The trade deadline is less than three-and-a-half weeks away, and most teams have solidly positioned themselves as either buyers or sellers to this point. As a result, the buyers are exploring the market and assessing the value in their own farm system in hopes of patching holes that exist in their roster.
Some teams, however, have something that could be even better: good players coming off the disabled list.
While having their services throughout the year is obviously the most preferable, the boost one of these men can provide for the last two months of the year could be the difference between finishing one game up and one game back.
There is a definite surplus of talent currently on the disabled list. Here are some that can provide a major impact during the stretch run.
10. Clay Buchholz: SP, Red Sox
Has been the Red Sox second-best starter in 2010, thanks to his ability to keep the ball in the ballpark (0.29 HR/9 innings). Though this is an unsustainable rate, given just 3.6 percent of his fly balls have cleared the fence, overall he has pitched well for Boston.
I was torn between including Beckett or Buchholz on this list, but I went with Buchholz. He will return to form sooner, and his form in 2010 has simply looked better. I think 2011 Beckett is better than 2011 Buchholz, but for now I'm sticking with Buchholz.
9. Manny Ramirez: LF, Dodgers
A lot lower than I suspect a lot of people would think, so bear with me for a bit.
Ramirez, steroids or not, is one of the best hitters of our generation. He is also 38, declining, and whether he wants to or not, has to play defense (and that Dodger outfield situation is bad defensively).
He is still mashing the ball, though, and is projected to have a .949 OPS the rest of the way, though he has to be docked back some due to this being a Greg Luzinski situation without the Garry Maddox bailout in center.
The Dodgers still appear to be the most talented team in the NL West, but I cannot help but believe in the Padres right now.
8. Rich Harden: SP, Rangers
A lot like Jair Jurrjens, he got off to a bad start and ended up on the disabled list. It is hard to count out a strikeout pitcher's potential impact upon return, however.
Still just 28, Harden is projected to throw 9.74 strikeouts per nine innings when he returns, and also projects to a 4.28 ERA/4.36 FIP. If Harden can control his walks, however, he could be the man that helps the Rangers to the postseason.
7. Jason Heyward: RF, Braves
The Jay-Hey-Kid has been a sensation in Major League Baseball, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. From May 1st until his stint on the disabled list, Heyward hit .256/.369/.428, which is good for a 20-year-old kid, but not supremely valuable to a contending team.
His ZiPS projection is also a bit bearish at .266/.348/.436, or about 4.7 runs above average. So what would make his presence so valuable to the Braves?
Easy, because the Diaz/Blanco/"All Star" Infante combo in the outfield for the Braves is simply not good, and the boost of Heyward's good bat and glove would provide immediate value.
6. Edinson Volquez: SP, Reds
Remember him? Volquez has been on the shelf all year after an injury-riddled 2009. However, he has thrown 24 innings in the minors so far in 2010, and sports a 3.8 K/BB and 0.750 WHIP.
A returning Volquez could boost an already effective Reds pitching staff, and help increase the Reds' chances of escaping with the 2010 NL Central title.
5. Victor Martinez: C, Red Sox
The Red Sox are hurting right now, and perhaps no one's absence is more noticeable than Victor Martinez's. Going from arguably the second best offensive catcher in MLB to a career AAA player in Kevin Cash can do that to almost anyone.
With a 119 wRC-plus before the injury, and a .294/.360/.468 rest-of-season projection, his value is clear compared to the elite duo of Kevin Cash and Gustavo "Not a" Molina. After being swept by the Rays, it is clear the Red Sox need him for their playoff hopes.
4. Dustin Pedroia: 2B, Red Sox
Speaking of a hole, nothing like seeing Bill Hall bobble a putout to remind you who is missing from that spot.
Pedroia was on a torrid pace pre-injury, with a 136 wRC-plus and 3.4 WAR. While his batting line is not expected, according to his projection, to stay quite as good (.304/.373/.466), his effective bat and elite glove will provide the Red Sox with a valuable asset once he returns.
3. Carlos Beltran: CF, Mets
One of the best outfielders in the past decade, Beltran was able to achieve 3.1 WAR in 2009 despite only playing 81 games.
Clearly he will be playing less in 2010, but his return will provide the Mets a clear improvement over Jeff Francoeur, and could provide a .300/.400/.500 batting line with above-average center field play. With the Mets so close to the Braves, it is a clear boost to the Mets' chances, and may even be enough to pass Atlanta.
2. Troy Tulowitzki: SS, Rockies
Going into Wednesday, the Rockies found themselves four games back of the Padres for the NL West crown, and are not being helped by having a replacement-level player playing for Tulowitzki.
Tulowitzki still looks about a month away from returning, but also looks to bring a bat similar to Pedroia, along with similar defense. The difference being, Tulowitzki brings it at shortstop.
The Dodgers are still the class of the West in terms of on-paper talent, and the Rockies need all the star power that they can have to stay in the race.
1. Chase Utley: 2B, Phillies
Arguably MLB's most underrated player, constantly overshadowed by Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins, his importance has shown in his absence.
With an old team designed to win now, the Phillies need Utley on the field to stand any realistic shot of overtaking the Mets for the Wild Card. With a 3.3 WAR, Utley was having yet another exceptional season before he went down to injury.
ZiPS projects a .297/.396/.513 batting line for Utley's return, but he may not be back until September.
Can the Phillies hang on and be close enough so that Utley can make a difference? I am hard-pressed to believe they will, but I like their chances if they can keep within a game or two of Atlanta or New York.