The following slideshow touts the top 12 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 Starling Marte, Scott Feldman, Michael McKenry, Ross Detwiler, Joe Blanton and Lorenzo Cain—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!
Skinny: You'd be hard-pressed to find a steadier hitter occupying the No. 12 slot in any of the previous waiver-wire countdowns.
Since July 29 (spanning 11 games), Matt Joyce has racked up three homers, nine RBI and nine runs. He's also a perfect 11-for-11 in collecting at least one base hit for the Rays, who currently own the top spot in the American League wild card chase.
Put it all together, and Joyce is the ideal No. 6 or 7 outfielder (12-team leagues) for owners who clamor for dependability and modest power down the stretch.
Skinny: There may be a large faction of Tigers fans who want Andy Dirks (.335 batting, four homers, 29 RBI, 22 runs) to garner everyday at-bats in the Detroit lineup—at the expense of Delmon Young.
Yes, Dirks (who bats left) has absurdly low marks in batting average (.172) and slugging (.276) against left-handed pitching, but are those 29 at-bats sufficient enough to be pitied against southpaws?
I think not, especially with his respectable .314 on-base percentage from that side of the plate.
On the flip side, Dirks (.367 batting since July 29) has been lethal against right-handers, hitting at a .370 clip with three homers, 20 RBI and a .403 OBP.
Verdict: There's still room on Dirks' ground-floor bandwagon.
Skinny: Dustin Ackley's place in this countdown is not a reflection of his 30-day (four homers, .200 batting) or seasonal stats (nine homers, 65 runs, 12 steals, .222 batting).
That would be unfair to the (warning: hyperbolic statement coming) other 183 infielders with better numbers.
Instead, this is a leap-of-faith selection on one of baseball's best middle-infield prospects in recent years.
It's also an educated guess, or gut feeling, that Ackley (.421 OBP/.908 OPS last year in Triple-A Tacoma) will play an integral role in the up-and-coming Mariners' strong finish to the season.
Skinny: We couldn't have a waiver-wire countdown without Jason Marquis, who came tantalizingly close to recording his first no-hitter on Aug. 11. (He ended up with a two-hit, complete-game shutout.)
But his success goes deeper than that sterling outing against the Pirates.
Of his last seven appearances, Marquis has surrendered just three or less runs six times, and in that span, he's a perfect 7-for-7 in allowing three walks or less.
For good measure, Marquis has five victories since July 15, a trend that clinches his standing as a must-have No. 6 starter in 12-team leagues.
Skinny: There's no point in pouring over Steve Cishek's season-long resume, which includes five saves from July 23 and only one earned run allowed since June 25 (covering 19 appearances).
If you crave saves or a rock-solid dynamo in the bullpen, then Cishek (6 saves, 0.87 ERA, 0.87 WHIP since July 14) is your man for all leagues, regardless of scoring.
Skinny: It's hard to believe an outfielder like Norichika Aoki and his .355 on-base percentage could routinely be found on waivers this late in the season, but here we are.
As of Aug. 13, Aoki has been riding a 13-game hit streak (which includes six multiple-hit efforts). In that span, he's also been a good resource for steals (five) and runs (nine).
Put it all together, and Aoki is a nice poor-man's alternative for those who covet speedsters in the class of Michael Bourn, Ben Revere, Emilio Bonifacio or Juan Pierre.
Skinny: With highly respectable marks in ERA (3.68), WHIP (1.19) and K-BB ratio (349/122) as a minor leaguer (2005-12), it's fair to ask how/why Miguel Gonzalez had to wait until his age-28 season to experience life in the bigs?
It's also fair to wonder if Gonzalez's latest three-start audition (two wins, 2.08 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 17/5 K-BB) will carry over to the final seven weeks of the season? With Baltimore embroiled in a hotly contested battle for the two American League wild card slots?
For the time being, I'm happy to roll the dice on Gonzalez's talent and upside.
Skinny: As a sucker for corner-infield assets with Ryan Howard-esque power, I shall remain intrigued by Chris Carter's potential from this point forward.
In his last five games, Carter (10 HR, 22 RBI, .272 BA) has one homer, four RBI, five runs and three multiple-hit games.
Of equal importance, the Athletics have seemingly abandoned their platoon concept at first base, supplying a large chunk of at-bats to the same talent (Carter) who racked up 67 homers and 219 RBI for the 2008 and '09 seasons (minor leagues).
Skinny: Check out Jake Westbrook's numbers in his last five outings: five wins, a 2.98 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 30/9 K-BB ratio.
That stretch of excellence deserves countdown props here, even if Westbrook isn't a classic high-strikeout, low-walk asset in the fantasy realm.
Here's another prime reason to covet Westbrook (12-8, 3.62 ERA, 1.29 WHIP) as a No. 6 starter in 12-team leagues: Over the next seven starts, he might be looking at juicy matchups with the Mets (once), Pirates (twice) and Astros (three times).
Skinny: From any angle, there's really no excuse for ignoring Blake Beavan in 12-team leagues right now.
Four wins in his last four decisions? Check.
A 10:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his last five outings? Check.
Three walks or less allowed in his last 10 starts? Check.
A respectable ERA (3.67) and elite-level WHIP (0.90) in the last 30 days? Check.
Skinny: The day will come when Brandon Belt is one of the top-15 first basemen in the fantasy realm, a certifiable star in four categories.
In the meantime, fantasy owners will simply have to settle for Belt batting .464 in his last 10 games and posting four multiple-hit games since Aug. 6—a dynamic stretch that includes two steals against the Cardinals on Aug. 7.
Bottom line: With only four homers on the season, Belt obviously won't appeal to every owner in search of quality first basemen for the stretch run.
But his decent track record and immense upside are certainly enough for him to be rostered in every 12-team league.
Skinny: It's always fun to have a no-brainer talent solidifying the No. 1 spot in this countdown.
By extension, it also means this will likely be Manny Machado's first and only week as a universal free agent in 12-team leagues.
In just 16 major league at-bats, the highly-touted Machado (Baltimore's No. 1 hitting prospect) already has three homers, seven RBI, five runs and a .375 batting average.
He's the youngest Oriole (20 years old) to club multiple homers in the same game.
And for good measure, Machado (career .344 OBP in the minors) is also one of few players in MLB history to belt three aggregate homers in their first three games.
Need any more incentive to take a ground-floor flier on a versatile infield talent with an unlimited ceiling?