Lakeland, Fla. — Eleven days ahead of a new season, trade talk has heated up, Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said Thursday. The Tigers are listening, and only listening, to offers that often begin with one name: Rick Porcello.
But they have initiated nothing with respect to their 24-year-old, right-handed starter.
"I will legitimately say, 100 percent, I have not proposed a deal (involving Porcello) to one other club all spring," the Tigers president and general manager said during a conversation in his office at Joker Marchant Stadium.
Jim Bowden, a former Reds and Nationals general manager, said Thursday on Twitter the Tigers offered Porcello to the Padres for either bullpen closer Huston Street or setup man Luke Gregerson, and had been turned down by San Diego.
Dombrowski said there was no such offer.
"It's simply not right," Dombrowski said. "Does it mean I don't listen? No. You always listen to what people have to say. Is it gonna happen? Most likely not."
Porcello has strung together a series of Grapefruit League games that have made him one of the bigger spring-camp stories in either league. In four starts spanning 18 innings pitched, Porcello has 18 strikeouts and zero walks. He has allowed 15 hits.
"This is the best I've ever seen him throw the baseball," Dombrowski said. "Scouts from other teams have said they've never seen him throw like this.
"Is it improved mechanics? That he's not throwing his slider? I don't know. But people forget that here you had the top pitching prospect in the game when we drafted him (2007).
"This guy's a premium pitching prospect. Premium."
That his own general manager views him in such lofty ways mystifies fans who wonder why the Tigers would consider trading a pitcher so young, and potentially, so good. But the Tigers next week will name a five-man rotation for which six pitchers are competing, including Porcello and left-hander Drew Smyly.
The Tigers are also hunting for a long reliever, just as they acknowledge they need more rotation depth in their organization's upper rungs.
Dombrowski, though, has not suppressed trade talk since Anibal Sanchez signed a free-agent deal with Detroit in December, at which point one of the team's starters, at least mathematically, became expendable.
Opposing scouts have been commuting regularly to Porcello's starts as at least a half-dozen teams size up a 6-foot-5, 200-pound pitcher who has won 48 big-league games since joining the Tigers rotation in 2009.
"The last couple of days my phone has been ringing a lot," Dombrowski said, emphasizing no particular Tigers player spurred those calls. "Usually, the last couple of weeks are when things get busy. And it got busy beginning Monday. It was like clockwork. This spring took a little longer to develop, mostly because we had a longer spring training."
It is understood any Porcello trade would be for a steep price as Dombrowski takes stock of his team and a young pitcher's potential breakthrough spring.
The Tigers would be interested in adding any combination of players, either for the short or long term: a right-handed hitting outfielder, a shortstop, and probably bullpen support, if not a starting pitching prospect.
Dombrowski conceded next week's decisions will be ticklish as the Tigers finalize a 25-man roster ahead of their season opener April 1 at Minnesota. Of particular interest is how Dombrowski and manager Jim Leyland will configure their seven-man bullpen staff.
It is a decision that might have become less daunting after rookie closer candidate Bruce Rondon righted himself following a rocky mid-camp stretch. Ahead of Thursday night's game against the Astros at Marchant Stadium, the 22-year-old Rondon had five consecutive turns in which he either was effective or dazzling.
He has not been named closer, and may not enter the season as Leyland's official ninth-inning fireman. But a week before Leyland is expected to name his Opening Day team, it now looks as if Rondon will go north.
"You have to be encouraged," Dombrowski said. "I don't mean to get carried away. There still hasn't been any decisions, but it's good to see him pitching the way he has."
The Tigers have a second bullpen issue: long relief. Leyland has conceded the Tigers have no clear option there. Asked if he thought a long reliever would have emerged, Dombrowski said, "I think there are guys here in camp."
The group includes at least one of those six starters bidding for five jobs. It is telling that neither Dombrowski nor Leyland has ruled out the possibility of using a starter, likely Smyly, in a long-relief role. Smyly, presumably, could also work as a situational left-hander, as he did during last autumn's playoffs.
Dombrowski offered no scenarios Thursday. He was more revealing about a position player of celebrity: rookie Nick Castellanos, a hotshot 21-year-old hitter who is being sent to Triple A Toledo to work on his defense not a year after a natural third baseman was moved to left field.
"He could probably help us right now," Dombrowski said of Castellanos, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound right-handed hitter. "But I just don't think he'd get the necessary playing time.
"I really don't think his bat is very far from helping at the big-league level. But he needs to be challenged — to make sure he goes to Triple A and stays challenged.
"Who knows? After 150 at-bats? That's 40 games. You're only talking the middle of May."
Dombrowski said he had no expectations the Tigers would call up Castellanos early in the season. He said the team would be resolute in not rushing him.
But, the Tigers GM repeated, minds will remain open on Castellanos, just as Dombrowski for now will be pleased to talk with any counterpart who cares to discuss a pitcher named Porcello.