Contrary to what you might think based on the flurry of activity that saw big pieces like Jose Quintana, Sean Doolittle, David Robertson and J.D. Martinez change hands in recent days, MLB's non-waiver Trade Deadline has not yet passed. It's still July 31, which means there are still plenty of swaps in store.
With some major needs (none bigger than the Nationals' bullpen, which might still receive further augmentation before all is said and done) addressed and the rumor mill in constant spin, Deadline discussions are a moving target in this final week and a half. But for right now, these are my picks for the 10 teams, from both sides of the buy/sell spectrum, with the most fascinating decisions ahead.
Life comes at you at a rate with greater acceleration than anticipated.
OK, the phrase needs some refinement if it's going to work its way into a Nationwide commercial, but it does apply here. The Brewers might have gotten to the top of the NL Central sooner than expected, but… they got to the top of the NL Central! So… what are they going to do about it?
The projections still scream Cubs, and the Cubs are, indeed, coming -- not just because of the Quintana trade but because of the progression to the mean for the rest of their roster (they possibly dodged a huge bullet when Kris Bryant's headfirst slide injury was a mere pinky sprain and not something more sinister). Do the Brewers believe the projections or three-plus months of baseball? Are there controllable assets (read: Gray, Sonny) that make sense for them both now and in the future? How deep into their well-built farm system are they willing to dive to reinforce their surprise position? Other executives are genuinely curious to see how David Stearns handles this unexpected opportunity.
The first shot in the "Battle of NL West Contenders Not Named the Dodgers" was fired by the D-backs with the Martinez trade. Arizona did good work to reel in a difference-maker, but the Rockies have what execs will tell you is assuredly the deeper, better farm system.
The question is what they'll prioritize in the trade pursuit. The Rox have had absolutely no trouble scoring runs this week. But right field has been a net negative thanks to Carlos Gonzalez's struggles (and there's no telling if David Dahl will be back in time to make an impact this year), and the catching situation needs help (Alex Avila would make a ton of sense).
And because it's Colorado, sure, there's always an argument for going out and getting more pitching support.
There's a not-small chance the Rox face the D-backs in the Wild Card round, and Arizona just significantly lengthened its lineup. Your move, Jeff Bridich.
The White Sox have already done great work to add to their winter rebuild momentum in the trades involving Jose Quintana, David Robertson, Todd Frazier and Tommy Kahnle. The A's are similarly well-equipped to alter the future of their franchise as they try to align a competitive product with the opening of a new ballpark - something that, yes, they do actually expect to happen in Billy Beane's lifetime.
As we saw with the Martinez trade, which netted the Tigers an OK-but-hardly-overwhelming package of prospects, this is not a great market to be moving position-player rentals. But Yonder Alonso and Jed Lowrie (who has a team option for 2018) do figure to bring back a lottery ticket or two. And the big decision -- the decision that lands the A's prominently on this list -- is where to send Sonny Gray, who, given the market conditions, should be able to fetch the A's a package similar to what the Yankees reeled in for Andrew Miller a year ago (i.e. two Top 100 prospects and two other good pieces).
These guys were supposed to be running away with this thing. And in case you haven't looked at the AL Central standings lately, I'll spoil it for you: They're not. This is a maddeningly inconsistent club, and that's allowed the Twins and Royals, both of whom are significantly outperforming the records suggested by their run differentials, to hang around. For the Tribe, needs have arisen in the rotation (they've got a lot riding on Danny Salazar providing a second-half bounceback), possibly in the outfield (MLB.com's Jon Morosi reported that the Indians were, surprisingly, in the mix for Martinez, which brings up questions about the severity of Lonnie Chisenhall's calf injury) and possibly in the bullpen (Boone Logan's lat injury Wednesday did not look good).
Having already invested so much young talent into the acquisition of Andrew Miller and so much money into the acquisition of Edwin Encarnacion (both of which qualified as rare moves in this particular market), the end goal is quite a bit more ambitious than simply a de facto division title. How much do the Indians want to augment their current window of World Series opportunity, particularly with this club playing so inconsistently? Do they make valuable prospects Francisco Mejia or Triston McKenzie available and go after Gray, whose arbitration timetable aligns with their core? Do they add another bat? Or do they just keep waiting/hoping/praying for what's in-house to live up to projection?
