallace thrived and became an important component of a championship team.

Willis and Cabrera are just being asked to bring their considerable talents to a team that's already a playoff contender. The Tigers aren't asking them to be leaders, to set examples for prospective major leaguers. Those guys are already in the Detroit clubhouse. Just come and play. Sure, there are expectations to live up to. (Cabrera has shown he understands that by losing weight during the offseason.) But those have now been folded into an overall team expectation. And without being dragged down by that weight, the two newest Tigers might just fly.

(via Baseball Musings)