From a 15-day (.412 batting) and 30-day perspective (two homers, five steals, .314 batting), Michael Saunders has been the Mariners' most lethal fantasy commodity.
The following slideshow touts the top 15 waiver-wire pickups right now in a countdown of the best free agents from the majority of 12-team roto leagues.
For the most part, this list rewards players who have already fostered productive starts to the 2012 season.
Savvy readers will notice the rankings are different from last week's offering; changes that can be attributed to the waiver-wire graduations of Jordan Pacheco, Quintin Berry, Justin Masterson, Matt Wieters and Paul Goldschmidt—forgotten (or largely ignored) assets on draft day but now contributing pieces with their current teams.
That's how it should be with this list: here today, gone tomorrow.
Enjoy the show!
After his proverbial cup of coffee with the Padres last summer, let the speculation begin as to when Anthony Rizzo (17 HR, .356 batting, 1.128 OPS in Triple-A ball this season) will make his triumphant seasonal debut with the Cubs.
As in, guess the hour and date in July when Rizzo—who belted two Triple-A homers on Sunday—bolsters the Chicago lineup at first base (thus moving Bryan LaHair to the outfield).
Mired in last place in the NL Central and playing for their future, the Cubs seemingly have nothing to lose by promoting the 22-year-old Rizzo, one of the primary building blocks of the Theo Epstein regime.
The same holds true for fantasy owners and their willingness to acquire/stash a low-risk, high-reward talent who could force the Cubs' hand sometime around the All-Star break.
If the Indians weren't staring at six more interleague games in National League ballparks over the next 13 days, perhaps Matt LaPorta (14 HR, .307 batting in Triple-A ball) would have been perfect for this spot.
But the 25-year-old Green (four homers, 14 RBI, 10 runs, .320 batting since May 27) shall serve as a worthy replacement in the meantime, even though he hasn't posted any multiple-hit games in the last two weeks.
He's also indirectly battling for a natural starting spot with the No. 9 asset in our countdown, a matchup that may not produce an immediate winner.
That aside, Green has been productive whenever called into duty; given the 22-homer, 90-RBI potential he flashed in the minors, the Brewers would be wise to give him a long look in the coming weeks.
This one bears repeating each week, not unlike the hearty Mike Trout endorsements throughout March and April.
There's no time like the present in splurging for a 21-year-old Justin Verlander/Clayton Kershaw/Stephen Strasburg-esque prospect who's been nearly unstoppable at every level of the minors. (Bauer was recently promoted to Triple-A Reno.)
Given the Diamondbacks' patient approach with super prospects (Justin Upton would be a rare exception), there's no guarantee Bauer (10-1, 1.79 ERA in pro ball this year) will see a major league ballpark before Sept. 1.
However, he could easily force Arizona's hand with a few more dominant starts in Reno.
I may be skeptical of David Cooper's long-term power potential, but it's impossible to find fault with his second go-round in the majors: Two homers, a .333 batting average and .893 OPS through 14 games.
As a result, he's earned a first-time appearance in the countdown—especially with Toronto's next two rounds of interleague play coming at home (opportunities to start at DH or first base).
Whether the 25-year-old Cooper can maintain his prodigious hitting pace or coveted spot in the Toronto lineup remains to be seen, but from a track-record perspective, Cooper was a lights-out hitter in the minors (.299 BA) and dynamo with on-base percentage (.374).
Verdict: Cooper may be the ideal corner-infield asset for a Blue Jays club that's full of RBI-seeking power hitters.
Excluding rehabbing relievers Drew Storen (Nationals) and David Robertson (Yankees), Colorado's Rex Brothers might be the most viable fantasy asset from the razor-thin marketplace of future closers before Aug. 1.
This isn't to say Brothers (4.43 ERA, 1.82 WHIP in 27 MLB games) has done enough to supplant Rockies closer Rafael Betancourt (2.05 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 10 saves), but Colorado executives might also see in the value in selling high on a great asset like Betancourt while creating a high-profile vacancy for the organization's best reliever.
Here are my two favorite Brothers factoids: In four appearances at Triple-A Colorado Springs this season, Brothers boasts a 1.69 ERA and 21.9 K-BB ratio, and last season, he had a 2.89 ERA and 14.5 K-BB ratio in 25 appearances.
As flier picks go, Brothers has sneaky-good potential for eventual fantasy greatness.
For the fantasy owner who covets steals and runs, Maybin might be a better waiver-wire target than Jordan Schafer, Tony Campana, Rajaj Davis and Nyjer Morgan.
He's on track for 80-plus runs, 50 RBI and 27 steals...and double-digit homers isn't a pipe dream, either.
In fact, Maybin already has two more homers in June than he had for all of May. He hasn't gone more than three straight games without a base hit.
That aside, Maybin still has a few warts in his fourth MLB season (of 170 at-bats). He hasn't stolen a base since May 24 and has only one multiple-hit game this month.
The Milwaukee outfielder could not have asked for a better five-game swing than June 6-10, racking up nine hits (including two three-hit games), two homers (June 7), two RBI, three steals (consecutive days) and nine runs.
This begs the following questions: What will Aoki—an annual 20/20/.315 threat in the Japanese League—do for an encore? And has he done enough to earn a starting spot in the Brewers outfield?
For comparison sake, Nyjer Morgan is hitting at a .233 clip since May 27.
