The big postseason hero of 2010 was an afterthought upon joining his new team. Cody Ross hit safely in six of his first 35 at-bats after coming to San Francisco from Florida on a waiver claim on Aug. 22. He was the last guy you would have expected to rule October.
"The first couple of weeks, I came in and wasn't playing,'' Ross recalled. "I was used to playing every day, and it was a little bit of a grind. But I knew what the common goal was -- and that was for the team to win games. Obviously, it ended up working out for the best.''
That's the paradox of baseball's summer trade market. While general managers and bloggers obsess over "difference-makers'' who are available in July, the afterthoughts can have an even bigger impact.
Both good and bad. In 2009, the Chicago White Sox claimed Alex Rios on waivers, and Toronto said goodbye to Rios and his seven-year, $69.8 million contract. Two years later Rios is slugging .296 with 24 RBIs, and he just took a seat for two games in favor of Alejandro De Aza. It's fair to assume the Sox will not be exercising Rios' $13.5 million option in 2015.
As a rule, August is more about functionality than high-stakes gambles. "Teams are looking at upgrades now,'' a National League executive said, "like a bat off the bench or a lefty for the bullpen.'' And if the roster springs a leak because of injuries, GMs for contending clubs still have time for damage control. The rules just require them to jump through more procedural hoops now to make things happen.
Which big league names might be tossed around this month, during what we like to call the "Jeff Conine Olympics''? In this post-trade deadline edition of Starting 9, we turn our attention to players who could be coming to a trade speculation factory near you.
As a precursor to this story, we refer you to a handy-dandy waiver deadline primer by ESPN.com's Jayson Stark: There's nothing more entertaining than a good waiver primer.
If the Twins fade from view in the American League Central race, they could move Thome strictly as a goodwill gesture. General manager Bill Smith and the front office have enough respect for Thome that it's likely they would run some scenarios past him to give him a final fling at a championship ring.
The big question: Would the Twins prefer to hang onto Thome until he hits career home run No. 600? Thome launched his 597th homer Sunday, but he has only eight big flies this year, and at 40 years old he's always another misstep away from the disabled list. The Twins are also playing to 99.5 percent capacity at Target Field, so it's not as if the lure of Thome's home run chase is a major attendance driver in Minnesota.
Thome's name has been making the rounds as a possible late-season pickup in Philadelphia, where he has a friend in Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. Last year GM Ruben Amaro Jr. picked up Mike Sweeney in August. He could buy himself some residual post-Hunter Pence love by bringing back the immensely popular Thome for a swan song in Philly.
The Reds were in a weird spot at the deadline -- 6.5 games out and underachieving but with enough issues that GM Walt Jocketty felt as if he were trying to hit a moving target. In the end, they kicked the tires on some starting pitchers and outfielders but chose to stand pat.
For all their problems, the Reds have depth in one area in which most teams need help. The Ramon Hernandez-Ryan Hanigan catching tandem has combined for 12 homers, 47 RBIs and a respectable .753 OPS, and the Reds have prospects Devin Mesoraco and Yasmani Grandal working their way through the system. That means Jocketty might listen on Hernandez, who is eligible for free agency this winter.
One potential destination is San Francisco, where the Giants took a major hit with Buster Posey's season-ending ankle injury. The Giants pitchers like throwing to Eli Whiteside and Chris Stewart, and that's no small consideration. But Hernandez would definitely be an offensive upgrade at the position.
There's just one catch: Hernandez is only owed about $1 million through the end of the season, and catching is so thin in the big leagues he might have difficulty clearing waivers.
"I think teams will try to block him,'' a National League front office man said. "Most teams don't have a great backup and for $1 million a lot of teams would take a chance on him for the stretch run. I think he would get claimed before he got to San Francisco.''
If the Reds keep Hernandez, they could try to re-sign him this winter or offer him salary arbitration and pocket the draft pick compensation.
Giambi is in a similar boat to Thome, except that he's not chasing a milestone and he's currently on the disabled list with a quad strain. He's expected back later this month, and by all accounts the Rockies will consult with him and defer to his wishes on potential destinations.
Giambi is great in the clubhouse, and he has 10 homers and a .625 slugging percentage in 96 at-bats after a slow start. Even at 40, he can turn on a fastball and launch it into the upper deck, and opposing pitchers have to be wary when he's standing in the on-deck circle in the late innings. He's Matt Stairs, version 2.0.
It appears the Kansas City Royals will hang on to outfielders Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur, but they could make Francis available if a contender calls. While it's been a rough year for fellow shoulder injury-rehab guys Brandon Webb and Chris Young, Francis has given Kansas City its money's worth amid the occasional clunker. Francis has 13 quality starts and a 59 percent quality start ratio -- the same as Chris Carpenter, Shaun Marcum and Anibal Sanchez. He has been better than his 4-11 record indicates.
Now that Arizona (Jason Marquis), Detroit (Doug Fister) and Boston (Erik Bedard) have acquired back-of-the-rotation insurance, it's hard to find a comfortable fit for Francis. But at a base salary of $2 million plus incentives, he could be an affordable option for a club that suffers a rash of injuries and needs an arm to make it across the finish line.
