Not everything involving baseball's non-waiver Trade Deadline, which takes place Aug. 1, is speculative and surreptitious. Some of it is fairly straight-forward.
In David Ortiz's final season, the Red Sox are going to pull out all the stops to try to ensure his final at-bat occurs on the World Series stage, and Dave Dombrowski is never shy in the swap market. They need pitching, and they'll do everything they can to get it.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is a team like the Braves, who will trade just about anybody other than the construction manager at their new ballpark (just kidding ... he can be had). They need controllable, projectable talent, and they'll do everything they can to get it.
But for some clubs, the trade equation -- the decision on whether this 2016 season is worth building up, bailing on or waiting out -- is more complex, the outlook more opaque.
Fortunately for them, we've taken it upon ourselves to make the tough decisions with a little game of Buy, Sell or Hold.
New York Yankees
Run differential: Minus-32
Division games back: 9
Wild Card games back: 3.5
Somebody had the gall to ask team president Randy Levine if a Yankees team that, honestly, is just not very good -- or at least, not good enough to win the World Series, which is the only thing worth chasing in the Bronx -- might consider its first summer sell-off since Rickey Henderson went to Oakland in '89. His response:
"When we decide to become sellers, if we decide to become sellers, or if we decide to become buyers, you'll know about it," Levine said. "I guess the difference is most of you guys have never run anything. We have a lot of history here of knowing what we're doing and a lot of confidence in our baseball operations people, so we'll see what happens."
Fortunately for you, the reader, I once ran the stage crew operations for a high school production of "The Wizard of Oz," so I am well-qualified to assure you it is in the best interest of the Yanks to find new homes for pending free agents Carlos Beltran and Aroldis Chapman and to at least listen to offers for Andrew Miller (and if the Cubs crack and relent on Kyle Schwarber, go for it). This was a half-hearted contention attempt from the get-go, a Yankees team that abstained (wisely, I might add) from the free-agent market, is patiently waiting for bad contracts to expire and needs controllable upside.
St. Louis Cardinals
Run differential: Plus-75
Division games back: 10.5
Wild Card games back: 0
The Cubs' clout has created this really odd situation in which the Cardinals, a proud franchise accustomed to getting its hand-stamped at the division doorway, can basically only hope for a Wild Card. At the same time, this is an organization that knows quite well the value of any entry into October, having snuck in and then won it all in 2011. And their run differential is the third-best in the NL, so there's a whole lot to like here, even if the division deficit is damaging to the psyche of the fan base.
If I'm John Mozeliak, I'm taking my chances on this club. Add another relief arm, hunt down some center-field support, eke out every last ounce of the Adam Wainwright-Matt Holliday-Yadi Molina era. Let's do this thing. Because the fact of the matter is that if the Cards can get to October and do to the Cubs what the Cubs did to them last fall (only, in this case, prolonging the drought to end all droughts and ending the season-long Cubs love affair), that, for St. Louis fans, would be about as satisfying as winning the Series itself.
New York Mets
Run differential: Plus-4
Division games back: 6
Wild Card games back: 0.5
I wasn't going to include the Mets initially, because it's a fairly straight-forward "buy" situation, on the surface, right? They need another bat, and it's pretty questionable whether Jose Reyes is going to give them a big boost in that area.
But I'm a little unnerved by the amount of times we've heard the word "elbow" associated with this club in recent weeks -- Noah Syndergaard's elbow, Steven Matz's elbow, Zack Wheeler's elbow. Those don't appear to be serious issues, but they are uncomfortable ones for a club built around the signature strength of young starting pitching.
And this offense stinks. Sorry. The confluence of health, promotion, a suddenly Ruthian second baseman and one of the all-time great Trade Deadline acquisitions that saved the 2015 season is an unrepeatable feat -- and the system, of course, isn't as strong as it was a year ago.
Maybe I'm simply swept up in run differential (even more than the record), but I just think the Nats are the East's better and more sustainable team in 2016. And while I'm not going to advocate for a Matt Harvey trade (we can save that for the winter), I can't, in good conscience, encourage these Mets to make any major acquisitions.
Verdict: Hold. And hope.
Run differential: Plus-91
Division games back: 0
Wild Card games back: 0
This is, understandably, a risk-averse organization. The budget must be monitored closely (the Indians are leading a division in which they're the only club with an eight-figure payroll) and the farm system is the long-term lifeblood. This is not a situation where you can just fork over prime prospects in hopes of a short-term boost unless you really, really, really feel like you're on the verge of something special.
But if not now, when?
The AL Central is winnable as can be, and the Tribe's ridiculous win streak put them in prime position to take it. Ask any evaluator, and they'll tell you this starting rotation would be dangerous to match up with come October, and opportunities to advance on that stage -- and reignite the passions of a fan base that has been fixated on LeBron and on the lowly Browns -- are precious few and far between. I don't know if the Indians will go after an impact outfield bat, especially with Lonnie Chisenhall hot, Tyler Naquin having a rousing rookie season and Michael Brantley on the mend -- but I do know it's worth looking into. This team also needs to add another sturdy setup man. I wouldn't give up Brad Zimmer or Clint Frazier for a two-month rental, but I would definitely give up one of those guys in a broader deal for a Jay Bruce or Andrew Miller.
