Baseball hierarchy takes many forms, but none simpler than this: buyer or seller.
It is the Mendoza line of franchises, the rough dichotomy that separates good from bad, hopeful from hopeless, this year from next.
This is important stuff.
So to save you the suspense of months spent in earnest, I've cast the die early and assigned each Major League Baseball team to one of the aforementioned camps.
Are the predictions premature? A little.
But the tea leaves of a baseball offseason rarely lie, and teams have a way of revealing their intentions before cleats hit dirt.
Read on for more mystic conjectures and, of course, lots of baseball-related words.
As evidenced by past deals for Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. keeps an aggressive posture at the trade deadline. His eye always set on the present, Amaro's three-for-one prospect dumps have become the mid-summer norm in Philadelphia.
Nothing about the team's aspirations has changed heading into 2012—it's still championship or bust—but Amaro won't have the resources necessary to pull a blockbuster deal this July.
His hands tied by a decimated farm system, Amaro is more likely to color around the edges in 2012. The bullpen features a lot of untested talent and left field looks unsettled headed into spring training.
Small upgrades at those positions are in order if the Phillies find a good fit.
Needs: Corner Outfield, Bullpen
Top Assets: Domonic Brown, Trevor May, Jesse Biddle
Bolstered by the best pitching depth in baseball, Atlanta is the rare contender also looking to shop big-league players.
Such is life for an organization with championship aspirations, a below-average major league lineup, a great major league rotation and even better pitching talent in the high minor leagues.
That odd confluence of factors positions the Braves to buy at the deadline while servicing other buyers.
Needs: Corner Outfield, Middle Infield
Top Assets: Jair Jurrjens, Martin Prado, Brandon Beachy
Trading for Gio Gonzalez and signing Edwin Jackson announced Washington's intentions to contend this year.
Even if they don't, the future is too bright to downshift into fire-sale mode. Bottom line: They won't sell at the deadline.
The bigger question is what kind of help they might pursue if they do emerge as NL East front runners.
The answer is complicated, a sort of swinging gate based on how aggressively they promote top prospect Bryce Harper and how veteran first baseman Adam LaRoche recovers from injury.
If LaRoche plays well and Harper remains on the farm, the Nats' biggest weakness is in center field, where it's been for years.
If the Nationals promote Harper out of spring training—a distinct possibility according to manager Davey Johnson—incumbent right fielder Jayson Werth moves to center and annuls the first need.
Then there's the possibility LaRoche falters and that either left fielder Michael Morse moves back to first base or a need opens up in the infield.
Needs: Centerfield, Corner Outfield, First base
Top Assets: Alex Meyer, Steve Lombardozzi, Chris Marrero
The New York Mets fit the seller's profile to a tee: no money, no prospects, overwhelming short-term competition and gaping long-term needs.
New York began turning toward the future last year when they traded Carlos Beltran for Giants prospect Zack Wheeler.
This season brings more of the same.
Relegated to a punching bag in the loaded NL East, GM Sandy Alderson will be active in trade talks by late May. His goal is to revamp a farm system that experts rank somewhere between average and below-average.
How far they go in that pursuit depends largely on how much pride this former big-market bully can swallow.
Top Assets: David Wright, Ike Davis, R.A. Dickey
This isn't a one-year gambit in South Beach.
Even if they falter this year, the Marlins have too much money and momentum wrapped up in short-term plans to about-face.
Owner Jeffery Loria is also notorious for his stubborn refusal to let a bad season go, which in part explains why the Marlins didn't sell during their putrid 2011.
The Marlins will stick by their guns in this first year of a new era. It might even drive them to desperate measures if Loria feels the season slipping away.
In that case, the only impediment to another Miami splurge is their severe lack of minor league talent. By consensus, the Marlins have one of the game's five weakest farm systems.
Needs: Center field, Second base, Bullpen
Top Assets: Christian Yelich, Matt Dominguez, Logan Morrison
You or I might play a different hand, but Brewers GM Doug Melvin clearly has his sites set on a division title defense.
He made that clear when he offered Aramis Ramirez a four-year deal this offseason, countering Prince Fielder's free-agent departure and Ryan Braun's likely 50-game suspension.
Melvin's motivation to stay competitive might come from a fallow farm system that offers little in the way of long-term prospects.
Even as the foundation weakens, the time is still now in Milwaukee. If there's even a sliver of hope by the time Braun returns, the Brewers will be all in.
Needs: First base, Starting Rotation, Bullpen
Top Assets: Wily Peralta, Tyler Thornburg, Taylor Green
The Cardinals set a clear precedent last year when they bought in the face of a large wild-card deficit.
