The aftermath of the Tigers' disappointing season began before the season even ended. Pitching coach Chuck Hernandez and bullpen coach Jeff Jones were dismissed on Sunday, and the team told shortstop Edgar Renteria that his contract option would not be picked up, making him a free agent this winter. Plenty more decisions will be made in the coming weeks with organizational meetings in Detroit, as well as the club's Spring Training headquarters in Lakeland, Fla., before the offseason begins in earnest.
The moves will not be meant to slash payroll, Dombrowski indicated, nor will the Tigers be taking on another big payroll boost. They're somewhere in between, and their focus will be on building a pitching staff and supporting cast around their core offensive talent that can allow them to contend.
"At this point, I would be surprised if we're real big participants in free agency," Dombrowski said. "We have a solid core of players. ... If you look at the top of our lineup, our first six guys, they're stars. I don't know that they'll have good years or bad years, but they're star players.
"So we need guys that can fit in and contribute and maybe do the little things a little bit. We don't need to go find an All-Star at every position. We need some guys that can fit in and give us a little hop in our step, mix some young guys in here."
While Dombrowski listed pitching and defense as the most pressing needs, he put special emphasis on bolstering a bullpen that has blown 27 save opportunities and lost 13 games when leading through seven innings.
The closer's role will be at the top of Dombrowski's list. And it's a task which he isn't yet sure how he'll fill.
"I don't have an answer to that yet," Dombrowski said. "I don't really count on [Joel] Zumaya to be it [due to injuries], though he could be it. It's something we're just going to have to look at and explore all our options."
Fernando Rodney is one such option, though not necessarily a high one.
"He is our leading candidate if we open with the team we have right now," Dombrowski said. "But I'm looking to hopefully find someone else that can do that role for us. Is he capable? Yes, he can do it at times, but he has to throw more strikes on a consistent basis."
"At this point, I would be surprised if we're real big participants in free agency. We have a solid core of players. ... If you look at the top of our lineup, our first six guys, they're stars. I don't know that they'll have good years or bad years, but they're star players.
-- GM Dave Dombrowski, on Tigers' offseason plans
That leads him to the free-agent and trade markets, where record-setting Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez is widely seen as the top free-agent reliever. However, Dombrowski indicated that the Tigers' offseason spending won't send them into a bidding war for Rodriguez or other top-priced free agents.
"Do you spend the dollars that you have and go get a bullpen? Which closer can you get out there?" Dombrowski said. "I don't think we're going to be involved in K-Rod. Those things will outstrip us at this point. But you never know how those things work."
That isn't to say that the Tigers won't have room to add on players.
"We have flexibility to do some things," Dombrowski said. "I don't have flexibility to do tons of things, but I have flexibility to do some things. Sometimes you trade young players for young players.
"We've got plenty of finances that are attributed to our ballclub. Now we just have to make them work better for us."
On the issue of payroll, Dombrowski said, "We've spent a lot of dollars for next year. We're going to have a high payroll. We don't have a final number on that. I don't think we look to reduce that significantly."
One way to work the roster will be the influx of young talent. Dusty Ryan could end up being the starting catcher or in a platoon situation, Dombrowski suggested, while Jeff Larish, Matt Joyce and other callups from this year could be in pivotal part-time roles. Dombrowski was very pleased that all of them will be playing some sort of offseason ball -- Larish in the Arizona Fall League, Ryan and Joyce in winter ball.
Ramon Santiago could have some sort of timeshare at shortstop, though the Tigers will search the market and could re-sign Renteria. Whatever they do at short, however, it could be a short-term fix before the long-term answer emerges from the farm system.
"We've got a couple real good young guys in our system," Dombrowski said. "I think Cale Iorg is going to be an All-Star, and I think he's going to be an All-Star very soon -- I mean, real soon. This guy's a good player, and Danny Worth is a real good player."
Worth finished the season at Triple-A Toledo, while Iorg spent the season at Class A Lakeland.
"We've got to work some more of these guys in," Dombrowski continued, using his young infielders as an example. "We had a veteran-laden club last year."
They'll have no shortage of veterans next year, either. The challenge Dombrowski faces is to build the group around them.