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Tigers could be busy again this offseason

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Tigers could be busy again this offseason

DETROIT (AP) Built to win a World Series this year, the Detroit Tigers came close.

Now they head into what could be another busy offseason for one of baseball's most talked-about franchises.

Although Detroit won the American League pennant, a World Series sweep at the hands of the San Francisco Giants leaves a disappointing taste for the Tigers. And it's important to remember that if not for a late-season swoon by the Chicago White Sox, Detroit might not have made the playoffs at all.

``We ended up just not being the main attraction. We got beat by the Giants,'' manager Jim Leyland said. ``They were the main attraction. We got to the heavyweight fight and we got beat.''

Leyland was managing on a one-year contract. He and general manager Dave Dombrowski tried to forgo any public discussion of the manager's future until after the season, so that's probably the most immediate issue that needs to be resolved.

If Leyland is back, he'll again preside over a core of talent that can match pretty much any in baseball. Justin Verlander may win his second straight Cy Young Award, and he's backed by right-handers Max Scherzer and Doug Fister, who have become imposing parts of the rotation.

Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera is in his prime, and Prince Fielder made a smooth transition to Detroit after signing a $214 million contract in the offseason.

That was the move that signaled to everyone that the Tigers were serious about making a title run right away. It had actually been a quiet start to the offseason before designated hitter Victor Martinez went down with a serious knee injury that would sideline him for the whole 2012 campaign. Then the Tigers acted boldly, signing Fielder.

They didn't cruise to the AL Central title as many expected. Instead, Detroit went 88-74, barely good enough to outlast the White Sox by three games.

But Verlander threw a shutout at Oakland in Game 5 of the division series, and the Tigers swept the New York Yankees in the AL championship series, raising hopes that the team was peaking at exactly the right time.

``We've got to feel proud about what we did this year,'' Cabrera said. ``We went through a lot, down and up.''

After Detroit went quietly in the World Series, questions will surface again on what needs to be done to improve.

``We have more experience now. The same team is going to be here - that's a positive - with more,'' Fielder said. ``A lot of great things happened, but unfortunately it closed out with this. You win some and you lose some - and we lost four.''

Martinez's return could mean the end of Delmon Young's tenure in Detroit, and closer Jose Valverde may not be in the team's plans either after falling out of favor during the postseason.

The Tigers can exercise a team option on shortstop Jhonny Peralta - or perhaps they could go in a different direction and try to improve their infield defense. If Detroit can't bring back right-hander Anibal Sanchez, Drew Smyly may need to step back into the rotation after a promising rookie year.

Austin Jackson has solidified his hold on the center field spot, but left and right could be upgraded. Andy Dirks had a fine season in the outfield and Quintin Berry added some speed to the lineup, but are the Tigers willing to stick with them and Avisail Garcia in the corner outfield spots?

A lot may depend on owner Mike Ilitch, who is still chasing the franchise's first World Series title since 1984. Ilitch signed off on the huge expenditure for Fielder, and if he's willing to raise the payroll even more, the Tigers may be active from the start this offseason.

It was an uneven year at times for Detroit, but the window of opportunity is still very much open.

``We had a great run,'' left-hander Phil Coke said. ``We just got cold at the wrong time.''

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How MLB managers feeling heat, including Nationals' Davey Martinez, block it out

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USA TODAY Sports

How MLB managers feeling heat, including Nationals' Davey Martinez, block it out

WASHINGTON -- Davey Martinez likes to venture around town when the Nationals are home. He hunts for a quality bottle of red wine in local shops, at times takes a scooter to work and generally operates among the District denizens as if he wasn’t captaining a creaking ship.

When alone, he’s not overly recognizable but clear enough after a year-plus at the helm of the local baseball team to be noticed. The subsequent interactions, he claims, are often positive. Fans say they believe the Nationals will turn it around. They support him. They’re behind the team.

“Fans understand the game,” Martinez said Saturday. “Of course everybody wants to win. We want to win. Trust me. There’s not one guy in that clubhouse that goes out there and wants to give up a home run, wants to strikeout. We all want to win. But I hear a lot of, ‘You’re doing a great job.’ Positive. Things will turn around. I say, 'Thank you. Appreciate it.' I can tell you one thing, the guys are there to play hard.”

