DETROIT – 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."