Nate Robertson finished with a team-leading 12 wins in his first full season. (Duane Burleson/AP)
DETROIT -- That was fun. Now what about next year?
For some odd reason, the music selection inside the Tigers clubhouse this week included a CD of Christmas songs, which provided the sounds of Bing Crosby's, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" in early October.
The way the Tigers' thought process was already pointed towards next year, they were just getting the holidays out of the way.
"The first step is the easiest," manager Alan Trammell said. "But we can't stop there."
For some players, the season felt like it went by too quickly. Many of those players, not coincidentally, were here for the 43-119 season of 2003 that to them seemed to last six years instead of six months. For that, they want to cherish what they did this year.
"It's always tough to let it go," first baseman Carlos Pena said. "In a way, I'm a little sad. After I get over that, I can say, 'Good job, good deal, we did some good things.' In a month or so, I'll say, 'We did a good job. Now what can we do to improve?' But I think it's a necessity to sit down and appreciate what you've done instead of dwelling on what you wish you did better.
"I think we improved incredibly from the year before. Having said that, we have to go take some grounders, play some defense and put some things together. But we are somewhat happy that our work did show."
There are plenty of young players who can savor what they accomplished. When the season opened, Nate Robertson was a long reliever. He started Sunday's season finale having already sealed the team lead with 12 victories, tops by a Tigers pitcher since 2001 and the most from a Detroit left-hander since Justin Thompson in 1997.
"I just want to learn," Robertson said. "And I think I've learned a lot this year as far as what to do before games, the approach to hitters, and just looking for things I haven't looked for in the past. And I think I've grown a lot and I'll definitely take that into next year."
Brandon Inge progressed from light-hitting catcher to valued utility player to starting third baseman. Instead of obsessing about his skills as a catcher, he now considers third base his favorite position. Of course, Trammell won't call him his third baseman for next season -- he likes Inge's versatility too much to pigeonhole him into one spot.
Second baseman Omar Infante entered the year a young understudy in the middle infield with just one career home run. He goes into 2005 as the starting second baseman, whether or not Fernando Vina is healthy.
Asked if this was a special year, Infante agreed. "I'll go to Venezuela, work hard, come back for next season," he said.
Others were looking forward -- not just to the rest ahead, but to the 2005 version of this team.
Ivan Rodriguez / C
Weight: 220 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
"It's a good start," All-Star catcher Ivan Rodriguez said. "I think the season we had, we opened a lot of minds in a lot of players that were thinking negative stuff from the past. But this a new Detroit Tiger team. With myself, Carlos Guillen and Rondell [White] here, if we bring some other players here I think the organization is going to be better. It's going to be a very interesting offseason."
Dmitri Young, who missed the first two months with a fractured fibula, had every reason to feel like the season went too fast. But after putting up with a less-than-healthy foot all season, he's thinking about what he can do if healthy.
"It is what it is," he said. "Just hope for the best next year, knowing what I did this year as far as being able to put it together for a short period of time. I know how to play 162, and that's what I want to do."
Some players already had plane tickets home for Sunday night. For youngsters Chris Shelton, Curtis Granderson and Ryan Raburn, it'll be a short stay before they head out to Arizona to play in the fall league. Guillen will be around two to three weeks before taking his rehab work from ACL surgery home to Venezuela or Florida. Bobby Higginson and Robertson will be around most of the offseason, having chosen to make their home in the area.
But no matter where they'll be, Spring Training will be upon them sooner than they think.
"We don't want to get content," Trammell said. "We want to get to another level. The first step was important. I think we've accomplished that, to a certain degree. We'll all take some time off, regroup and put together our plan in a few weeks and go from there."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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