October 31, 2013 at 1:27 pm

Tony Paul

With World Series over, Tigers turn attention to Torey Lovullo, free agents

While the Tigers liked the performance of Joaquin Benoit, they are not likely to make him a $14.1 million qualifying offer. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)

Detroit – For the 2013 baseball season, that’s a wrap.

And what a postseason it was – one as riveting as we can remember.

For just the third time since the playoff field was expanded in 1995, there were no series sweeps. And for the first time ever, there were games that ended on an obstruction call, and a pickoff, and on back-to-back nights in the World Series, no less.

There was drama from start to finish, and a little fun along the way, too; a Boston cop who got his 15 minutes of fame; the Torii Hunter flip that, to his chagrin, will live forever in photos; the cuteness that is Kaz Uehara (“Crazy!”); the ugliness that are those Boston beards; Johnny Cueto’s ball drop; the revival of Fozzie Bear (“Wacha, Wacha, Wacha!”); Don Mattingly’s head-scratching moves; and a malfunctioning plane stuck in St. Louis.

Yes, this is one postseason we soon won’t forget.

But there’ll be no rest for the weary.

When the Red Sox beat the Cardinals on Wednesday night, for their third World Series title in 10 years, Major League Baseball’s offseason officially began. And it figures to be a fascinating few months for the Tigers, who have not only a new manager to hire, but also a boatload of decisions to make on player personnel.

Here are the issues facing Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski.

1. Replace Jim Leyland

If it seems like the Tigers’ managerial search was in a holding pattern, it’s because it was.

After Leyland announced his retirement a little more than a week ago, Dombrowski wasted no time in lining up interviews with his current hitting coach, Lloyd McClendon; the Los Angeles Dodgers’ third-base coach, Tim Wallach; and the San Diego Padres’ front-office adviser, Brad Ausmus.

And then … nothing.

What assumption can you draw from that? Simple. The Tigers want to at least talk to Torey Lovullo, who, until now, has been preoccupied in his role as Red Sox bench coach.

One high-ranking baseball official – who’s not affiliated with the Tigers – told The Detroit News this week he expects Lovullo to get serious consideration from Dombrowski. It’s already believed he will be in the mix for the Chicago Cubs and Seattle Mariners jobs, as well.

Given the party well into the night Wednesday, Lovullo isn’t likely to interview with the Tigers until Friday. That’d give him a chance to be back to Boston on Saturday for the team’s celebratory “Duck Boat” parade.

That’s assuming the Tigers can secure a chat with Lovullo before the Cubs and Mariners do. The Tigers, no question, would like a manager in place by early next week, when Leyland is expected back in town for several days of organization meetings.

The new manager’s input, theoretically, would be vital in those discussions.

It’s unclear if Padres bench coach Rick Renteria still will get an interview. Reportedly, hip surgery has kept him from traveling. The Cubs actually went to him for his interview.

2. Qualifying offers

There are official deadlines the Tigers have to deal with, too. For starters, they have until 5 p.m. Monday to make any of their free agents a qualifying offer. (Free agents, in turn, have a week to accept or reject.)

This is the second year MLB has dealt with qualifying offers. In a nut shell, it works like this: If a team wants a certain free agent back, it can make the offer – and if it’s accepted, said player is signed at a set price for 2014; if it’s rejected, the team gets a prime draft pick. That’s a nice little reward for a ballcub that’s bidding a good player goodbye.

It’s tricky, though, especially since the qualifying offer this year – set by MLB – is a whopping $14.1 million, up $800,000 from a year ago.

There are two free agents the Tigers definitely want back: closer Joaquin Benoit and second baseman Omar Infante. But no way are those guys $14-million-a-year ballplayers, so don’t expect the Tigers to think about extending the offer. Because if they did, Benoit and Infante would accept in a snap, and the Tigers then would be on the hook for way more money than Benoit and Infante are worth for 2014.

Even though the free-agent market is thin on quality closers and second basemen, Benoit, 36, and Infante, 31, can’t be looking at much more than $7 million or $8 million a year – for contracts of two (Benoit) or three (Infante) years.

If the Tigers do pursue them – and it’s likely they will – they will choose that open-market route, which is the safest, and wisest.

3. Free agency

With the World Series complete, the countdown to free agency has begun.

The Tigers have a five-day window to negotiate with their own free agents, before free agents are allowed to sign with any team beginning Tuesday.

We’ve already addressed Benoit and Infante. And those, probably, are the only two Tigers worth watching. Jhonny Peralta had a very nice season for Detroit – an All-Star appearance and a good postseason, sandwiched around a 50-game suspension – but the Tigers have their shortstop in Jose Iglesias, and Peralta isn’t an everyday option in left field. Dombrowski probably would welcome him back as a utility guy – he can play outfield, short, second and third – but Peralta can still start, and will, elsewhere.

Backup catcher Brayan Pena took to Twitter on Tuesday to say the team has told him to move on -- which was both a surprise (his offense) and not a surprise (his defense). Similarly, the Tigers probably won’t have much more use for infielder Ramon Santiago or reliever Octavio Dotel, who is likely to retire. Pitcher Jeremy Bonderman could be back on a spring-training invite, if he doesn't get a better offer.

Meanwhile, in those Comerica Park executive offices, Dombrowski, chief lieutenants Al Avila and John Westhoff, as well as Leyland – and maybe the new manager? – will start mapping the team’s course for the offseason.

That means coming up with a comprehensive list of free-agent targets – expect the Tigers to be heavy on relievers (ideally left-handers; J.P. Howell?) and left fielders (preferably speedy ones; Nate McLouth?) – and determining which Tigers may be expendable in a trade (Rick Porcello? Doug Fister? Nick Castellanos? Not Max Scherzer!), as well as which players which might be available in a trade (Peter Bourjos?)

Downtime? What downtime?

The most popular question I get, as one of The Detroit News’ three baseball writers, is: “What do you write about in the offseason?”

Friends and readers, alike, often are surprised at my response: “What offseason?”

The Tigers, led by Dombrowski and the fat wallet of Mike Ilitch, have become a 365-day-a-year operation, when you consider: They play from April until usually deep into October; they often are active in free-agent and trade talks in November; they usually make a headline or two at the December winter meetings; the Tigers caravan rolls through Michigan in January; and spring training starts up again in February.

Throw a wrinkle into that equation – like, oh, the search for a new manager – and there’s rarely an extended period of quiet.

Particularly for Dombrowski, who, with the World Series complete, is now on the clock.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

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