What most big-league managers say about their baseball teams in the spring and what they really mean usually is the difference between a person's salary and his take-home pay. However, there is no reason to paste that label on Sparky Anderson of the Detroit Tigers, who is not given to flights of fantasy.
''Although the American League East is one of the toughest divisions in baseball, I believe we have the talent to play with Milwaukee, Baltimore, New York and Boston through the entire season,'' Anderson explained.
''I'm not saying we'll win it, because there are too many variables in baseball to offer guarantees,'' Sparky continued. ''But defensively we've got people who can catch the ball; our offense is good enough; and our pitching rotation is set with four dependable starters.''
Anderson was referring to Milt Wilcox (who already has thrown two shutouts, including a one-hitter); Jack Morris (who led the club in wins last year with 17 ); Dan Petry and Jerry Ujdur.
Where there are cloudy weather reports is in the bullpen. Last season, the relief corps tied for 10th in the league in saves with only 27.
''No team wins a pennant without at least two dependable relief pitchers and so far we're not exactly sure what we've got,'' Sparky said. ''For short relief, I like both Dave Rozema and Aurelio Lopez, who are experienced and can get the ball over the plate.
''The problem is that they are both coming off injuries that sidelined them for most of last year. Although Lopez was able to come back and pitch for us late in the season after spending time in the minors, Rozema never threw a ball for the Tigers after he went on the disabled list in May.''
For middle relief, Anderson is counting on two rookie right-handers up from Evansville, Juan Berenguer and Bob James. Another possibility is rookie left-hander Howard Bailey, who appeared in 10 games last September and did not yield a run.
Offensively, Detroit hit 177 balls out of the park in 1982, with Lance Parrish setting an American League record for catchers with 32. Parrish also drove in 87 runs, collected 10 game-winning hits, and turned in a .284 batting average.
If you should happen to mention the Tigers' shortstop-second base combination of Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker to Anderson, be prepared to listen at least 10 minutes while Sparky recalls every impossible play they made last season.
''My two guys are better in the field than the Cardinals' Ozzie Smith and Tommy Herr, and you can quote me,'' Anderson said. ''Trammell and Whitaker get to everything, and they can throw the ball. We just don't give up many singles through the middle of our infield.''
While the rest of the American League probably shares Anderson's feelings for Trammell and Whitaker, it isn't ready to give that kind of endorsement to first basemen Mike Ivie and Enos Cabell or third basemen Tom Brookens and Howard Johnson.
Ivie, who once hit 27 home runs with San Francisco, is in there for his power bat. Cabell, however, may actually be more dependable in the clutch.
Although the switch-hitting Johnson is no longer a rookie in the technical sense of the word, having played 54 games with Detroit in 1982, he may still be a year away experience-wise at the plate. This situation should continue to buy playing time at third for Brookens, who was fourth on the Tigers last year in runs batted in.
Anderson is currently going with an outfield of Larry Herndon in left, Chet Lemon in center, and second-year man Glenn Wilson in right. As a rookie last year, Wilson hit .292 and had 12 home runs. However, Wilson may eventually have to share some playing time with Kirk Gibson, who was injured a good part of last season. Otherwise Gibson will share the club's designated hitter role with John Wockenfuss.
Perhaps the chief reason Detroit stayed so long in the race for first place in the American League East last year was because of Herndon, who led the Tigers in almost every important offensive category.
Even though Anderson ranks his Tigers on a par with Baltimore, Milwaukee, New York, and Boston, the only team in that group that Detroit finished ahead of last year was the Yankees, who are much improved this season.
Actually, 12 games separated the Tigers from the division champion Brewers, which is a lot of games for a team with a suspect bullpen to make up.