Run differential: Plus-25
Division games back: 9
Wild Card games back: 0.5
They went 7-17 in April. That means that people who went to the dentist's office on May 1 and saw all those outdated magazines laying around could pick up the March 28 issue of Sports Illustrated -- the one that said "This Year is the Year!" -- and have something to laugh at before the root canal.
But who's laughing now? Carlos Gomez finally started hitting, Jose Altuve never stopped, Carlos Correa made the sophomore adjustment, Doug Fister found his old form, the bullpen (and, notably, Ken Giles) got better, the Mariners got worse and suddenly Houston, despite the huge West hole, is a viable playoff candidate once again.
But if they get to the Wild Card round, do they give the ball to Dallas Keuchel again? He was nails in Yankee Stadium last October, but he's had a turbulent follow-up to his Cy Young campaign. Generally speaking, is this rotation good -- and deep -- enough to handle the tense September stretch and/or any looming injury adversity that might present itself? This would be a lot more interesting question if the starting pitching market itself were more interesting, but right now it reads as woefully thin. But, again, so does this rotation. And though I wouldn't move Alex Bregman for any of the current names known to be available, I would consider other position-player pieces.
The Astros, for the record, should also be among the teams making a play for Jonathan Lucroy. Things might have gotten off to a rocky start in Houston and the system isn't as strong as it was before the trades for Gomez and Giles and others, but this is still a club with a strong core in a clear window to win, and that ought to be maximized.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Run differential: Plus-35
Division games back: 6.5
Wild Card games back: 0
On the surface, all they need is a middle-of-the-order bat, a legit No. 2 starter, some bullpen help and maybe a catcher. (Yeah, $250 million doesn't buy you much these days.)
Of course, if we know anything about this general manager-laden front-office group, it's that they don't necessarily view things the way the majority of us might. Going all-in on David Price or Cole Hamels to round out the rotation behind Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke seemed pretty obvious a year ago, but the Dodgers abstained, instead making a swap for Mat Latos and Alex Wood. Then they abstained from Price in free agency and let Greinke walk. Now they've got Clayton and the Question Marks, an injury riddled group that has had to lean on an 19-year-old Julio Urias and has to hold out hope that a healthy Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy can provide a second-half spark. The Dodgers are a sub-.500 team when Kershaw is resting -- and oh, by the way, his back has been bothering him.
The lineup has proved rather average, for the most part, especially when Adrian Gonzalez slumps the way he did the better part of June. A Jay Bruce or Ryan Braun would be a welcomed sight here.
And sure, might as well throw in a lights-out setup man to support Kenley Jansen.
The crazy thing is the Dodgers probably have the prospects (Urias included) to get all of the above, but there is little evidence to suggest the Friedman regime is comfortable parting with them. I really don't know how to properly diagnose the Dodgers. Weird team. But I do know that when you've got an inner-circle Hall of Fame pitcher in his prime, it's worth taking some risks to help him out, especially when money is not an issue.
Verdict: Buy! (Unless Kershaw's back becomes a big issue, in which case… panic!)
Chicago White Sox
Run differential: Minus-10
Division games back: 8.5
Wild Card games back: 3
It would be perfectly representative of the Sox's helter-skelter season if they traded for James Shields on June 5 only to trade away Chris Sale or Jose Quintana on Aug. 1, but don't bet on it. Sale and Quintana are both locked up through at least 2018 under ridiculously team-friendly terms, and there will be other ways for this organization to try to build around them should the trend of the last two months continue and the Sox fall short. I wouldn't sell here, no matter how many breathless opinion pieces about Sale's value are penned.
But I ain't buying, either. Not right now, anyway. A few weeks back, the wide-open nature of the division and the financial flexibility afforded by the Adam LaRoche exit called for the Sox to pursue any and all upgrade options in the corner outfield and bullpen. Shields, though, demonstrated in his first few starts for Chicago the risk associated with in-season pickups, and this team has continued to not get any traction in the wins column. So maybe just hope Todd Frazier gets as hot as he did in last year's Home Run Derby and Shields finds his groove and that the answers come in-house.
Run differential: Minus-21
Division games back: 14.5
Wild Card games back: 4
Pretty clearly not a buy situation. Not after a disastrous June in which Gerrit Cole and Francisco Cervelli both got hurt, Francisco Liriano got lit up and Andrew McCutchen got so desperate for hits that he turned to Adele. Not much merit to chasing an NL Wild Card spot in the city that knows too well how frustrating even Wild Card obtainment can be.
So … should the Pirates sell? And if so, how significant a sell are we talking about here?
People will talk about McCutchen. They will point out that he's only under the Pirates control another two seasons and that the odds of extending him again are slim. They'll say this is the time to admit that a run of small-market brilliance is only sustainable with tough, often unpopular decisions that reap long-term rewards.
But trading Cutch now would be lunacy for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that he's having a down year and you'd be selling low. And I'm not sure I'm buying the argument for moving Liriano, either, given that the Pirates have him wrapped up for another year and can hope he and Ray Searage put their heads together and come up with a win-laden walk year in 2017. The Pirates probably should deal away pending free agents with trade value -- Mark Melancon and David Freese apply -- but they've got a strong enough system in place to maintain their long-term assets and make another earnest effort to contend next year. This is not time for the Buccos to totally walk the plank.
Verdict: Sell ... but don't go nuts.
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Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB.com columnist and MLB Network contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.