If the Royals don't move Francis, they could try to sign him to an extension beyond this season. He's a hard worker, a professional guy and a nice example for some of their young starters.
The Orioles lost one potential trade chip when Luke Scott suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Mark Reynolds failed to generate much buzz, even though he's on track for another 30-homer season. And Derrek Lee is on his way to Pittsburgh to try to restore some equilibrium to Clint Hurdle's club.
That leaves Guerrero as a potential August move for the Orioles. Vlad won't have trouble clearing waivers, but realistically, it's hard to see a fit. He has 28 career at-bats as a pinch-hitter, so he's not going to come off the bench and provide late-inning thunder in the way that Thome or Giambi can. Guerrero won't be picking up a glove again anytime soon, and the AL contenders are generally set at DH.
That said, he's Vladimir Guerrero, and the man can still swing a bat. Guerrero hit .309 with a .894 OPS in July and banged out four hits in a 17-3 loss to the Yankees on Saturday. Just saying.
Unlike the St. Louis Cardinals, who resolved the Colby Rasmus-Tony La Russa rift with a distress sale, the Tampa Bay Rays hung onto their enigmatic young center fielder amid a flurry of rumors. Upton expressed a sense of relief Sunday when the deadline came and went with no deal.
"I'm just glad it's over with,'' he told Rays beat reporters. "That's probably the most nerve-racking two weeks I've ever had.''
The chances of Upton moving in August are remote. But if the Rays put him on waivers and a team claims him, it's not out of the realm of possibility the two clubs could work out a deal. There's a perception in the industry that Washington GM Mike Rizzo is very intrigued by Upton, although the Nationals focused most of their energy at the deadline on trade talks for Minnesota center fielder Denard Span.
Most likely, Tampa Bay GM Andrew Friedman will weigh offers for Upton this winter, when he can pick from a wider range of suitors. Friedman sent Delmon Young to Minnesota in December 2007 in the Matt Garza-Jason Bartlett deal, and last winter he acquired a raft of prospects from the Cubs for Garza. So he knows the drill.
Don't expect Friedman to be making any moves this week, however; he's still recovering from an appendectomy Saturday in St. Petersburg.
Hooking a Fish
The Florida Marlins, 15.5 games out of first in the NL East, have several pieces that might be useful to a contending club. Greg Dobbs is hitting .306 this season and is capable of playing third base, first base and corner outfield. Since he's only making $600,000, the Marlins have no great sense of urgency to trade him. Omar Infante, who's even more versatile than Dobbs, could also be available.
While no one was paying attention, Javier Vazquez took strides to salvage his season and get his ERA out of the stratosphere. Vazquez is 4-2, with a 2.17 ERA in his last seven starts. And Randy Choate, the quintessential left-handed one-out guy, has been quite effective in the role this season. Lefties are batting .131 (8-for-61) against Choate.
The other Hairston brother
The Milwaukee Brewers responded to Rickie Weeks' ankle injury by bringing in Felipe Lopez from Tampa Bay and Jerry Hairston Jr. from Washington. Scott Hairston, meanwhile, stayed with the Mets through the deadline, even though Atlanta and Boston expressed varying degrees of interest. He hit two solo homers in New York's 3-2 loss to the Nationals on Sunday.
Hairston can move around the outfield and he has a career .846 OPS against lefty starters, so he could fill a role with a contender similar to the one Francoeur filled with Texas last season. The Hairston brothers have been traded four times in July; one of these years Jerry or Scott is destined to change addresses in August.
What about the Cubs?
Jim Hendry traded outfielder Kosuke Fukudome to Cleveland but had an otherwise quiet deadline for the general manager of a team playing sub-.400 ball.
Who else could move? Hendry has told executives from other clubs he plans to hang onto Jeff Baker and Marlon Byrd, because they're under contract for next year and could help the team in 2012. Geovany Soto has been a disappointment, but somebody has to catch for Chicago. Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano are too pricey for other clubs, and the Carlos Pena, Ryan Dempster and Kerry Wood rumors went nowhere at the deadline.
Aramis Ramirez apparently has no intention of waiving his no-trade clause. But Derrek Lee relented in a similar situation last year to pave the way for an August trade from Chicago to Atlanta, so there's a slim chance Ramirez could change his mind.
Other possibilities: Todd Coffey and Livan Hernandez, Nationals; Chad Qualls, Padres; Johnny Damon, Kelly Shoppach and Juan Cruz, Rays; Rafael Betancourt and Matt Lindstrom, Rockies; Jamey Carroll, Dodgers; Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers and Jason Michaels, Astros; Jamey Wright, Adam Kennedy, Jack Wilson and Chone Figgins, Mariners; Chris Capuano and Tim Byrdak, Mets; Josh Willingham, Hideki Matsui, Coco Crisp and Craig Breslow, A's; Jason Kubel, Joe Nathan and Matt Capps, Twins.
Follow Jerry Crasnick on Twitter: @jcrasnick