At this time last year, Justin Verlander, Yu Darvish and Sonny Gray were the biggest names on the starting-pitching market.
The industry expected all three to be dealt. And they were -- even if Verlander didn't become an Astro until seconds before the Sept. 1 deadline to set postseason rosters.
In 2018, there's little consensus about which high-end pitchers are truly available -- especially among starters -- let alone where they might be heading. So perhaps the conditions are ripe for a blockbuster, the sort of landscape-changing deal no one sees coming.
Here's an overview of the names and teams to watch in the days ahead.
Top names:Jacob deGrom, Blake Snell, J.A. Happ, Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson, Cole Hamels, Michael Fulmer, Chris Archer, Nathan Eovaldi, Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney, Noah Syndergaard
The possibility of a deGrom or Syndergaard trade has been discussed at length in media circles, but it's unclear if the Mets have made actual progress on either front. For now, it is likely that both right-handers will remain in Flushing because of high price tags and a general reluctance to deal with the Yankees, Phillies and Braves for geographic/competitive reasons.
The Rays, Twins and Angels are poised to exert the most influence on the market for high-end pitching, because the circumstances favor sellers. Tampa Bay isn't shopping Snell. Minnesota isn't in a hurry to move Berrios -- or Gibson, for that matter. But the conditions are ripe for a motivated contender (like Milwaukee) to assemble an overwhelming offer.
Gibson, 30, is one of this year's sleeper trade candidates, with a career-best WHIP (1.23) and K/BB (2.48) rate. He can become a free agent following the 2019 season, so there's value in the Twins moving him now.
The less-talked-about possibilities, such as Gibson, have become more appealing with the struggles of Happ and Fulmer late in the first half.
Teams shopping: Yankees, Mariners, Rockies, Braves, Brewers, D-backs
Gray's struggles over the past calendar year have thrust the Yankees right back into the market for a No. 2 starter. The Brewers' need for a top starter became even more acute when Junior Guerra landed on the disabled list just prior to the All-Star break.
Similarly, the Braves need a veteran arm to help fuse together a rotation beset by injures over the past month. The D-backs and Rockies are in a similar position: They have depth among their starting pitchers, so they'd need to land a No. 2 starter (or better) to make a rotation move worth their while at this year's July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Top names:Tyson Ross, Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Steven Matz, Clayton Richard, Matthew Boyd, Mike Fiers, Francisco Liriano, Jake Odorizzi, Lance Lynn, Ivan Nova, Danny Duffy, Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, James Shields
As one baseball scout observed recently, the Reds bought Harvey's stock when it cratered, and now they are positioned to sell at a decent profit. Harvey's WHIP since moving to Cincinnati is 1.17; he hasn't done that over a full season since helping the Mets reach the 2015 World Series.
Wheeler and Fiers are among the Major League leaders in innings pitched over the past 30 days, which is more important than it sounds: Scouts are canvassing ballparks across the Majors this month because contenders need pitchers who are healthy and effective right now.
Teams shopping: Athletics, Phillies, Nationals
The Nationals face a deficit in the National League East and need arms to fill out the back of their rotation, with Erick Fedde on the disabled list and Stephen Strasburg set to return from the DL on Friday. The Phillies, like the Nats, have ace-level pitching but could add a veteran for the stretch run.
The A's are an unpredictable presence in this sector of the market. For Oakland, adding a rental starter (like Happ or Lynn) at a reasonable cost is the safest strategy.
Top names:Drew Steckenrider, Adam Conley, Brad Ziegler, Amir Garrett, Jared Hughes, David Hernandez, Jose Leclerc, Mychal Givens, Trevor Hildenberger, Alex Wilson, Seunghwan Oh, Xavier Cedeno, Luis Avilan, Jose Alvarez, Cam Bedrosian, Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman, Edgar Santana, Richard Rodriguez, Kyle Crick, Alex Claudio, Jake Diekman, Thomas Pressly, Matt Andriese, John Axford
Raisel Iglesias is hardly the only Reds reliever in demand, as Garrett, Hernandez and Hughes are in demand across the business. The Pirates' right-handed setup group -- Santana, Rodriguez and Crick -- has been among the best in baseball this year, but it's unclear how available any of them will be.
The Angels, Blue Jays and White Sox project to be among the most active sellers in the middle-relief market. In Avilan and Cedeno, the White Sox have two left-handers to move.
Teams shopping: Indians, Red Sox, Mariners, Phillies, Dodgers, D-backs, Giants, Rockies
With four NL West teams listed above, the division title could be determined by which team does the most to improve its bullpen at the Deadline. With Manny Machado on his way to Los Angeles, the Dodgers' greatest need is probably fortifying the bridge to closer Kenley Jansen.
Meanwhile, the Indians, Red Sox and Mariners -- possible playoff foes of the Yankees -- must fortify their bullpens in order to go pitch for pitch against the top bullpen in the American League.
Top names: Raisel Iglesias, Felipe Vazquez, Kyle Barraclough, Zach Britton, Richard Parker, Keone Kela, Jeurys Familia, Bud Norris, Fernando Rodney, Joakim Soria, Sergio Romo, Tyler Clippard, Shane Greene, Brad Brach
Brad Hand was the top name on this list, but with him having been traded to the Indians on Thursday, that distinction is shared by Britton, Iglesias and Barraclough.
Parker's presence on the list is the result of the Angels' recent struggles and his steady performance for a second straight season. Meanwhile, a trade involving Vazquez is unlikely, since he is signed through the 2021 season with club options for '22 and '23.
Romo isn't the most sought-after name among this group, but he's intriguing. As one of the Rays' "openers," he's the lone pitcher in the Majors this year with at least five starts and 10 or more saves.
All-Star closer Blake Treinen would've headlined this list as recently as one month ago, but the A's are playing too well to move him now.
Teams shopping: Astros, Braves, Cardinals
Yes, the Indians got Hand, but don't be shocked if they add another reliever, as their bullpen ERA currently stands at 5.28, which ranks 29th in MLB, ahead of only the Royals. Hand --- who is under contract through 2020 is with a team option for 2021 -- as a perfect fit for Cleveland, as Andrew Miller and Cody Allen are entering free agency after this season.
The Cardinals will be fascinating to follow at the Deadline; depending on how their playoff chances evolve after the dismissal of manager Mike Matheny, St. Louis could trade current closer Norris or add another reliever. The Astros seem destined to add a closer given Ken Giles' recent demotion to Triple-A, but don't be surprised if they wait until July 31 to see if prices drop on guys like Familia or Britton.