The Boston Red Sox don't have anything left to play for in 2012, but Cody Ross remains plenty motivated and a great fantasy option for the stretch run.
September can be difficult for fantasy baseball managers to navigate due to expanding MLB rosters and a contracting pool of contenders.
Clubs falling out of division and wild card races are relegated to "spoiler team" status. Their focus shifts to the future. Aging veterans lose playing time to developing prospects. Fantasy owners hunting a league title lose hair and sleep.
The circumstances aren't nearly as drastic as the NFL's dreaded Week 17 that forces fantasy football teams to play championship games without their best players. But the rules do change in the final month of baseball's regular season and fantasy owners must make sense of it all.
Here are five players you can continue to count on despite their team's woeful ways.
New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey needs to finish strong to prove his breakout year is no fluke.
R.A. Dickey is making the New York Mets regret not acting faster on his quickly expiring contract.
New York holds a $5 million option for Dickey in 2013. Both sides want to remain together beyond next year, but that is becoming increasingly expensive with every outing the knuckleballer makes.
Dickey ranks second among National League starting pitchers for total wins (16) despite playing for a team that sits 17.5 games out of first place. He also ranks fourth in ERA (2.76), fourth in WHIP (1.02) and second in strikeouts (183).
Andy McCullough of The Star-Ledger reports that Dickey and the Mets discussed a short-term extension into at least 2014 earlier this year. The team elected to wait and observe the player during the course of the season.
They are now watching Dickey close in on elite company whose average salary nearly touches $15.5 million. That's some serious motivation for the knuckleballer to finish strong.
New York's hot start proved to be a mirage, but Dickey needs to prove his was not. Trust him in all fantasy formats no matter how far the Mets fall.
Toronto Blue Jays closer Casey Janssen is still playing to keep his new role.
Casey Janssen inherited the closing role in Toronto after in injury to Sergio Santos.
He rose to the challenge by saving 17 games while posting a 2.36 ERA and 0.80 WHIP with more than a strikeout per inning. His 15 consecutive saves stands as the sixth longest streak in franchise history.
Janssen is signed through 2013. After blowing his first save on August 13, he blew another one two chances later.
The Blue Jays have spiraled well out of playoff contention. Janssen needs to avoid losing control of himself to ensure he keeps pitching in the ninth inning during an important contract year next season.
He has been a waiver wire gem for fantasy owners so far. Expect that to continue as he pitches for his real-life job.
Boston Red Sox outfielder Cody Ross is proving he can still be a regular starter for both fantasy and MLB teams.
Cody Ross powered the San Francisco Giants to a World Series title with a breakout October in 2010 that earned him a NLCS MVP award.
He won't have a chance to repeat that performance in 2012 with the dysfunctional Boston Red Sox, but he may be just what your fantasy team needs to win a fake baseball championship.
Ross is proving that his clutch postseason performance was no flash in the pan. The journeyman outfielder has 19 home runs this season with a .281/.343/.522 slash line. He is batting .333 in August with four multi-hit games in his last five contests.
Ross will be a free agent this winter after signing a deal for $3 million in Boston. The former Caveman from Carlsbad High School needs to keep swinging a big stick in September to cash in another big contract.
Ross is owned in only 44 percent of Yahoo leagues. Ride the hot streak while you still can.
San Diego Padres outfielder Carlos Quentin needs to show his talent still overpowers his age and health.
Carlos Quentin traded the hitter-friendly confines of Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field for the pitcher's paradise of San Diego's PETCO Park this season. It became one more concern to pile on his mountain of question marks focused on health and age issues.
Since returning from injury, however, Quentin has proven that his power still plays in any park. He is hitting .263/.377/.498 with 14 home runs in 72 games. All marks on his slash line are above his career average. Those marks are rather suspect when looking at his home-road splits, but he has only two less round trips at home in 35 less at-bats.
Injuries have always been a part of the equation with Quentin. He celebrated his 30th birthday on Tuesday, so securing a contract of any substantial length will be a challenge. This means he must continue to earn his way in the MLB no matter how far his team falls in the standings.
Quentin is owned in only 36 percent of Yahoo leagues. He is especially valuable in leagues that count on-base percentage. His power still plays in every park, and it should still be played in every league.
Fantasy owners need Philadelphia Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz to return to action.
Carlos Ruiz treated his fantasy owners to a breakout season before a foot injury sent him to the DL for an extended stay.
He hit 14 home runs in 95 games after never reaching double digits in any of his first six seasons. He is batting .335 despite only breaking the .300 in one other year.
Philadelphia holds a $5 million option for Ruiz in 2013. Then he becomes a free agent.
The former free agent from Panama can take a huge step towards securing his financial future if he comes back from the foot injury this season and maintains his blistering pace.
Ruiz is expected back in mid-September—just in time for the fantasy playoffs. Many dropped him when he hit the DL, leaving him owned in only 54 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Beat the rush and grab him now.