Pitchers and catchers from every MLB team will report by Friday, but few squads will enter camp with a completed offseason checklist.
Camp Jobless could currently field an all-star-caliber starting lineup of unsigned free agents. Instead of envisioning the best-case scenario for a polished roster not yet ransacked by injuries and regression, fans are wondering when teams will finally get around to adding a power bat or fortifying a starting rotation.
The winter's frozen standstill has received no respite from the trade market. Since the Milwaukee Brewers acquired Christian Yelich three weeks ago, the most notable swap has involved an NFL quarterback.
Perhaps spring training will ignite activity. The final free-agent dominoes falling would then divert extra attention to employed players potentially on the trade block. Although the flames are low, let's check the hot stove for contributors who could get dealt before Opening Day.
Twins Targeting Chris Archer
The Minnesota Twins completed a stunning turnaround from last place to the Wild Card Game despite their pitching staff amassing MLB's second-worst strikeout percentage (18.8). However, they have lost staff ace Ervin Santana for 10 to 12 weeks with a hand injury.
That only intensifies their need to augment a barren rotation beyond Jose Berrios. After watching Yu Darvish sign with the Chicago Cubs, they have reportedly set their sights on Chris Archer.
According to the Star Tribune's La Velle E. Neal III, the Twins made an offer in late January for the Tampa Bay Rays ace. Deep in pitching but light on offense, the Rays are reportedly interested in acquiring Twins outfielder Max Kepler, who recorded a .737 OPS in his second MLB campaign.
While Archer recorded an ERA above 4.00 in each of the past two seasons, he would certainly give Minnesota a much-needed power arm. Over the last three seasons, only Max Scherzer, Chris Sale and Corey Kluber have compiled more strikeouts.
His contract also makes the 29-year-old righty a valuable trade asset. Including 2019 and 2020 club options that will almost certainly get exercised if healthy, Archer's team will pay him $33.75 million through the next four seasons, a penance for a top-shelf starter.
Yet even after losing free agent Alex Cobb, starting pitching is a position of strength for Tampa Bay, who also wield Blake Snell, Jacob Faria and another prominent trade candidate in Jake Odorizzi. If the small-market club stands pat, Matt Andriese, Jose De Leon and Nathan Eovaldi will all try to fend off top prospect Brent Honeywell for the No. 5 spot in spring.
Archer praised the staff's glutton of talent to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times:
"I'm excited. I know there's a lot of pitching staffs out there excited about what they have, but as far as our depth, one through seven, eight, nine even 10 guys—we're going to have three or four guys in Triple A who should be starting in the big leagues somewhere for somebody. I'll put it up against anybody, and at the end of the season we can look up the numbers and see how we all fared."
This depth could lead to his departure, but he's no newcomer to the rumor mill. Odorizzi, also linked to Minnesota by The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal, represents a more realistic target.
Astros Making Push for J.T. Realmuto
The Houston Astros are not succumbing to winners' complacency.
A potent rotation did not deter the defending champions from adding Gerrit Cole. Per Sirius XM's Craig Mish, they still have designs on bolstering an already-dominant roster:
Does Houston need Realmuto? Not really. Minus an ineffective Carlos Beltran, they're bringing back the same lineup that led MLB in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and runs scored last season.
Catcher is not a problem either. Brian McCann hit 18 homers with 1.6 WAR in 93 games last season, and he's due to earn $17 million in 2018. Realmuto's arrival would mostly relegate the seven-time All-Star to a time-share at designated hitter with fellow catcher Evan Gattis.
Realmuto, however, would still signify an upgrade for Houston and approximately 25 other clubs. The steady receiver behind the plate also sports a .280 career batting average with a slugging percentage (.451 in 2017) that has increased in each of his four seasons.
After losing his first arbitration hearing, the righty will make $2.8 million during his age-27 season. He has two additional years under team control before entering free agency following the 2020 campaign.
With those factors all enhancing his trade value, Miami understandably would want Houston's premier minor leaguer. MLB.com ranked Kyle Tucker as its No. 17 prospect after the outfielder hit .274/.346/.528 in Double-A and Triple-A at age 20. Brandishing a promising hit tool with power, speed and plate discipline, the 6'4" lefty could morph into Christian Yelich 2.0 for the Marlins.
The bold move would make Houston an undeniable favorite to repeat in 2018.
Orioles Ask About Collin McHugh
If they land Realmuto, the Astros could replenish their farm system by flipping McCann and some of their starting pitching surplus. Collin McHugh should draw considerable interest around the league.
A No. 3 or 4 starter on most other teams, the 30-year-old has no immediate path to a rotation spot. He might not even be the next man up; the Cole trade bumped Brad Peacock out of the rotation despite his 3.00 ERA and 161 strikeouts in 132 innings last year.
The unheralded McHugh, meanwhile, posted a 3.55 ERA in 12 starts. Relying heavily on his off-speed offerings, he has accrued 8.19 strikeouts per nine innings over his career and notched a personal-high 12.4 swinging-strike percentage in 2017.
If Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow makes him available, most of the league should line up for his services. Per MASN.com's Roch Kubatko, the Baltimore Orioles inquired about the righty.
Kubatko shared this rumor days before reporting that Baltimore signed Andrew Cashner to a two-year, $16 million deal. The veteran addition should not eliminate any interest in McHugh, as the Orioles still need one or two more starters to repair a rotation that registered an MLB-worst 5.70 ERA last season.
Rosenthal also cited Baltimore's interest in Odorizzi before signing Cashner. Either one would make a welcome addition if the Orioles have any chance of competing during Manny Machado's contract year.