It's always nice when spring training arrives, but then comes the realization that it's a long, mostly boring slog to Major League Baseball's regular season.
What say we spice things up with some imaginary blockbuster trades?
We've come up with five that are somewhere within the realm of possibility. As in none include ace right-hander Corey Kluber, whom MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi reported is staying put with the Cleveland Indians. Otherwise, they cover headline-worthy players and teams that fit as trading partners.
Let's get to it.
Edwin Encarnacion to the Tampa Bay Rays
The Seattle Mariners have been trying to flip Edwin Encarnacion ever since they acquired the 36-year-old slugger from the Indians in December. But according to Morosi, nothing is in the works.
Maybe that'll change if the Tampa Bay Rays start feeling a need for more power.
Though the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees are the presumed favorites in the American League East, the Rays are feeling confident.
As manager Kevin Cash told Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe: "This is a special group of players. There's so much positive energy that these guys exhibit on a daily basis. We had that last year, and you can see we have it again this year. We do what we do, and as our guys mature and gain more experience, we're going to go out there and compete with everything we have."
According to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, however, the Rays originally set out for a right-handed slugger for the middle of their order. Neither Avisail Garcia nor fellow newcomer Mike Zunino match that description as well as Encarnacion, who had an .810 OPS and 32 home runs in a "down" 2018.
The Rays would need the Mariners to pick up a chunk of the $26.7 million (including a $5 million buyout) remaining on Encarnacion's contract. If it meant a shot at plucking from the Rays' No. 5 farm system—MLB-ready utility man Brandon Lowe is a potential fit—Seattle could be more than willing to do so.
Nicholas Castellanos to the Cleveland Indians
Sans Michael Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall, the Indians outfield isn't looking so good.
Leonys Martin, who's thankfully healthy following last year's life-threatening bacterial infection, will be fine in center field. But the Tribe is prepared to move forward with some combination of Greg Allen, Tyler Naquin and Jordan Luplow in the corners, with Matt Joyce and Trayce Thompson in reserve.
This is a clear weakness in Cleveland's plan to win a fourth straight American League Central title. And the longer All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor is out with a calf strain, the larger it will loom.
Rather than tempt fate, the Indians should reach across the AL Central and snag Nicholas Castellanos.
Castellanos is a darn good hitter who's put up an .831 OPS and 193 extra-base hits since 2016. But the Detroit Tigers are in the middle of a rebuild, so the 26-year-old understandably wants to spend his walk year elsewhere.
"He wants to win and understands the direction of the franchise right now is to procure prospects," Castellanos' agent, David Meter, told Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press. "That being said, he would rather start with his new club going into spring training."
It's too late for Castellanos to get what he wants with regards to timing, but the Indians are as good a candidate as any to grant his overall wish. There's enough room in their trimmed-down payroll for his $10 million salary. In exchange, they could offer the Tigers a long-term upside play such as outfielder George Valera.
Robbie Ray to the Los Angeles Angels
In the American League West, the Los Angeles Angels appear doomed for another season as an also-ran.
Maybe they have a shot at overcoming the Oakland Athletics, but the Houston Astros look far out of reach. That can't change unless the Angels add an ace for a starting rotation that's long on depth but short on upside.
A free-agent deal with 2015 American League Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel is a possibility. But if the Angels prefer to save some money and add a little more electricity than what Keuchel can offer, they might reach out to the Arizona Diamondbacks about Robbie Ray.
Ray regressed from an All-Star 2017 in 2018, but he finished strong with a 2.83 ERA over his final 13 starts. He also kept the strikeouts coming in bunches. To wit, he's fanned 11.8 batters per nine innings over the last three seasons.
According to ESPN.com's Jeff Passan, the D-backs want more for Ray, who's 27 and controlled through 2020, than what the Mariners got for James Paxton. Meaning: more than one top-100 prospect (left-hander Justus Sheffield) and a couple of throw-ins.
The Angels certainly wouldn't part with uber-outfielder Jo Adell. But they might base a trade around right-hander Griffin Canning, who's MLB.com's No. 63 prospect. A secondary piece could be well-regarded second baseman Jahmai Jones or even righty Jaime Barria, who's already found success in the majors.
Jose Leclerc to the Boston Red Sox
Since general manager Jon Daniels said the team won't tank, the Texas Rangers probably won't trade Jose Leclerc this spring.
Leclerc isn't yet a household name, but he emerged as one of the most dominant relief pitchers in the business last season. The 25-year-old appeared in 59 games and compiled a 1.56 ERA with 13.3 strikeouts per nine innings. To boot, he's under team control through 2022.
Still, perhaps the Rangers can be swayed if a team offers them multiple pieces they could plug in right now or in the near future. To this end, the Boston Red Sox might be able to oblige.
As much as they want to downplay it, it's no secret the Red Sox have a Craig Kimbrel-size hole at the back end of their bullpen. They're also beset by limited luxury-tax space and MLB's worst farm system.
Per Cafardo, however, the Red Sox do have an attractive trade chip in catcher Christian Vazquez. He's an excellent defender with a team-friendly contract that runs as far as 2022. And while their farm system is certainly weak, its better pieces include two slugging corner infielders (Michael Chavis and Bobby Dalbec) and a hard-throwing lefty (Darwinzon Hernandez) who are nearly MLB-ready.
For their part, the Rangers are weak at catcher and in need of whatever major league upside they can get. Sacrificing a spectacular-yet-superfluous closer to get those things from Boston could be worth their while in the long run.
Madison Bumgarner and Joe Panik to the Milwaukee Brewers
This is a recycled idea that's been garnished with a side of Joe Panik.
Morosi reported the San Francisco Giants could trade Madison Bumgarner to the Milwaukee Brewers, and that got our seal of approval. A battle-tested ace such as Bumgarner would look terrific atop the Brewers' mostly young rotation.
Trouble is, new Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi isn't in a hurry to deal Bumgarner. On the eve of his walk year, the 29-year-old lefty's value is down following two injury-marred seasons. And if the Bryce Harper rumors are any indication, Zaidi would just as soon add a star as subtract one.
If Harper signs elsewhere, however, it might force a practicality-minded shift toward rebuilding. Zaidi's stance could further be loosened if Bumgarner rediscovers some fastball velocity this spring. Judging from what MadBum told Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle about his injuries in 2017 and 2018, that's a real possibility.
For their part, the Brewers have three young righties—Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta—to dangle in front of the Giants. But if they're uncomfortable giving up one or more of them for just one year of Bumgarner, that's where Panik could come in.
Panik has had some ups, downs and injuries since his All-Star breakout in 2015. But because he's still only 28 and controlled through 2020, he would bring solid upside to a utility infielder role in Milwaukee.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference. Payroll and contract data courtesy of Roster Resource.