Three weeks into a new season is too soon to conclude Avisail Garcia won't be needed with the parent club in 2013. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)
Some years ago, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld spoke a now infamous quote, and it's hard not to think about it when discussing the early weeks of a baseball season:
"There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know.
"There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don't know.
"But there are also unknown unknowns — there are things we do not know we don't know."
Here's what we know about the Tigers:
Justin Verlander and the rest of rotation will be a strength, even if there have been a few hiccups near the back with Rick Porcello.
Austin Jackson, Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder make for one of the most impressive top halves of a batting order in the game.
The bullpen has problems: Octavio Dotel has struggled. Brayan Villarreal hasn't been all that good, either. Phil Coke struggles with right-handers. Joaquin Benoit may not be a closer, after all.
Here's what we know we don't know:
Who, if anyone, will right the ship in the bottom half of the lineup, and what positions will be the greatest need when the trade deadline arrives in July?
It's easy to say "the bullpen!" but July 31 is 14 weeks away. A lot of things can happen during that period of time.
Someone's probably going to get hurt. Some seemingly irreplaceable player might slump. Someone in the minor leagues could go on a six-week tear after being called up.
As for what we don't know we don't know ... well, we don't know, do we?
That's kind of a long-winded way of saying the Tigers need to begin dealing with their known issues soon, but they also have to leave some wriggle room in case certain unknown conditions arise in the coming months.
Before trying to find a solution to the bullpen woes outside of the organization, team president and general manager Dave Dombrowski has to try out the several options he has on the farm.
That means promoting any combination of Bruce Rondon, Jose Ortega, Luis Marte, Luke Putkonen and — yes — Jose Valverde before any trades are seriously considered.
Last week, former MLB general manager and current ESPN columnist Jim Bowden offered five impulse moves teams could make to improve.
For the Tigers, his suggestion was trading either outfielder Avisail Garcia or swingman Drew Smyly for Padres closer Huston Street.
This is exactly the kind of move the Tigers need to avoid.
What we don't know is whether the team will need an outfielder, a starting pitcher or even a middle infielder.
What if Andy Dirks doesn't start hitting better? What if Matt Tuiasosopo's good-news story takes a dive?
What if there's an injury?
Garcia might be necessary on the big league club — or he could be a later trade chip if a need arises elsewhere.
What if Porcello doesn't settle in and find more consistent success at the back of the rotation?
Smyly would be more valuable moving into the rotation than an acquired closer would be in the bullpen.
What if Alex Avila doesn't start hitting?
So let's keep the most options on the board.
Entering play Sunday, Rondon had made six scoreless appearances for Triple-A Toledo with nine strikeouts and two walks.
Take a closer look at Valverde.
Given his final appearances during the 2012 postseason, that's not an easy idea to sell to the fans. But if the scouts look at his stuff and see the improvements they're looking for, what's the big deal? This isn't a five-year deal. It's a trial run.
While we're at it, let's test a few others from the Mud Hens, as well.
If the Tigers can fill their needs from within, it will leave them all the stronger for when the unknown-unknown does occur.
Now is not the time to make a kneejerk trade.
Kurt Mensching is the editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.