As we inch ever closer to Major League Baseball's July 31 trade deadline, the push to find and deal for players is heating up. We know of the big names—such as Jose Reyes—that are in-play for teams willing to deal minor leaguers and draft picks, but what we don't hear a lot about are those under-the-radar players who can help a team make a late run in the regular season and into October.
This list will bring to light some of the best players that are on the trading block that very few people are talking about.
During his time in Atlanta, Matt Diaz proved to be one of the best utility outfielders in all of baseball, as he finished the year with a batting average above .300 three times during his five years with the Braves.
Although Diaz hasn't put up Atlanta-like numbers this season with Pittsburgh, he is still hitting .281 through 64 games with the surging Pirates. In 2009, his best season in Atlanta, Diaz hit .313 with 13 home runs and 58 RBI in 371 at-bats. He is a very talented player in the outfield and a strong bat off the bench, not to mention he could prove to be this year's Cody Ross, the player that all but carried the San Francisco Giants all the way to a World Series championship last season after being picked up in late August.
After struggling with the New York Mets for much of 2010, Jeff Francoeur seems to have rediscovered his swing this season with the Kansas City Royals. With the season just days away from its midway point, Francoeur is batting .265 with 12 home runs and 55 RBI. This season, he's already hit more long balls than he did in all of 2009 and is just one home run away from matching last year's total.
Francoeur could prove to be a reliable bat for anyone willing to take a chance on him, as he does strikeout a lot thanks in part to his impatience at the plate. Even so, Francoeur could be the offensive spark a contender needs to propel itself into the postseason.
The Houston Astros (30-58) have the worst record in all of baseball, which is why starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez may be on his way out of Houston. Some have dubbed Rodriguez as the best southpaw available on the trade market, an honor that may be a surprise to some considering Rodriguez's guaranteed contract through 2013, which contains a vesting option for 2014 that could bring his total value to more than $40 million.
Regardless, Rodriguez, who is currently 6-5 with a 3.25 ERA, is pitching in his prime and could be a vital asset to a contender's starting rotation if he's added by the trade deadline.
Although his win-loss record from the past few years doesn't show it, Washington Nationals reliever Sean Burnett has been one of the team's best relievers in both 2010 and 2011. Last year, Burnett was 1-7 but finished the year with a 2.14 ERA and held opponents to a .220 batting average against. This season, Burnett is 3-5 with a 5.59 ERA through 39 games with the Nationals.
Burnett is a strong left-handed pitcher and would be a great addition to any contender's bullpen, assuming the Nationals make him available.
Colorado Rockies infielder Ian Stewart has struggled mightily this season, as he has spent a considerable amount of time with the Rockies' Triple-A affiliate, the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, seeking to rediscover his swing in time to help the Rockies make a run into the playoffs. But now that the team has fallen six games below .500, some speculation has begun surrounding the Rockies and what they'll do with their struggling infielder.
As of July 7, Stewart was batting .074 with no home runs and one RBI on the year, yet there has still been a couple of general managers who have mentioned Stewart as a possible addition to their teams. Last season, Stewart hit .256 with 18 home runs and 61 RBI and the year prior he hit 25 homers and drove in 70 runs, so Stewart is capable of hitting the ball out of the park and would be a nice addition to a contender's bench down the stretch.
Adam Lind is having a career year with the Toronto Blue Jays, as he is currently batting .304 with 16 home runs and 51 RBI through 63 games with the team this season. However, with the Jays seeking to strengthen their lineup to compete against the division rival New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, the team may dangle Lind out onto the market in hopes that a contender will overpay for his services, thus bolstering the already promising Blue Jays roster.
Lind, who has hit more than 15 home runs in each of the past three seasons and has been a threat at the plate ever since he debuted in the majors in 2006, would be a great addition to a contender's starting nine. Add the fact Lind is capable of playing either first base or the outfield to his impressive power numbers and you have a highly sought-after player on the market.
Baltimore Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy has put up good numbers for the team this season, as he is currently batting .288 with 13 home runs and 32 RBI in 57 appearances. However, because some of the team's offseason additions—such as Mark Reynolds, Vladimir Guerrero and Hardy—have been unable to turn the team's woes around, many of them have found themselves back on the trade market this season.
Hardy would make for an excellent addition to any contender because of his consistency and experience from years past with the Minnesota Twins. Look for Hardy to move before the deadline passes.
With 2010 All-Star Martin Prado due back from the disabled list immediately following next week's All-Star festivities, the Braves find themselves in a bit of a pickle in regards to what to do with outfielder Jordan Schafer.
Although many expect the Braves to stay fairly silent with the trade deadline approaching, they could receive a proven hitter in return for the suddenly hot-hitting Schafer, who, entering Friday's game with the Philadelphia Phillies, is batting .243 out of the Braves' lead-off spot.
Although the Braves are riding Schafer's bat at the present time, Prado's return will likely move Schafer to the bench, which is already occupied by pinch-hitting extraordinaire Eric Hinske and Brooks Conrad, meaning his playing time may dwindle unless Braves GM Frank Wren decides to pull the trigger and get rid of the ever-struggling Nate McLouth.