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Dombrowski speaks on Leyland, Tigers

Dombrowski speaks on Tigers

DETROIT -- To some people's surprise, Tigers manager Jim Leyland left Comerica Park for his Pittsburgh home on Monday without the one-year contract extension that he was seeking. But, considering that the Tigers were prepared to offer him a multi-year extension, it's not expected to be a major obstacle.

Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski, speaking at an end-of-season press conference, said on Monday that he's now waiting to talk with team owner Mike Ilitch before proceeding. Ilitch was out of town Monday, but Dombrowski hoped to talk with him within the next couple days.

"He thinks he wants to manage for an extended period," Dombrowski said of Leyland, currently under contract through next season. "We'd like him to be our manager for an extended period, but he also doesn't want to go way, way in advance, so he'd really like to stay on this couple-year time frame from a commitment perspective. But before I go any further than that, I have to talk to Mr. I."

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The Tigers are believed to have shown an interest in signing him for as many as three more years. However, as Leyland told reporters last week, he'd rather have a shorter extension through 2009, to avoid putting himself in a contractual bind should he decide to step away in the next couple years. He had a three-year deal to manage the Rockies when he took over the helm in Colorado in 1999, but he resigned after one season, because he felt burned out.

In light of the Tigers' needs this offseason, Leyland will probably be the easiest contract situation that the team will have. With catcher Ivan Rodriguez's $13 million option for next year still on the table, the Tigers already need a shortstop, with Carlos Guillen's move to first base, and they could be on the market for a starting pitcher and reliever, depending on decisions from Kenny Rogers and Todd Jones.

Leyland characterized the Tigers' offseason approach over the weekend as "tweaking." Dombrowski wasn't so easy on it.

"If Kenny comes back and Todd Jones comes back and Pudge comes back, you're probably tweaking," Dombrowski said. "If they don't, then you're doing more than tweaking. There's a chance that they all could. There's a chance that they all may not. So it depends on what core group you're talking about, and I don't know that answer at this point."

Dombrowski indicated on Monday that the Tigers' decision on Rodriguez could come down to the deadline of 10 days after the end of the World Series, and it'll involve weighing their potential options at catcher on the open market or via trade. A Booth Newspapers report Sunday night said that the team was prepared to decline the option and either pursue another contract with him or go after another catcher.

"We've had some meetings on it," Dombrowski said. "We've heard what other people had to say. We've had our staff meeting. We're in a position where I'll sit in and visit with Mr. I at some point, but we have until that time period, and I don't know if it'll be soon or it'll be all the way down to the 10th day. I'm really not sure on that one."

Rodriguez finished the season batting .281 with 11 home runs and 63 RBIs. The batting average and homer total were his lowest since 1993. He was 21 years old then, and he'll turn 36 next month, though he keeps himself in excellent physical shape.

Asked to evaluate Rodriguez's performance, Dombrowski described it as a "solid season. I don't think he's the same player he was before, but you wouldn't anticipate that type of situation performancewise at his age. But he still played solidly. But, it's also one where you all know what the option is. It's a very large option, so there's a lot of thought to be involved."

Rodriguez said on Sunday that he didn't know what the Tigers were going to do. However, he spoke of his time in Detroit in the past tense at certain points on Sunday. As he said, "It was a good roll here. It was very nice. Very good four years."

Dombrowski characterized the thoughts on Jones and Rogers as more cut-and-dry. He'd like to have both of them back and has told them that, but he has yet to find out whether Rogers wants to play again and whether Jones wants to return to Detroit.

A Jones return, however, would come with no guarantee that he'd be the closer for the entire season.

"We expressed to him how we'd like to have him back," Dombrowski said. "He'd come into the season as the closer, but not committed 100 percent that he'd be our closer all year. How that would all fall into place would be somewhat determined upon only by how he performed, but by how [Joel] Zumaya continues to grow.

"He knows we'd like him back. He likes it here. He has expressed a desire to come back here, but I also know he has a desire to play closer to home in one situation, if that is available to him. I don't know if that club will have interest in him or not."

That club, though Dombrowski couldn't mention it, is Atlanta, about an hour and a half from Jones' Alabama home. The Braves could be seeking a closer, since Octavio Dotel is a free agent.

If Jones leaves, Dombrowski said, the Tigers will be looking for a veteran reliever for the late innings, but not necessarily the closer role. That could open Zumaya's move to closer as soon as next Opening Day.

Dombrowski said he anticipates a decision fairly soon from Rogers on whether he'll keep playing or retire. That choice will affect Detroit's offseason strategy, but not necessarily the young pitchers in the system.

Like Leyland, Dombrowski said they have three established pitchers returning in Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson. One spot, Dombrowski said, will be left open for one of their young starters to win in Spring Training. The other will go to a veteran starter -- Rogers if he returns, another veteran starter from outside the organization if he doesn't.

As for positional players, Dombrowski said they'll look to either sign or trade for a shortstop, since they don't see Ramon Santiago as an everyday player.

"I know we need a shortstop," Dombrowski said. "I don't know where it's coming from. I don't know who it's going to be."

Left field could be a more flexible matter. While the Tigers would like to use the spot to make room for the left-handed hitter they've been seeking for more than a year now, that might not be as a full-time player.

"You either go into it with a platoon with Marcus Thames, or Ryan Raburn if he wrestles that spot away, and a left-handed platoon guy like Timo Perez or someone else," Dombrowski said. "Or if you find somebody that's your No. 1 left fielder as a left-handed bat, we could go in that direction. I don't know what that's going to end up being.

"We've talked about getting a left-handed bat for a couple years, and it's just been tough for us to find. Our batting average was still good versus right-handed pitching, but our win-loss record was better versus left-handed pitching."

It's a lot to chew on, and that's before the Tigers head to Lakeland, Fla., in a couple weeks and look over potential free agents and trades at their organizational meetings. But after back-to-back winning seasons, record attendance this year and a playoff bid that fell short, it's where this team finds itself. Asked if it'll be hard to watch the postseason this month, Dombrowski acknowledged that it would.

"It's harder, I think, because you know you had a chance to have been playing in October," he said. 'I'm sure we'll watch many postseason games, but there's an empty feeling when it's not you and you think you have a chance to do it."

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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