Every summer, we hear general managers say they need time to evaluate their team's short- and long-term needs. The Major League Baseball calendar demands a verdict soon.
The non-waiver Trade Deadline is July 31. To avoid chaos in the final hours, GMs on the bubble must determine their direction a couple of days in advance -- at the absolute latest. And that milepost arrives in two weeks.
Here's a look at five teams in Trade Deadline limbo, whose performance beginning Friday night could alter the course of each franchise.
In one of the more telling statistics of the first half, the Blue Jays had nine opportunities to win a game and return to the .500 mark. They went 0-9.
Even in the Wild Card era, it is difficult for a team to justify buying when it has not had a winning record at any point during the season. Thus, Toronto is willing to move pending free agents Marco Estrada, Francisco Liriano and Jose Bautista.
The rest of the month will determine the scope of other roster machinations. With the Blue Jays leading the American League in attendance for a second straight season, team officials are wary of the message inherent in trading Josh Donaldson and J.A. Happ, who are under control through 2018.
That said, Toronto had the oldest Opening Day roster in the Majors this year. If the team's performance over the next two weeks reflects the obvious need for a youth movement, Happ could be in play closer to July 31.
The Angels were 26-27 when Michael Trout went on the disabled list with a torn ligament in his left thumb. They went 19-20 since.
So the Angels are an average team -- with or without the best player in the world. Yet it's also possible that Trout's anticipated return to the lineup on Friday will propel the Halos beyond the .500 mark and into more serious AL Wild Card consideration.
The Angels have multiple needs, if they become buyers. They have the worst OPS in the Majors at first base and second base, and their rotation lacks a healthy No. 1 (or perhaps even No. 2) starter. GM Billy Eppler has the payroll flexibility to take on a big contract and address one of those weaknesses, with Josh Hamilton's deal expiring after this year.
The schedule coming out of the All-Star break should tell Eppler plenty about the viability of his team's playoff hopes. The first 11 games are against contenders: Rays, Nationals, Red Sox and Indians. If the Halos struggle, contenders surely will call Eppler about the relievers -- such as Richard Parker and Yusmeiro Petit -- who have formed the backbone of the team this year.
For now, at least, the Rangers are in "buy" mode. But they open the second half with a losing record and 10-game road trip, meaning there's acute pressure on the current roster to perform if the players want to remain together.
Rangers GM Jon Daniels is said to be communicating with his counterparts on two tracks: If he buys, he'll add relievers, such as Reds closer Raisel Iglesias. If he sells, he could trade starters. Yu Darvish, Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross all are eligible for free agency after this season, meaning the rotation will need to be addressed, sooner rather than later.
The Rangers have been viewed as a top suitor for Japanese right-hander Shohei Ohtani. But he has struggled with injuries since late last year, and this week he was knocked out of his season debut in the second inning. If Ohtani is a less viable option for Texas' 2018 rotation -- or that of any Major League team -- then perhaps the Rangers will focus on retaining the starting pitchers they already have.
As Rangers officials weigh the franchise's direction, the team will prepare to celebrate history right around July 31: Adrian Beltre starts the second half only 22 hits away from 3,000.
Can the Mariners really make more trades?
Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto has completed 40 trades since the fall of 2015, the most of any general manager over that time, according to MLB Network Research.
Despite all of that work, the Mariners are on pace to finish with a worse record than last season -- and miss the playoffs for a 16th consecutive year, extending the Majors' longest active streak.
Sources say the Mariners' focus at the Deadline will be the rotation, particularly starting pitchers under control beyond the end of this season. Seattle has used 13 starting pitchers in 2017. Drew Smyly underwent Tommy John surgery, Hisashi Iwakuma remains sidelined with shoulder trouble, and Felix Hernandez's 5.10 FIP is the worst mark of his career.
The Mariners begin the second half at 43-47, needing a dramatic turnaround to convince Dipoto that aggressive buying would be appropriate. And that's not likely, with consecutive series against the contending Astros, Yankees and Red Sox this month.
Third baseman Kyle Seager (95 OPS+) is having the worst season of his career, but he's under contract through 2021 and likely staying put. The same is probably true for All-Star designated hitter Nelson Cruz, whose deal expires at the end of next season.
At this time last year, St. Louis was well-positioned to reach the playoffs for a sixth straight season and extend the longest active streak in the Majors.
Instead, the Cardinals were eliminated from Wild Card contention on the final weekend. Now, they're on pace for their first losing season in a decade. The power bat they traded (Matt Adams) has become a star in Atlanta, while a couple of young hitters they kept (Randal Grichuk, Aledmys Diaz) have spent time in the Minors.
Cardinals officials can take solace in the fact that their starting pitching is sound. The Cards' 3.90 rotation ERA ranks fifth in the Majors. But president of baseball operations John Mozeliak and new GM Mike Girsch still need long-term answers around the infield and at the corner-outfield spots.
The Cardinals are tied with the Cubs at 43-45, 5 1/2 games back in the National League Central and 7 1/2 behind the Rockies for the second NL Wild Card. And yet, Mozeliak and Girsch don't appear to be working on the same sort of blockbuster the Cubs executed Thursday with Jose Quintana.
The Cards begin the second half with a 10-game road trip, during which they could pick up victories against out-of-contention clubs like the Pirates and Mets. But the best approach in St. Louis could be to trade starter Lance Lynn and reliever Trevor Rosenthal for impact bats, if such trades are available.