With core intact, Tigers' offseason could be quiet
Re-signing Anibal, minor moves likely to keep club among American League favorites
DETROIT -- In the end, the Tigers didn't make history.
They didn't become the first team to battle back from an 0-3 deficit to win the World Series. They didn't become the fourth team to force a Game 5 or the first to force a Game 6. Instead, the Giants concluded the sweep with a 4-3 victory in 10 innings in Game 4 on Sunday night.
It will be difficult to turn the page. But while it was a disappointing end, the team did reach its goal of making it to the Fall Classic. And with its core still intact for 2013, a few offseason moves will likely make the Tigers the early favorites to repeat as American League champions.
"This team's going to just get better," free-agent catcher Gerald Laird said. "That's the bottom line."
It's hard to argue given the return of designated hitter Victor Martinez. The four-time All-Star will bat fifth to protect Prince Fielder, a spot in the lineup manager Jim Leyland often had trouble filling in 2012. Martinez's full recovery will be vital.
It's also hard to argue given the Tigers aren't losing many players to free agency.
Four are free agents as of now: Laird, Jose Valverde, Delmon Young and Anibal Sanchez. Only two -- Sanchez and Laird -- are likely targets for Detroit to re-sign in the offseason.
Laird overachieved in his role as the backup catcher, taking over for Alex Avila against left-handers. He also was great with the pitching staff.
"I would love to have the opportunity to come back and enjoy it," Laird said. "But you know, it's not up to me. It's up to them. Hopefully, we get things done."
And president/general manager Dave Dombrowski has gone on record expressing his desire to bring back Sanchez. With the Tigers giving up top prospects Jacob Turner and Rob Brantly to get him at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, luring him back will be key.
"I don't have much to comment on about my free agency," said Sanchez, who will get a healthy raise after the 28-year-old posted a 2.05 ERA in his final 11 starts. "That's my agent's job. I don't know. I just like this team for bringing me here and for this opportunity [to pitch in the World Series]."
For Young and Valverde, it's a good bet the two have seen their last days in the Motor City. Valverde ran out of gas in the playoffs and is 35 years old come next Opening Day. Martinez's return leaves no room for Young, as the Tigers aren't likely to bring him back to play the outfield.
Jhonny Peralta and Octavio Dotel could also hit free agency, but the two have club options for next year.
CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman reported earlier this week that the Tigers would indeed pick up Peralta's $6 million option after an impressive postseason in which he showed his old form.
For Dotel, who has a $3.5 million option, it's a bit trickier. But he hopes to stay.
"How are things going to go? I don't know," Dotel said. "I would love to come back here, because this is the team I want to be on in 2013."
His option is affordable, but the Tigers have nine arbitration-eligible players, including Avila, Austin Jackson, Doug Fister and Max Scherzer. Those four will most certainly see a boost in their paychecks, so a 38-year-old seventh-inning guy in Dotel might not be a luxury they can afford.
In turn, paying their younger guys could limit the Tigers' ability to make a splash in free agency. That's why some players are skeptical to already embrace being called the AL favorites in 2013.
"I mean, when favorites come out, a lot of that's just writers and reporters and they say who's the favorite, but until you get on the field and play, anything can happen," outfielder Andy Dirks said. "We don't know what's going to happen. ... Obviously, it's great to have Victor back. He's a great presence in the clubhouse, but that stuff we look for next year. Right now, we'll just soak this in."
Anthony Odoardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.