The following slideshow touts the top 10 waiver-wire pickups right now, recognizing 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. These changes can be attributed to the waiver-wire graduations of Anthony Rizzo, Jon Niese, Clayton Richard, Tyler Moore, Andrew Cashner and Pedro Alvarez—forgotten (or largely ignored) assets on draft day, but now contributing pieces with their current teams.
That's how it should be with this countdown: Here today, gone tomorrow.
Enjoy the show!
Ryan Theriot (19 RBI, 22 Runs, 8 Steals, .275 BA) is far from the sexiest waiver-option in the infield—or even middle infield—but he does get the job done in a consistent, low-key manner.
And for that, he finally gets some props here.
In the last 30 days, Theriot has 11 RBI, 12 runs and five of his eight seasonal steals.
From a 15-day perspective, he had a .308 batting average while demonstrating a knack for tallying multiple hits once every three games.
Throw in the admirable dual-eligibility at second base and shortstop, and Theriot makes for a productive asset in 12-team leagues.
If Drew Smyly had registered 10 strikeouts (and zero walks) against the 2010 Royals—not this year's cast of emerging under-25 stars—perhaps he wouldn't have garnered mention in this countdown.
But it would be foolish to ignore Smyly's excellent outing against Kansas City from Friday night (July 6), especially when he notched a victory against Tampa Bay five days prior to that.
On talent alone, the rookie Smyly (4-3, 4.42 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 75 strikeouts) has the goods to be a No. 6 starter in 12-team leagues.
Plus, he figures to get a boost from the Tigers offense after the All-Star break, a unit that's finally showing signs of life.
If Adam Dunn and his lowly batting average can flirt with making the Midseason Fantasy All-Star Team (click here), then Carlos Pena's .201 average shouldn't preclude him from making a waiver-wire countdown.
Of course, it helps that Pena tallied 22 runs in the June 8-July 8 window, along with five homers. It also helps that he has 13 homers and 49 runs on the season.
Here are three more reasons to support Pena's cause in free agency:
1. Since June 16, Pena hasn't gone more than two consecutive games without a hit while racking up multiple hits five times in that span.
2. In his first four full seasons with Tampa Bay (2007-10), Pena averaged 36 homers. The club also has a good track record for getting hot in the AL East standings...after the All-Star break.
3. You can never have enough quality depth at the corner infield spots.
Don't be fooled by the "DL60" sticker that's adjacent to Neftali Feliz's name on fantasy pages.
According to a recent report from ESPNDallas.com, Feliz (elbow) is progressing nicely in a throwing program and could rejoin the Rangers by late July—three weeks from now.
If Feliz is truly in that ballpark range of recovery, then it would behoove fantasy owners to take a flier on a potential difference-maker in August and September, regardless if your "'DL" slot has a vacancy.
While it remains unknown if Feliz would return to Texas as a starter or setup reliever to closer Joe Nathan, his fantasy ceiling is still higher than the vast majority of pitching assets on waivers.
Go ahead, take a leap of faith on Feliz. It's essentially a no-risk venture.
As we've learned in previous countdowns, there's plenty of risk (and future shame) associated with touting Rockies pitchers in free agency.
But Drew Pomeranz (3.06 seasonal ERA), Colorado's No. 1 pitching prospect heading into the season, seems to be making quality adjustments to Coors Field and the notoriously thin air of Denver.
In his last six starts, Pomeranz has allowed two or less runs five times (2.03 ERA), a spurt that includes back-to-back efforts of zero runs.
Of equal importance, Pomeranz has surrendered just two runs in his last three home outings.
Consider this a mini-gamble on a talent who could be a top-30 starting pitcher this time next year.
Here comes the obligatory leap-of-faith pick, even though it's hardly a gamble in 12-team leagues.
In the last 30 days, Marco Estrada has a highly respectable 3.00 ERA and 0.80 WHIP as a hybrid starter/reliever for the Brewers.
In that time frame, he also has three outings of five-plus strikeouts, including a 12-strikeout, six-inning gem against the Reds on June 26.
Throw in the fact the Brewers are restructuring their rotation on the fly (and that doesn't even factor in Zack Greinke's pre-deadline trade status), and it's proper to believe Estrada will succeed as a Milwaukee starter for July, August and September.
Before publishing this document, he'll be my No. 7 starter in the Sports Illustrated and Friends league.
Michael Brantley's modest four-category production (42 RBI, 38 runs, 10 steals, .288 BA) should be enough to avoid waivers in 12-team leagues, and yet, he's a repeat visitor of this particular countdown.
In the last 15 days, Brantley has two homers, nine RBI and a .315 batting average, and from a 30-day perspective, his average remains a robust .295.
Quite simply, there is no excuse for Brantley being shunned from the fifth or sixth outfield slot in 12-teamers.
Generally speaking, I sincerely doubt Brantley's admirable speed and power combo wouldn't mesh with your roster.
In recent years, I've made my peace with the notion that Homer Bailey won't become a true fantasy ace in the mold of Justin Verlander, Jered Weaver, Felix Hernandez or Matt Cain.
But he's still a sturdy, respectable asset in 12-team leagues, especially with owners who covet strikeouts and bow to the church of the 30-day track record.
Dating back to June 10, Bailey has three wins, a 3.72 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and excellent strikeout-to-walk ratio (29/8). Of equal importance, he has three outings of seven or more strikeouts in that time frame.
For what it's worth, I fully expect the Reds to ride a second-half surge to the National League Central title.
And if that prediction becomes fact, it's reasonable to believe Bailey will figure heavily in Cincy's rise to playoff prominence.
For those living outside the state of Wisconsin, the Brewers have had little trouble filling the void created by Mat Gamel's season-ending knee injury.
But Norichika Aoki's fantasy relevance goes deeper than a current 16-game hit streak or the 11 steals in just under 80 MLB games (career-wise).
Aoki (five homers, 20 RBI, 36 runs, 11 steals, .301 BA) has quickly evolved into a daily source of statistical goodness for a club that needed a spark to launch a midseason run for the playoffs.
Whether it's a double or triple here, a steal or home run there, Aoki has been a low-key fantasy force.
My favorite stats: Aoki's sterling on-base percentage (.369) and sublime average of one run for every 1.92 hits this season.
I could kick myself for falling asleep on Salvador Perez.
Back in March, I had concrete plans of waiting until Round 18 or 19 to draft Perez (.331 batting in 39 games last year), believing his Year 2 upside would yield Round 8 value by season's end.
But a freak knee injury during spring training scuttled the start of Perez's season, and to make matters worse (for me, at least), he recently returned to the Royals lineup amid little or no fanfare.
Subsequently, I was tardy to the Perez acquisition party in my two money leagues.
After just 13 games, Perez is already hitting at a .383 clip with four homers, eight RBI, nine runs and a stellar OPS of 1.085.
Bottom line: There's a reason why the Royals didn't wait long to lock Perez up for the foreseeable future, and there's a reason why the majority of fantasy owners should rush to grab him off waivers during the All-Star break.