That gamble resulted in the franchise's 11th world championship, and there's no reason to think the calculus has changed in St. Louis.
The core is still talented and on the wrong side of 30, suggesting that the Cards will make another run at the 'ship before Lance Berkman crashes, Yadier Molina leaves or Matt Holliday succumbs to injury.
Adding to the intrigue is a top-10 farm system that gives St. Louis the means to make a big splash.
Needs: Rotation Depth, Bullpen, Second base
Top Assets: Carlos Martinez, Tyrell Jenkins, Kolten Wong
Reds GM Walt Jocketty appeared to take notice when Prince Fielder left division rival Milwaukee for greener pastures.
Jocketty's own star first baseman, Joey Votto, is two years from free agency and in no rush to sign an under-market extension.
So Jocketty took a page from Doug Melvin's book and went all in on now, mortgaging the top half of his farm system for Padres ace Mat Latos.
That's the preamble for Cincinnati's deadline ambitions, all of which will have the immediate future close at heart.
Needs: Left side of the infield, Rotation depth
Top Assets: Zack Cozart, Billy Hamilton, Daniel Corcino
The Pirates were a surprise buyer at last year's deadline, but it was more a novelty than the beginning of a sustained playoff push.
Pittsburgh made a few minor deals to appease the fanbase and crossed their fingers. When things fell apart, no one panicked, nor did anything about the organization's trajectory change.
The Pirates' focus remains on the farm, where big-money draft investments are beginning to bear fruit. Names like Jameson Taillon, Gerrit Cole and Josh Bell give the Buccos real hope for the future.
Until then, wait-and-see remains the m.o. in Pittsburgh. The difference this time is that there's actually some talent worth waiting on.
Top Assets: Erik Bedard, Joel Hanrahan, Jeff Karstens
When Theo Epstein first took over in Chicago, some thought that he'd aim for a quick turnaround.
Perhaps he'd pursue big-name free agents like Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols using the same stealth strategies that netted him Carl Crawford a year earlier.
Turns out that wasn't the plan.
Dumping Carlos Zambrano, acquiring Anthony Rizzo and letting Aramis Ramirez walk were all indications of a long-term approach—one that could reach fruition when star shortstop Starlin Castro hits his prime.
With all that set into motion, many then figured rotation ace Matt Garza would be the next domino to fall. So far Epstein's held steady on the talented righty, even hinting at a contract extension.
Don't be surprised, however, if that's merely a smokescreen to drive Garza's value higher and catch a desperate suitor in dire need at the deadline.
Top Assets: Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, Marlon Byrd
The Houston Astros went 56-106 last year and, according to John Sickels, have the 25th-rated farm system in baseball.
Entering 2012 with one of the worst opening day rosters in recent memory and little help on the way, the Astros have no choice but to sink deeper into the filth.
It starts with trading whatever useful pieces remain and getting some high-upside prospects in return.
If Houston can buttress their move to the AL West with some signs of life, 2012 will have been a success.
Top Assets: Carlos Lee, Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez
Arizona's rise to the top of the NL West last year was no fluke (check the peripherals), and the addition of Trevor Cahill this offseason gives them a great chance to repeat the feat.
I would, however, caution those who think the Diamondbacks are in win-now mode. This team still has a bright future outside the next season or two, and they won't destroy it to pursue short-term aims.
Big-time pitching prospects like Trevor Bauer, Archie Bradley and Tyler Skaggs are off the table, leaving Arizona to dabble in smaller trade scenarios.
Needs: Infield depth, Rotation depth
Top Assets: Patrick Corbin, David Holmberg, A.J. Pollock
Last trading deadline was a cautionary tale for the Giants.
They tried to plaster over injuries and deficiencies with a flurry of trades, and lost top prospect Zack Wheeler in the process. Even worse, they lost the NL West.
This year they'll tread a bit lighter around the hot stove, but expect them to keep the focus short-term. Buster Posey gives the offense a big boost, Brandon Belt should finally get some at-bats and the pitching is still elite.
No one knows if they'll be able to keep co-aces Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum together beyond next year, and GM Brian Sabean will want to make noise before those two hit the market.
Needs: Corner Outfield, Middle Infield
Top Assets: Tommy Joseph, Eric Surkamp, Francisco Peguero
Watch out for the Dodgers.
Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw could be the best two players on any one team, and they give Los Angeles a chance to finish over .500 for the seventh time in eight seasons.