Anyone hurling tomatoes at him in the grocery store? Does he have bad interactions?

“If I did, I wouldn’t tell you, one,” Martinez said with a smile. “And two, you really don’t listen. I don’t even hear most of the stuff that’s going on during games. I really don’t.”

It’s that insular mentality that can help managers survive when the heat is cranked up around them. For Martinez, it’s worrying about “the boys” and not external noise. Chicago’s Joe Maddon prefers “circling the wagons” in a pressurized environment. In New York, where the subpar Nationals open a four-game series Monday night against the stumbling Mets, manager Mickey Callaway is taking shots head-on. MLB Network’s around-the-league show “Quick Pitch” showed Saturday night clips when the Mets announcers called the game “rock bottom.” The Mets were shut out the next day, and he was asked postgame about his job status on both Saturday and Sunday.

Martinez does not use social media. In his free time, he prefers to go hunting or fishing, not scroll through his phone to see any commentary about his job performance. Maddon, his mentor turned antagonist, felt waves early in Tampa Bay and even in Chicago when the Cubs careened to a 2-7 start this year, the last of his contract. He also stays away from Twitter and the radio dial.

“For me, it’s always about circling the wagons,” Maddon said. “As long as you’re pleased with what’s going on within the group, that’s all that matters. Quite frankly, talk radio, social media, that doesn’t matter. If you permit that to matter, that’s kind of your own fault. That’s there for entertainment purposes. That’s there to promote the game. Good. Barroom banter is tremendous. It’s necessary. I get it. But when it comes to running an organization, if you permit noise from the outside to impact your decisions inside, you deserve your fate.”

Rumblings around Martinez have leveled in the last week. A split in Los Angeles pushed back a miserable sweep in Milwaukee. A series win against Callaway’s Mets produced mathematical progress as opposed to any moralistic claims. A tight series against the Cubs ended with a 6-5 loss Sunday. The baseball since Los Angeles has been better.

That doesn’t remove Martinez from outside conversations about his, and the team’s, future. As things cook in New York, the Nationals remain in a desultory spot of eight games under .500 and eight games out. The coming schedule and recently increased health suggests opportunity. Tussling with the Mets is followed by Miami’s arrival at Nationals Park for four games. A quick two-game trip to Atlanta follows. 

Asked about Martinez’s situation, Maddon turned to the space most have pointed at this season: the bullpen. His words were delivered Friday afternoon.

“Love the team on the field,” Maddon said. “Love the talent on the field. Even without [Bryce] Harper being here. Their system has been outstanding. The young players are high-end. I think before you get all weirded out about Davey, let’s get a bullpen that plays consistently well. Then, you can find out what you got. I’m telling you, man, you could do everything right in a ballgame as a manager -- whether it’s pre the game or during the game, that if you can’t get those outs in the latter part of the game, it’s extremely frustrating for everybody.”

The Nationals bullpen was clobbered that evening. It remains last in the league in ERA by a large margin. 

If a Washington turnabout is nigh, it may come from a combination of further roster bolstering (Matt Adams and Ryan Zimmerman returning), the bullpen progressing to the mean and Juan Soto looking more like the 2018 National League Rookie of the Year runner-up. The two first basemen are close to ready. It would be hard for the bullpen to be worse. Five hits in three games for the 20-year-old Soto have him appearing back on track.

In New York, Callaway has little to lean on. His team picked up three hits in two games against lowly Miami during the weekend. Sunday, outspoken starter Noah Syndergaard came to his defense.

"I respect the hell out of Mickey," Syndergaard told reporters Sunday. "Mickey has tremendous leadership values. It's kind of [expletive] what's going on right now with this speculation that there could be a change because we're so early in the season and just one very small step away from putting this all together. It's certainly not on him."

Martinez has not arrived in that territory. Yet. But on the way there -- or out -- he’ll try to use a common tactic of building walls to prevent the outside from seeping inside.

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