January 19, 2013 at 6:30 pm

Lynn Henning

Here are questions Tigers' GM Dave Dombrowski will have to field cleanly

Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski will likely be peppered with several questions, including those involving the possible trade of starting pitcher Rick Porcello. (Illustration by Tony Augusty/Detroit News -- John T. Greilick photo.) )

Gray days. Temperatures headed for single digits. Snow coming (supposedly).

It must be time for the Tigers Caravan.

Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers front-office boss whom ex-News staffer and friend, Rebecca Powers, says looks increasingly like Cary Grant, will answer a few hundred questions when next week's motorcade hits state and Metro Detroit fan havens, all ahead of Saturday's TigerFest at Comerica Park.

In the meantime, Dombrowski is prepping for polite interrogation next week as fans line up with questions, among them:

Nick Castellanos and Avisail Garcia. Will either rookie win a job at spring training?

Situation today: The Tigers want Castellanos and Garcia to work overtime during the Grapefruit League schedule. Realistically, neither will win a job out of camp, mostly because the Tigers want both guys playing every day and, at the season's start, that figures to be at Triple A Toledo. After that, call-ups for either player will be a matter of time.

What will the Tigers do about their six-starting pitcher logjam?

If he hasn't made a trade by the Caravan's opening ceremonies, Dombrowski can answer this diplomatically. Rick Porcello, by virtue of his experience and past accomplishments, is still a member of the starting quintet, with young Drew Smyly chasing a spot. This pays respect to Porcello's past efforts and to his trade value without excluding the left-handed Smyly, whom the Tigers want desperately to be part of manager Jim Leyland's rotation.

Why don't the Tigers acquire an insurance closer while they audition rookie Bruce Rondon for the toughest of all bullpen jobs?

It's because the Tigers believe they can walk this tightrope sans safety net. Rondon threw his 100-mph fastball and mean slider over home plate in 2012 and did it again during winter ball in Venezuela. The Tigers, safely it would seem, trust him with the job in 2013. Once fans get a look at him — even if nerves flare during that first appearance or two — they'll likely understand why a front office that won't gamble with its bullpen has such immense trust in Rondon.

Why do the Tigers act as if they prefer platooning Andy Dirks in left field?

They don't. Dirks is a good baseball player. He bats left-handed in what otherwise is a right-hand hitting outfield. But the Tigers also know he lacks the power and arm you ideally want in left field. They're open to adding a right-hand hitting fourth outfielder with pop, which doesn't discredit Dirks in the least.

How serious do the Tigers view their infield defensive challenges?

More seriously than they can acknowledge during next week's events. They aren't desperate. But they understand that a team's weak link, apart from various snoring bats in 2012, was its inability to snag ground balls that too often became hits. They'll make fixes, in time, focusing on an inevitable upgrade at shortstop.

Will the team extend contracts for its big boys Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Austin Jackson, Doug Fister, etc. or decide to trade one or two of the hotshots?

Probably a combination of both. In the case of a contract extension, a new deal for one or more of the above could be announced even during the season. But the greater likelihood is that nothing terribly meaningful will be done, either way, until after the 2013 season.

Are the Tigers concerned about Alex Avila and his off-year in 2012?

Not seriously. They believe he was healthy in 2012, his aches and strains and nasty bruises aside. They thought he took too many pitches. But be careful what you wish for when it comes to being more aggressive. A hitter can begin swinging at stuff he was better off leaving alone. And if you're not tattooing those pitches you should hit, now you've got double trouble.

What happens if Dombrowski trades Porcello and a starting pitcher gets hurt in spring camp or during the regular season?

You make a quick call to Toledo, where the Triple A staff will probably present help (Casey Crosby, Luke Putkonen, etc.), or at Double A Erie, where another option might be Detroit-ready. People too often forget that Triple A pitchers are, in many instances, fifth starters who ran into a numbers game with their particular team. In other words, the Tigers will have replacement parts, at least until Dombrowski works his normal July-deadline trade magic.

lynn.henning@detnews.com

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