With July more than half over and the All-Star break fully in the rearview mirror, a single topic dominates baseball these days: the approach of the non-waiver Trade Deadline. Clubs are sorting out whether they're buyers or sellers and trying to assess how new Draft-pick compensation rules affect their valuation of players, all while also trying to, you know, win ballgames.

From now until the July 31 Deadline, we'll be checking in on the trade news around baseball, with help from MLB.com's reporters. The countdown is under way.

Shields up:
• James Shields is among the more intriguing names being bandied about on the rumor mill, and Rays manager Joe Maddon is obviously in on his club's discussions. He said one rumor literally made Maddon and Andrew Friedman, the Rays executive vice president of baseball operations, laugh out loud: Shields and Ben Zobrist going to the Angels for right-hander Garrett Richards and infielder Howie Kendrick.

"When we saw this one, we did [laugh. Friedman] told me about it. That was pretty funny," Maddon said. "I'm not denigrating Howie. He's great. He's a great guy, good player. I'm not talking in those terms. Just in general on how these things get started."

That being said, there are plenty of reasons for the Angels to consider making a play for Shields, including a suddenly-shaky rotation that they hope improves with Dan Haren's return Sunday. As MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez points out, other reasons to believe the Angels would want a shot at Shields is that he's a Southern California native, and his contract fits the Angels' desire to avoid rentals, because he has relatively reasonable option salaries of $9 million and $10 million the next two seasons.

The Tigers and Angels remain the teams mentioned most about Shields, but several other teams have been mentioned. Then again, nobody has said the Rays are ready to sell off a top-flight starter or anybody else with the Wild Card still in play, so any rumor-mill Rays have to grin and bear it.

"They just have to wear it, regardless," Maddon said.

Dempster's in charge:
• For all the rumors surrounding him, Ryan Dempster knows his situation very well. As a 10-and-5 guy, having 10 years in the Majors and the last five with the same club, he can approve any trade the Cubs might work out for his services.

"It's awesome being the hammer and not the nail," Dempster said after his Friday start against the Cardinals.

His one real caveat is the standard one this time of year. "If I'm going to go, I want to go win," Dempster said. "For right now, I'm a member of this team and I want to do the best I can to be a good teammate and go out there and do my job when I'm asked to do my job."

The Dodgers remain the team most linked to Dempster, whether it's that they're still in it, or that they're not.

The interest apparently remains, reports MLB.com's Ken Gurnick, even if the rumors cooled a bit Saturday. The Dodgers have a contending team and Dempster's friend Ted Lilly among their assets in a Dempster derby.

They also have pitching prospect Zach Lee as one of their assets, and they'd like to keep him one. The Cubs appear locked on him, but the Dodgers are unlikely to swap a first-round pick they signed for $5.25 million in 2010.

Gurnick reports that if the Dodgers trade Lee, someone like Padres third baseman Chase Headley, who won't be a free agent until 2015, is a more viable candidate.

Meanwhile, a report by ESPN Chicago's Bruce Levine said Saturday that the Dodgers shifted their attention to Matt Garza. However, Garza left Saturday's game with a right triceps problem.

Mets still in buy mode:
• Mets general manager Sandy Alderson remains in a buyer mode unless or until the Mets' play on the field dictates otherwise over the next 10 days. They're 2-8 over their last 10 games.

"It's not a question of what we need to see on the field to make us buyers, it's what we see on the field that causes us not to be buyers," Alderson said. "The presumption here is that we're buyers, and it has been. Realistically, the next seven, eight, 10 games become important for us."

With Johan Santana hitting the DL and bullpen help a priority, the Mets could be a factor in the packed market for pitching -- if they're still feeling like a factor in the market, that is.

Not necessarily one and done:
The White Sox landed veteran reliever Brett Myers on Saturday, and general manager Kenny Williams indicated afterward that there's not a whole lot else the team figures on doing, considering several players are on their way back to health.

But that doesn't mean he'll stop listening.

"Of course, that's not to say if the right situation comes up and gives us an impact-type guy right now, I wouldn't try to make it work," Williams said. "It will be nice if we can play at full strength, with additions throughout. But I still have some minutes left on my phone. I may as well use them as we continue to be creative and improve the club, if possible."

Pitching rules:
• The market continues to center on pitching, particularly starting pitching, with names like Dempster and Shields sharing the spotlight with Cole Hamels and Zack Greinke -- both reportedly mulling long-term offers from their current clubs.

"Pitching is at a premium," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "It's so hard to get pitching, because there are a limited amount of guys. There are a lot of guys being bantered around out there, and they're not really available because teams have not determined whether they're in or out. In some cases, they haven't determined whether they can sign them or not. It's really a tough market."

Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, while saying trading for a starter is not a priority for his club at the moment, believes it's a market that will see changes over the coming days.

"I do think that market will sort of evolve -- as teams ask for certain things, maybe they'll realize that they have to take lesser prospects as we get closer to the 31st. I do see that coming," Mozeliak said.