Britton's reported availability -- coupled with that of Brad Brach and Darren O'Day -- totally alters a market that was short on high-end relief help. Even if you believe in the O's ability to bounce back in 2018 with a pitching staff that has put up some historically bad numbers this season, you have to acknowledge that Britton's price tag (he makes $11.4 million this year and has one more year of arbitration eligibility) and approaching free agency make him a luxury of questionable affordability for this club.
But what's also interesting about this Deadline period is the approaching free agency (after 2018) of Manny Machado, who, even in a down year, has remarkable allure. The division rival Red Sox are the only team known to be shopping for third-base help and the demand for shortstop support is similarly small, so these are not conditions to move Machado. The O's, though, could have conversations now that serve as a base point for further dialogue in the offseason, when a wider swath of clubs would definitely have interest. The bottom line is that Baltimore's budget has been stretched to its limit and this season has exposed some hard realities that must be addressed one way or another.
6. Red Sox
The whole Red Sox-Yankees thing is, well, a thing again. Boston was considered basically the only buyer in the third-base market, until the Yanks swooped in and stole Frazier. Do the Red Sox, who have already raided their farm system so much in the Dave Dombrowski era, pivot to another less-prominent but potentially still-valuable option like a Lowrie? Or do they give Rafael Devers a shot before long? Oh, and how confident are they in the current bullpen composition?
This is one of those "World Series or bust" scenarios, and, while the Red Sox don't necessarily have to react to what the Yankees did the other day, they could sure use some assistance.
You could tell me that the Pirates, whose pitching situation has stabilized the last month and who now have Starling Marte back in the lineup, will make a surprise leap to the top of the NL Central, and I'd believe you. At the same time, you could tell me the Pirates should trade away Andrew McCutchen or other important pieces (heck, maybe even Gerrit Cole), and I'd believe you. The buy/sell equation is always drastic in markets like this, because opportunities to get impact young talent back for established players in subpar standings circumstances are not to be ignored.
But then again, neither is the Buccos' recent play. Can they make believers out of Neal Huntington and compel him to add, rather than subtract? Is there even a market for the resurgent McCutchen with so few contenders looking for position help? Or do the Pirates simply stand pat and let the season do what it will? One thing the Pirates do have to keep in mind is that Marte won't be available to them in the postseason, should they get there.
How valuable is the Wild Card pursuit? How good does Jon Daniels think this club is? How strong is the Rangers' desire to re-sign Yu Darvish, and is their confidence in the comfort level they've built for him stateside strong enough to withstand the open market and, possibly, a trade that sends him elsewhere for a couple months?
In Darvish and in Cole Hamels, the Rangers have the potential opportunity to replenish a farm system weakened by trades and graduations (though Hamels, even when turning in successful outings lately, hasn't been missing many bats). There are other pending free agents like Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez here. But the Darvish decision is particularly pointed on a club that keeps hovering around .500.
Mentioned earlier that the Royals and Twins are both in a strange spot - contending for a division title in spite of themselves and more specifically in spite of a negative run differential. The Twins could just as easily crack this list, though there's a decent chance that Bartolo Colon qualifies as their signature midseason addition.
The Royals, meanwhile, have the dual intrigue of an expiring core and a surprisingly elongated competitive window here. This FAQ explains how the Royals' market size could allow them to reap still-valuable Draft pick compensation for a couple of their guys if they sign elsewhere, and maybe that's enough to compel them to just ride this out (that's certainly the way they've been leaning). And if things stay tight in the Central up to July 31, they could even be compelled to raid what's left of their farm system and truly go for broke here in '17 because… why not? The painful rebuild is coming either way, so maybe it makes sense to add another arm and give Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Co. every chance to succeed in '17.
10. (tie) Dodgers and Astros
Fascinating for the same reason. Their division races are basically over (and in the Dodgers' case, that's especially amazing), so there is an argument for making like Peter in "Office Space" and doing absolutely nothing. That's why I rank them on the low end of the spectrum here.
BUT they could just as easily rank No. 1. Because, as was the case with Theo Epstein and the Cubs a year ago, these analytical front offices, which place such a high value on their young talent, could both be faced with an "If not now, when?" scenario. Both, for instance, could stand to upgrade their left-handed relief outlook, and Britton looms as the perfect person to ease the pressure on starting staffs littered with injury history and give them a super 'pen in the mold of what the Indians had in their run to the World Series last year.
Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB.com columnist and MLB Network contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.