That said, it won't be enough to sell the new owners on a 2012 playoff sprint. The focus in L.A. remains on the 2012-13 offseason, where big names like Cole Hamels and Josh Hamilton will get an up-close look at the Dodgers' deepening wallets.
Until then, Los Angeles will lay low.
Top Assets: Andre Ethier, Ted Lilly, James Loney
Fed up with a laissez-faire team attitude, Colorado GM Dan O'Dowd swapped many of his homegrown support players for older, free agent models.
The result netted Colorado a slew of personable fellows on the downside of their respective careers.
Michael Cuddyer will struggle to cover a spacious outfield, Casey Blake's days as a top defender are over and Ramon Hernandez is at best a side-shuffle from Chris Iannetta.
Combine that with a still-developing rotation and Colorado will fall out of contention by late June.
Top Assets: Todd Helton, Marco Scutaro, Jeremy Guthrie
If you think the Padres traded ace Mat Latos with the distant future in mind, think again.
Latos netted San Diego a troika of big-league-ready talent, headed by Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal and supplemented by the intriguing comeback potential of former All-Star Edinson Volquez.
With top pitching prospects Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland ready to contribute as early as this year, San Diego has the look of a playoff dark horse.
And if things don't come together this season, the Padres have the luxury of sitting on their hands.
Buoyed by the deepest farm system in baseball, San Diego needn't move veterans like Jason Bartlett unless the price is too high to ignore.
Top Assets: Jason Bartlett, Chase Headley, Carlos Quentin
The sun is hot, the earth is round and the New York Yankees will be buyers at the July trade deadline.
It's business as usual for the Bombers, who come into 2012 with the usual championship expectations and as good a chance as ever to fulfill them.
The team doesn't have a ton of glaring holes, so it's possible GM Brian Cashman stays put for the stretch run. But if there is a big deal out there, the Yankees have the prospects to make noise.
Even after trading Jesus Montero, the farm system has pieces fit to intrigue.
Needs: Designated Hitter, Outfield Depth
Top Assets: Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos, Dante Bichette Jr.
The Rays are the Braves of the American League—with more diverse needs and capabilities.
Like Atlanta, Tampa figures to contend from start to finish. And also like Atlanta, Tampa has the kind of top-end prospects that make their major league regulars expendable.
For example, they could trade incumbent center fielder B.J. Upton, shift Desmond Jennings to center and then promote Brandon Guyer to take Jennings' spot in left.
Or they could take some of the overflow from their stocked rotation—Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann come to mind—and turn it into lineup help. Davis is young and on the kind of team-friendly deal that should draw ample suitors.
Or if the Rays wanted to keep Niemann and Davis, they could shop the more heralded James Shields.
GM Andrew Friedman holds all the cards, and he could partake in equal parts buying and selling if the mood so strikes him.
Needs: Catcher, Corner Outfield, Designated Hitter
Top Assets: B.J. Upton, Wade Davis, Alexander Torres
The Red Sox are too proud to admit that their constitution is flawed, and I can't foresee a scenario where they decide to pack it in at the deadline.
I have them behind the Yankees and Rays in the AL East because of a lackluster rotation, but not so far behind that they fall out of contention by July.
If there's a big arm on the market—perhaps old friend Theo Epstein dangles Matt Garza—the Red Sox are as apt as anybody to take the plunge. They have the prospects to entice and last year's failure as motivation.
Needs: Starting Pitching, Right fielder, Shortstop
Top Assets: Will Middlebrooks, Ryan Lavarnway, Jose Iglesias
I don't like the Blue Jays as postseason sleepers in 2012—too much talent in front of them and not enough pitching depth—but that doesn't mean they won't make noise around the deadline.
GM Alex Anthopoulos has done some of his best work midseason, nabbing the likes of Colby Rasmus and Yunel Escobar amidst the July anomie.
Look for more of the same this year, with Toronto taking an active interest in young, affordable starting pitching.
The Blue Jays are a few moves from making serious inroads in the AL East, and they'll use the deadline as leverage in that pursuit.
Top Assets: J.P. Arencibia, Kelly Johnson, Brett Cecil
As Baseball Prospectus writer (and Orioles fan) Jon Bernhardt points out, the Baltimore Orioles might have the longest road back to contention of any team in baseball.
The much-ballyhooed rotation of the future (Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman) looks like a bust, and the vacuum created by their failure leaves the Orioles prospect poor and directionless in the league's toughest division.
It's time to reboot, starting with the coveted Adam Jones. Jones is flawed (atrocious K:BB rate and OBP) but has the power and tools to net a nice return.
