LAKELAND, Fla. -- If the Astros needed an endorsement of Ivan Rodriguez from an old organization, Tigers manager Jim Leyland is glad to give it. And he did.

The Astros are expected to finalize a deal with Rodriguez once he returns from the World Baseball Classic, where he's representing his native Puerto Rico, and passes a physical. He's expected to get the starting job he sought all offseason.

Leyland, for one, is glad that he finally found it. Though the Tigers had essentially decided to go with Brandon Inge over Rodriguez at catcher when they traded him at last July's Deadline for reliever Kyle Farnsworth in a swap that didn't work out well for either side, there's still a lot of respect from Leyland.

So when Astros manager Cecil Cooper asked him about Rodriguez, Leyland said, he answered favorably.

"We had two run-ins in three years -- I think that's pretty good when you're dealing with a superstar," Leyland said. "I think there was a lot of respect for one another. He played hard. He played hurt. He came to beat the other team."

Leyland did not go into details about the run-ins, but Rodriguez's desire for playing time has been well-known. Even when he was the unquestioned starter in Detroit, he usually wanted fewer days off than the Tigers wanted to give him.

As for what Rodriguez can provide now, at age 37, Leyland thinks there's still something there.

"Obviously, not the exact same player he was several years ago," Leyland said, "but he kept himself in better shape than probably any player I've ever seen. He looks young. He takes care of himself. It's a good situation for him."

It's a situation that could earn him a rematch against Detroit, whom he already faced in a Yankees uniform last September at Comerica Park. The Tigers travel to Houston June 26-29 as part of Interleague Play.