Call it the Marco Scutaro effect.
Late last July, the San Francisco Giants were looking for a little help at second base, so they acquired the veteran infielder from the Colorado Rockies in exchange for a minor leaguer. And nobody thought twice, as Bleacher Report Lead Writer Jason Martinez pointed out back in April.
That is, until Scutaro proceeded to hit .362 with 44 RBI in his 61 games with the Giants. He then went on to win the NLCS MVP to help lead his new club to its second championship in three years.
Below are four groups with five players each—infielders, outfielders, starting pitchers and relievers—who not only should be available because their teams are at least eight games out of playoff position, but who also could go a long way toward helping a contender.
Just like Scutaro did last year.
Kendrys Morales, 1B/DH, Mariners
The free-agent-to-be is cheap ($5.25 million salary), has legitimate middle-of-the-order thump from both sides of the plate (.280, 14 home runs, 54 RBI), and would best fit with an American League club where he can be the primary designated hitter, like the Rangers, Rays or Orioles.
Alexei Ramirez, SS, White Sox
Although Ramirez's power has disappeared (just one homer), he's stealing more (a career-high 20 stolen bases already), still plays good defense, and is reasonably priced ($19.5 million over 2014-15) for a quality shortstop, which is one of the toughest positions on the diamond to fill.
Daniel Murphy, 2B, Mets
Murphy is at least somewhat appealing because he's got two more years of team control beyond 2013 and can play second base while also filling in at first and third, if needed. His bat isn't great (.694 OPS), but as a lefty hitter, he could be a nice platoon option for, say, Oakland.
John Buck, C, Mets
Buck's hot start (nine HR, 25 RBI in April) is long gone, but he's likely to be moved because he'll be a free agent and catching is always in demand. If he goes elsewhere and gets on another streak, Buck could be a factor at the bottom of a contender's lineup. Maybe Detroit?
Darwin Barney, 2B, Cubs
The 27-year-old's offense is off-the-bench worthy (.298 career OBP), but his glove would help shore up a contender's up-the-middle defense. Think Cardinals, Braves, A's or Tigers.
Raul Ibanez, OF/DH, Mariners
It's not every day that a 41-year-old would be considered a potential game-changer, but with the way Ibanez is swinging the stick this year (24 HR, .578 SLG), he's in that class. Between him and Kendrys Morales, the M's have a couple of DH-friendly sluggers to cash in on.
Marlon Byrd, OF, Mets
Speaking of career resurrections, Byrd was just about out of baseball last year. But the 35-year-old has made good on the flyer the Mets handed out, hitting .271 with 15 homers and 51 RBI. Capable of starting, he would best fit as a fourth outfielder on a postseason-bound team.
Nate Schierholtz, OF, Cubs
A true platoon player, the 29-year-old mashes righties (.862 OPS in 2013) but struggles against southpaws (.691 career OPS). He is under team control through 2014, though, so Chicago won't just hand him over. Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati all make some sense.
Mike Morse, 1B/OF/DH, Mariners
Still on the DL, Morse is capable of putting up big power in bunches—he had eight HR in April—but his "defense" probably limits him to the Morales-Ibanez group of DH-types. He'll also need to make it back sooner than later so Seattle can showcase him some more.
Will Venable, OF, Padres
Similar to Schierholtz, Venable, 30, is usable against righties (.760 career OPS) but not so much against same-sided throwers (.604). He can, though, play both corners and has the speed to steal double-digit bases for a new team.
Jake Peavy, RHP, White Sox
Peavy's name is bigger than the rest of the guys on this list of under-the-radar players, but he qualifies because he's injured. There's plenty of risk here (did we mention he's injured?), and his salary is $14.5 million this year and next. But if he can get healthy, he could be a solid front-of-the-rotation arm for a team like the Diamondbacks, who have been linked by Buster Olney of ESPN.
Kyle Lohse, RHP, Brewers
There hasn't been a ton of buzz on Lohse, but the fact is Milwaukee is selling, and the 34-year-old, who has a 3.67 ERA and 1.16 WHIP, is inked to a team-friendly deal ($11 million per through 2015) that makes him appealing to most clubs. He is one of the Brewers' few healthy chips.
Eric Stults, LHP, Padres
Stults has come out of nowhere to be arguably San Diego's most consistent starter, as eight of the lefty's past 10 starts have been of the quality variety. Still, this is the 33-year-old's first real success in the bigs, so the Pads might be wise to move him.
Joe Saunders, LHP, Mariners
Another southpaw, Saunders was a helpful piece over the final weeks of 2012 for an Orioles team that acquired him during August's waiver trading period. He could do the same type of thing this year too, as teams are always after pitching, especially lefties, late in the season.
Kevin Correia, RHP, Twins
Correia is strictly an innings-eater, but he rarely gets rocked. He's given up more than four runs only twice in 18 starts and would be a serviceable injury replacement if a contender lost a back-of-the-rotation arm to injury.
Huston Street, RHP, Padres
It seems like Street has been a trade candidate just about every season, so why should that change this year? In a down reliever market, especially for closers, San Diego could be the beneficiary of a little desperation by, say, NL West rival Arizona.
Jesse Crain, RHP, White Sox
Crain is on the shelf with what feels like his annual minor arm issue, but his performance (0.74 ERA!)—not to mention his expiring contract—would be a great fit for any contender looking for late-inning help. Braves, Tigers or Rays, anyone?
Steve Cishek, RHP, Marlins
Though currently Miami's closer, Cishek is better off as a death-to-righties setup man or specialist, considering they're hitting an almost-impossible-to-believe .176/.216/.221 against him this season. The Red Sox could use him.
Francisco Rodriguez, RHP, Brewers
The question with K-Rod, who's been dynamite since returning to the majors in May (9-of-9 saves, 1.19 ERA, 9.9 K/9), is whether a playoff-hopeful club would—or could—trust him as a closer after he went unsigned until mid-April.
Oliver Perez, LHP, Mariners
The former starter who flamed out with the Mets has remade himself as an incredible reliever, as shown by his 1.75 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 12.5 K/9. He'd be a great get for Atlanta, which lost top lefties Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty to injury earlier this season.
Unless you've been paying extra-close attention—and staying up extra late to catch the M's—you might think Perez is so under the radar he's off of it.