I'm taking the positive from Hutchison's most recent three-start fantasy audition—a 2.68 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 21-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio (spanning 20.1 innings).
I'm also taking the positive from Hutchison's last three meetings with American League East opponents (Orioles, Red Sox, Yankees)—17 strikeouts and just two runs allowed.
As a result, I'm choosing to ignore that he allowed five runs on June 9 and has given up five or more runs four times this season.
Bottom line: It's not always smart to go all-in on a 22-year-old rookie, but take a gander at Toronto's starting rotation. Barring injury, the club will give him every chance to succeed (or fail) in 2012.
Hutchison will be granted every chance to replicate his career 2.49 ERA in the minors.
Aaron Harang (2.72 ERA, 1.16 WHIP in the last 30 days) has been a stealth model of consistency since May 6, surrendering just three runs or less in six of the seven starts. From a walks perspective, he allowed three or less free passes in all seven outings.
And yet, the veteran right-hander has been a regular visitor on waivers this season, as if fantasy owners don't believe in his track record (100 career wins, five seasons of sub-4.00 ERA)...or the Dodgers' staying power in the National League pennant chase.
To me, both perspectives seem flawed. In a 12-team league, who wouldn't want a power pitcher with a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, or someone who can still stifle opponents and tally wins without Matt Kemp in the Los Angeles lineup?
Harang may not be immune from the occasional clunker start, but he's still a viable No. 5 or 6 starter in all scoring leagues.
A quick glance at Smoak's seasonal batting average (.230) would prompt most fantasy owners to look elsewhere for waiver-wire gems.
But from a 15-day and 30-day perspective, Smoak has been hitting at a .273 clip—an encouraging figure deemed more attractive after realizing that Smoak is the Mariners' leader in homers (seven), RBI (19) and slugging (.495) since May 12.
Granted, the Mariners are not blessed with fully developed hitters at this point. But Smoak is probably the most reliable source of HR/RBI power right now...which counts for something in the never-ending search for quality corner-infield assets.
Hughes started getting national attention after pitching a complete-game gem against the Tigers on June 3, but in reality, he's been a rock-solid fantasy contributor since May 1.
In the last six weeks (spanning eight starts), Hughes has allowed three or less runs six times, while allowing just two or less walks seven times. He also has five wins and a healthy per-outing average of 5.8 strikeouts during that stretch.
Put it all together and Hughes (3.40 ERA, 33-10 K-BB ratio since May 12) has assumed the role of the Yankees' No. 3 starter with quiet aplomb. He also serves as a valuable waiver-wire addition...or ideal throw-in to conclude blockbuster trades.
Bottom line: It's rare for a Yankees pitcher to be this productive, and yet go largely unnoticed.
Strange but true: The turning point of Buchholz's season might have occurred on a night when he failed to log one strikeout.
On May 11, Buchholz broke the unfortunate streak of six consecutive games of five runs or more by simply falling just below that ugly threshold of pitching solvency (four runs, three walks, zero strikeouts).
In four of his five subsequent starts, Buchholz has surrendered just six runs, while collecting 24 strikeouts. The coup-de-grace start came on June 7, his first complete-game shutout since June 4, 2010 (also against Baltimore).
So, where do we go from here?
And how will Buchholz react to his first run of sustained success in quite a while? When dealing with low-risk ventures on waivers, it's OK to grab Buchholz as a No. 5 or 6 starting pitcher and hope that his May-June numbers resemble his output for the next three months.
And if he should regress back to the April days of extreme mediocrity, don't hesitate to give Buchholz the boot at a moment's notice.
It's rare to recommend a disabled list-based asset so high in the countdown. But a seemingly mild groin injury is the only reason why Paulino (3-1, 1.67 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 39-15 K-BB ratio) can be found on waivers at this time.
He has allowed zero runs in four outings this season (not including his one-inning stint against Minnesota before getting injured). He also tallied at least five strikeouts in all six appearances. Of equal importance, Paulino yielded just three or fewer walks five times.
Hopefully, Paulino will be back with the Royals before June 24, allowing for at least three starts prior to the All-Star break.
Bottom line: Paulino is one of the sturdiest No. 5 starters in the marketplace.
This should be Beckham's final appearance in this countdown—in a good way.
After all, power-hitting middle infielders batting well above .300 in the last 30 days can only languish on waivers for so long—regardless of their track record for prolonged slumps and monthly tallies of .245 batting.
Whether this new-and-improved Beckham (three homers, 12 RBI, .322 batting since May 12) is here to stay for the next 45 days or three months remains to be seen. And quite frankly, it's irrelevant.
Fantasy owners, especially those with a 2B/SS slot to fill, must take a leap of faith on Beckham's capacity for making on-the-fly adjustments to major league pitching...while playing a prominent role on a first-place club.
So much for the preseason concerns that Kyle Seager's arrival at third base would spur a chain reaction of events, culminating in Chone Figgins commandeering the center-field spot full time.
From a 15-day (.412 batting) and 30-day perspective (two homers, five steals, .314 batting), Saunders has been the Mariners' most lethal fantasy commodity.
As a result, he should have a clear shot at keeping his outfield position for the foreseeable future; by extension, he shouldn't be a free agent in fantasy leagues much longer.
Is Saunders (lifetime batting average of .216) the sexiest No. 1 we've had in this countdown? Far from it.
But as the popular saying goes, you can never have enough quality outfielders on a roster, and Saunders is an ideal No. 5 or 6 asset within that realm.