The contenders know what they need. The sellers -- with the possible exception of a Bronx-based franchise -- have identified themselves. The chess pieces have been arranged and brackets set for the annual contest of baseball brinksmanship.
We should expect more activity than usual this year; after all, the non-waiver Trade Deadline has been moved back to Aug. 1, providing 24 bonus hours of intrigue. And Boston's acquisition of Drew Pomeranz from San Diego on Thursday reminded us that major moves may be closer than we think.
Here are 12 newsmakers likely to shape the baseball industry over the next three weeks:
1. Matt Silverman, president of baseball operations, Rays
Among likely sellers, the Rays probably have the most impact players on reasonably priced contracts. Evan Longoria is having his best all-around season in years; if Tampa Bay is open to moving him, his availability could transform the market for position players. He'd fit well with the Dodgers, Giants or Astros. Silverman also controls the best inventory of available starting pitchers, with Jake Odorizzi, Chris Archer, Matt Moore and Drew Smyly all potentially in play.
2. Dave Dombrowski, president of baseball operations, Red Sox Now do you believe Dombrowski will defy the industry zeitgeist and trade top prospects to win now? After acquiring Aaron Hill, Michael Martinez and Brad Ziegler earlier this month, Dombrowski sent highly regarded right-hander Anderson Espinoza to San Diego for Pomeranz. I believe it was noted baseball insider Isaac Newton who once said, "GMs in motion tend to stay in motion, until acted upon by an external deadline." Dombrowski will continue looking for a bullpen arm and possibly depth at catcher, because, well, he's trying to win the World Series.
3. Andrew Friedman, president of baseball operations, Dodgers
Only one National League team has been better than the Dodgers since the start of May. Unfortunately for Friedman, that team is the San Francisco Giants, who open the second half with a 6 1/2-game division lead and the Majors' best record. Friedman earned four postseason berths with the underdog Rays, thanks in large part to incisive, objective analysis; the numbers probably would dissuade Friedman from taking an all-in Deadline approach when an NL Wild Card spot is the most realistic prize. But can a team with the largest payroll in baseball credibly call itself an underdog? Friedman's moves will tell us plenty about how the Dodgers view themselves.
4. Hal Steinbrenner, managing general partner, Yankees
The Yankees have played footsie with the .500 mark for the better part of two months, concluding the first half -- rather appropriately -- at 44-44. While the back of their bullpen is world-class, the lineup and rotation are not. The 2016 Yanks do not resemble a World Series-caliber team; the logical step is to regroup and augment their chances of winning next year. (The 2015 Detroit Tigers should be an instructive example; they agonized over whether to buy or sell, ultimately traded David Price and Yoenis Cespedes just before the Deadline, and landed current American League Rookie of the Year Award candidate Michael Fulmer, among others.) Steinbrenner's assent is required for Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller to be dealt; he hasn't given it yet.
5. Noah Syndergaard, RHP, Mets
The bone spur on Syndergaard's right elbow -- and, more recently, the fatigue in his right shoulder -- have generated more headlines lately than his fastball. (That's hard to do.) Mets fans and front-office executives will watch Syndergaard's starts with uneasy stomachs for the foreseeable future. As inconceivable as the notion would've been after last year's World Series, the Mets probably need to add a rental starter in order to compete with the Washington Nationals in the NL East. If Syndergaard joins Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler on the disabled list, they probably shouldn't bother.
6. Theo Epstein, president of baseball operations, Cubs
Some perspective: Even after stumbling into the All-Star break, the Cubs are 53-35 -- six games better than their mark after 88 games last year. They're still in first place. But there are some fissures now in what had been an ironclad rotation. Jake Arrieta has a 4.38 ERA over his past nine starts. Dexter Fowler's absence has exposed a number of offensive inconsistencies. (Of note, the Cubs have the second-worst OPS in right field among all Major League teams, after signing Jason Heyward to a $184 million contract.) The Cubs can probably make the playoffs without a major trade, but that's not the goal at Wrigley Field in 2016. If Arrieta doesn't appear refreshed by the break, Epstein may need to acquire a starter to ease the burden on his ace.
7. Carlos Beltran, OF/DH, Yankees 8. Jay Bruce, OF, Reds
Among the All-Stars who gathered in San Diego this week, Beltran and Bruce were part of a small group with real influence on the industry's Trade Deadline machinations. Both are in demand by teams desiring offensive upgrades, and they have partial no-trade clauses. Bruce told MLB.com's Mark Sheldon recently that he is willing to waive his no-trade clause if it means playing for a contender. Interestingly, the Royals and Dodgers -- both of whom need productive outfield bats -- can acquire Beltran without his permission, according to details of the no-trade clause reported by ESPN's Buster Olney.
9. Jeff Bridich, general manager, Rockies
Last year, Bridich traded Troy Tulowitzki. Is Carlos Gonzalez next? As you may know, there were conflicting reports recently as to CarGo's willingness to be dealt. Ultimately, Gonzalez publicly professed his desire to stay -- a fine sentiment, to be sure, but largely inconsequential. He lacks a no-trade clause. Gonzalez has no direct say in the matter, just as Tulo wasn't in control last July (much to his dismay). For Bridich, the appeal in dealing CarGo now is that his value is at a relative high point, which wasn't really the case for Tulowitzki last year. The Rockies continue to say they want to make a run at the playoffs this year, but it's hard to imagine them catching the Giants or Dodgers.
10. Paul Dolan, chairman/chief executive officer, Indians
The following statement is wholly independent of this year's karmic change in Cleveland sports: The Indians are good enough to win the World Series. They have one of the best starting rotations in the AL, and the bullpen has performed very capably. But Terry Francona could use another hitter, maybe two, to help him navigate the postseason. That probably means adding to the payroll, and it's understandable if Dolan is reluctant to do so. Even with the Tribe in first place, the club ranks next-to-last among MLB teams in average attendance.
11. Sonny Gray, RHP, A's 12. Josh Reddick, OF, A's
The A's are in a familiar place: Without the promise of a new ballpark, they have little choice but to entertain trade offers for veteran players in the hope of a more prosperous future. Rich Hill is one of the top rental arms available; provided he remains healthy, he's very likely to be dealt. The market value of Gray and Reddick is more variable, after stays on the disabled list for both during the first half. Gray has eased some concerns with three quality starts among his past four outings; Reddick, though, has a .581 OPS in 12 games since returning from a fractured left thumb.
Jon Paul Morosi is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.