March 8, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Lynn Henning

Tigers find trade market tangled this year

Tigers pitcher Rick Porcello has been a subject of trade speculation throughout the offseason and spring training. (Robin Buckson/Detroit News)

Lake Buena Vista, Fla. -- The Tigers are a nicely equipped team sturdy enough in early March to win a division title and maybe hang around deep into October.

Of course, if you care to discuss a trade, Dave Dombrowski will be sure to return your call. Probably in seconds.

Dombrowski, the Tigers front office chief, often mentions there are no perfect teams. And as confirmation, we offer a Tigers roster that has soft spots in the bullpen, and in the infield, where Detroit's defense is less than polished.

The Tigers have good players to trade. A handful of teams have emergencies that might be answered by Detroit's excess talent: Rick Porcello, Brennan Boesch, Avisail Garcia, catching prospects, etc.

But notice something about this year's trade market. It's upside down.

Kyle Lohse, who was 16-3 a year ago with a 2.86 ERA, is without a job. Most teams could use another good starter. And all of those teams have thus far said no to Lohse because it will mean forfeiting a first-round draft pick teams have increasingly come to value.

Michael Bourn, a talented center fielder who was supposed to have been scooped up in a hurry, hung around as a free agent until the start of camp when Cleveland signed him.

And so Dombrowski waits. And waits. He has six healthy, skilled starting pitchers for five chairs in Jim Leyland's rotation. Porcello has been all but advertised by the Tigers as the guy they believe is the best pitcher to trade in terms of market value and their specific top-to-bottom rotation attributes.

No serious talks

But finding a fit in March has been no easier than it was in January, when Dombrowski said, for all his general manager brothers to hear: "We can't have six starting pitchers."

The market is, at least temporarily, in a knot, even as all those nervous teams wonder what they'll do to plug holes that either just formed or that weren't fixed during the offseason.

The Yankees are a physical mess. Alex Rodriguez is out, Derek Jeter is fighting to come back, Curtis Granderson is gone at least into May, and Mark Teixeira will miss 8-10 weeks with a wrist injury.

The Tigers have extra outfielders. The Yankees have inventory that can at least offer Dombrowski depth. But from all indicators, nothing serious has been discussed.

The Cardinals are looking for a shortstop as Rafael Furcal prepares for Tommy John surgery. The Tigers, who wouldn't mind more of a vacuum cleaner on the infield's left side, now have new competition in upgrading a position where there aren't many available trade chips. It's a situation the Tigers more likely can address ahead of July's trade deadline.

The Rangers need starting pitching and seemed a good bet to inquire about Porcello. But from what we have learned via baseball's more trustworthy rumor mills, the Rangers and Dombrowski have had no more than pleasant, unproductive, phone chats.

Search for a closer

There is every indication the Tigers will make some kind of deal ahead of Opening Day. They have those bullpen issues, which is to say they have no closer. And no matter how in-stride Dombrowski is publicly handling Bruce Rondon's early headaches, he will not enter a new season without a reliable closer.

He will trade a pitcher, probably Porcello, rather than send Porcello to the bullpen or Drew Smyly to Triple A.

Circumstances can change with an injury. But for now, Dombrowski is itching to trade and has said zero to counter the notion he will make a deal before breaking camp.

But with what team? And for which player, or players?

Your guess is as good as anyone's, including whatever Lohse is guessing today as he sits at home, wondering where, and when, he will find a job in this crazy 2013 baseball market.

lynn.henning@detroitnews.com

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