With that, the Orioles can build around next big thing Dylan Bundy and rising star Matt Wieters.
Top Assets: Adam Jones, Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis
At 82, Tigers owner Mike Ilitch knows his two-decade pursuit of a World Series crown is on borrowed time.
So with the fleeting nature of human existence in mind, Ilitch ordered GM Dave Dombrowski into win-now mode.
This offseason, that imperative prompted the team to sign Prince Fielder, the world's most expensive injury stop-gap. This July it sets the Tigers up for a deadline splurge.
Their farm system isn't deep, but it's front-lined by jewels Jacob Turner and Nick Castellanos. The Tigers could build an attractive trade package around either of those two, or both if the right starting pitcher becomes available.
Needs: Pitching depth, Second base, Designated Hitter
Top Assets: Jacob Turner, Nick Castellanos, Andrew Oliver
The Cleveland Indians want to buy.
They proved as much last year when the traded for Ubaldo Jimenez and promoted top prospects Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall.
But they haven't kept pace with the Tigers, who amassed too much offense to counter.
By July that will be evident, and Cleveland will be gearing up for 2013.
Top Assets: Derek Lowe, Grady Sizemore, Casey Kotchman
The White Sox need to rebuild, and this offseason offered some indication that GM Kenny Williams acknowledges that need.
He's done handing out big free-agent contracts and he's done pretending the team has enough talent to compete with the Tigers. They don't, and the departures of Carlos Quentin and Sergio Santos express a reluctant acceptance of that simple fact.
Saddled with bad contracts and starving for prospects, the White Sox will look to move the former and gain the latter come July.
It's virgin territory for Williams, a man accustomed to quixotic mid-summer gambles on former greats like Jake Peavy, Ken Griffey Jr. and Manny Ramirez.
The time for big names has passed. It's time for this franchise to embrace humble work of starting anew.
Top Assets: Gavin Floyd, Gordon Beckham, A.J. Pierzynski
The long-suffering Royals are accustomed to selling, but this July should feel different than summers past.
Kansas City, stocked with one of the game's best farm systems, has respectability within reach and even better things lined up for the not-too-distant future.
The Royals may make ancillary moves aimed at contention in 2013, but nothing drastic. Core components like Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas aren't for sale, signaling that the franchise has turned a corner.
Top Assets: Joakim Soria, Jonathan Sanchez, Jeff Francoeur
After a neutral offseason, it would seem the Minnesota Twins have given up on short-term contention. Now it's time to appraise what remains of the team that won the 2010 AL Central.
That's the key here—this team WON their division two years ago. The Twins aren't good enough to do nothing, nor are they bad enough to completely abandon the blueprint.
If Denard Span and Justin Morneau can come back strong, Minnesota has valuable trade chips. If they don't, veteran members of the pitching staff could be their strongest offerings.
By midseason, they should know who stays and who goes.
Top Assets: Scott Baker, Carl Pavano, Ryan Doumit
The Texas Rangers' approach to the trade deadline won't change much from last year.
Like last year, the farm system is ridiculously deep and like last year the senior club should need only minor adjustments once the season starts.
All moves will be made with another title run in mind, but don't expect anything earth-shaking.
Needs: First base, bullpen
Top Assets: Cody Buckel, Mike Olt, Neil Ramirez
Soon as the ink dried on the Albert Pujols contract, the Angels' championship window swung open.
The organization that never saw a price tag it didn't like won't shy away from a big move if it's needed, particularly with the burden of expectations breathing down their neck.
But again, that's only if they need it.
More likely the Angels will be firmly in contention or out in front of the pack, leaving them to deal spare parts like Mark Trumbo and Kendrys Morales or pick up fill-in players as they see fit.
Needs: Bullpen, Third Base
Top Assets: Mark Trumbo, Kendrys Morales, Jean Segura
As long as Billy Beane has run the Oakland Athletics, his teams have been active around the trade deadline.
The last seven or so seasons, that means flipping veterans purchased on loan for prospects.
And though there will be some of that this year, Oakland's furious offseason fire sale gives them less pieces to work with than in year's past.
Top Assets: Seth Smith, Brandon McCarthy, Dallas Braden
Seattle, help is on the way.
A farm system stocked with the likes of Jesus Montero, Taijaun Walker and Danny Hultzen has the Mariners poised to contend right when Los Angeles and Texas hit old age.
Until then, Seattle can keep busy by shopping bad contracts and looking for desperate faux-contenders at the deadline. Any return loops right back into a promising rebuilding process.
Top Assets: Ichiro, Justin Smoak, Brandon League