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Amid rebuild, Gardenhire aims to send message

New Tigers manager wants players to come to ballpark 'expecting to win'
MLB.com @beckjason

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Ron Gardenhire greeted reporters Wednesday morning at baseball's Winter Meetings, his first media session since being introduced as Tigers manager, with the same humor that made him a media favorite when he managed the Twins.

"Good morning," he quipped to the bleary-eyed contingent as he sat down in front of microphones. "Let me get out my roster so I know who we have."

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Ron Gardenhire greeted reporters Wednesday morning at baseball's Winter Meetings, his first media session since being introduced as Tigers manager, with the same humor that made him a media favorite when he managed the Twins.

"Good morning," he quipped to the bleary-eyed contingent as he sat down in front of microphones. "Let me get out my roster so I know who we have."

Gardenhire pulled out a sheet of paper from his coat pocket.

"You think I'm kidding, too," he followed as the laughs ensued.

Video: Gardenhire needs a roster to know his new team

Given Detroit's rebuilding efforts, Gardenhire isn't totally kidding. But he knew the team's situation when he took the job. He also knows that as the Tigers embark on a youth movement and change the long-term direction of the club, humor is one of his best managerial moves he can make.

Gardenhire has yet to reach out to Tigers players, and he doesn't plan on doing that until Detroit completes its major offseason moves. When Gardenhire introduces himself, he wants to do so knowing who he has. And then he wants to get to work.

When that time comes, Gardenhire wants to set the tone and send a message: Just because this is a rebuilding club doesn't mean it's OK to accept losing.

"The front office can experiment with different things, but when you're managing a baseball team, you've got a group in there that I want them to come to the ballpark every day expecting to win," Gardenhire said. "When you start developing players, it's about developing winners, finding out ways to win baseball games. That's what we're going to try to teach these guys, to play the game with respect but figure out ways to beat people. That's the only way. There's no other way for me to manage a baseball team without stepping in the dugout every day thinking we want to win this game today. I want the players to feel that way, too. I want that attitude.

"That's just teaching in general. Every team does that. Sure, we're going to be young, but I went through this thing with the Twins. About every three years, we made moves and lost some guys. It's about winning baseball games, teaching them to be a winner. Sure, development's part of it, but every organization has to develop. We want winning baseball players, and we're going to try to teach them similar ways to get there."

Video: Gardenhire on Tigers' approach heading into 2018

That experience in Minnesota, that ability to defy expectations, that history working with and teaching young players is why Gardenhire is here. At the same time, for that mindset to work, it's critical for him to get veteran players on board, however many or few the Tigers may have.

"It's about reaching out and making sure they understand what we're trying to do here," Gardenhire said. "But no manager, no baseball team is ever going to go in saying, 'We're just going to try to play through the season.' We're going to try to win. We're going to get these players ready to win baseball games. That's the only way I know how to do these things. It's about basics -- catch the ball, throw the ball, all those things. And that's what we're going to try to do. I'm sure the veterans, they've done it. They're winners. They're going to help be the leaders here."

Come Spring Training, Gardenhire wants his position players doing what he called the Good Morning America drill, arriving early and doing defensive drills on the field before the pitchers are ready to work. For that, he needs Miguel Cabrera, who in years past would show up at Tigertown and be taking infield grounders by sunrise.

For that matter, Gardenhire needs Cabrera to hit, too.

"This guy is one of the best players in the game. He's going to come back with a vengeance, I believe," Gardenhire said. "I believe he's going to come back and do a lot of damage. I look forward to that, because he killed me. He's one of the reasons I had to get this job."

Video: Gardenhire discusses Cabrera's injuries, expectations

If Victor Martinez is going to be part of this team, which is currently general manager Al Avila's plan, Gardenhire needs Martinez to be on board.

"I watched him kill us, too," Gardenhire said. "It's about getting him healthy and getting his legs underneath him and getting him on board with what we're going to try to do here.

"I know people are saying we're going to really struggle, but when you have guys like this, if they can get them healthy and get them back on the field, we can do some things. You add those with some young kids, some very talented kids that we have, this could be a lot of fun. I'm not saying we're going to shock the world or anything, but we could. That's why you play the games."

That will come in time. For now, Gardenhire just wants to make sure he's not shocked by a move first.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

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