Eric Mack
Monday July 4th, 2011

While the All-Star break provides a few days of respite for the non-participants. It represents a breather for many other players dealing with the dog days of the baseball grind.

It is a convenient time for teams to slow players down, particularly young pitchers and those dealing with injuries. Unfortunately, it is also a crucial time to start a push for the top of the standings in fantasy leagues. It makes it a very important time to stick your eyes to the news-makers and the injury report.

Baseball teams just don't have us in mind when they are setting their schedules for injury-returnees.

Reports had Albert Pujols potentially sneaking back into the lineup before the end of the break. Instead, Pujols could be back in the Cardinals' lineup as soon as Tuesday, beating the initial timetable for his return from a broken left wrist by a month.

The Red Sox are taking that route with Carl Crawford and Clay Buchholz. Mets third baseman David Wright might be a candidate to return shortly after the break, too.

With all the players taking some time off -- and those preparing to come back -- it should be a very busy few weeks on fantasy waiver wires. Those will more roster space to add some of the talent that is dropped could pick up some valuable stretch pieces on their opponents.

For this reason, the All-Star break is also a great time to make trades. You are going to get some talent back in your active lineup and can trade more depth for a big piece. And you're going to have those days early next week without games to re-evaluate your roster and make some deals during the down time.

Here's a piece of advice in this: Buy into Pujols, Wright, Buchholz and Crawford if anyone is selling.

Now on to the rest of our regular Monday look at fantasy baseball's roster trends:

Sluggers famously do 50 percent of their damage in 25 percent of the season. Fantasy Week 13 (June 27-July 3) was part of Aramis Ramirez's 25 percent. He hit six homers in 28 at-bats and has gotten his full-season numbers up to a respectable level after a quiet start. He had just two homers through May and hit eight in June and already has two in the first few days of July. His outburst trumps the revival of struggling fantasy first-rounder Carlos Gonzalez.

Past players of the week: 12. SP Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers; 11. SP Justin Verlander, Tigers; 10. 1B Prince Fielder, Brewers; 9. 1B Albert Pujols, Cardinals; 8. SP Yovani Gallardo, Brewers; 7. SP Michael Pineda, Mariners; 6. OF Jose Bautista, Blue Jays; 5. SP Francisco Liriano, Twins; 4. 2B Ben Zobrist, Rays; 3. SP James Shields, Rays; 2. SP Dan Haren, Angels; 1. SP Jered Weaver, Angels.

1B Albert Pujols (forearm), Cardinals -- He could be back before the All-Star break or shortly after now. It is an amazingly quick recovery for a broken bone, especially one so close to the wrist. SI.com's Will Carroll was right, though, it wasn't as serious of an injury since it was a bone fracture in the arm and not really the wrist. Lance Berkman will go back to the outfield, which will push Jon Jay to the bench. The Cardinals have already said Pujols won't need a rehab assignment.

OF Martin Prado (staph infection), Braves -- He is closing in on a rehab assignment that will allow him to be ready after the All-Star break, perhaps. Jordan Schafer and Nate McLouth will likely move into a time-share in center field.

OF Carl Crawford (hamstring), Red Sox -- He is hoping to run this week, which would make him a candidate to return after the All-Star break like those above. No one is going to miss his replacement(s) outside of deeper AL-only formats.

SP Clay Buchholz (back), Red Sox -- He has been held out through the All-Star break and might not pitch in the weekend to follow either. It gives the Red Sox a chance to evaluate Andrew Miller a little longer. Miller has more than held his own, albeit against weaker opponents. It will be interesting to see if Miller or Tim Wakefield bumps to the bullpen or the Red Sox go with a six-man rotation.

SS Derek Jeter (calf), Yankees -- His return pushes Eduardo Nunez to the bench. No one will miss him. Jeter shouldn't be long from joining the 3,000-hit club. Get Jeter active.

The most-added players:

1. SP Antonio Bastardo, Phillies 2. SP Vance Worley, Phillies 3. SP Rich Harden, A's 4. 1B Daniel Murphy, Mets 5. RP David Hernandez, Diamondbacks

Bastardo and Hernandez have taken advantage of sudden opportunities to close games with Ryan Madson and J.J. Putz going on the DL. They are solid options for saves in the near term. Worley is a two-start sleeper this week, while Harden made a surprisingly effective return from the DL. Murphy, who has been scorching, is a sleeper in deeper leagues.

The most-dropped players:

1. SP Brian Matusz, Orioles 2. SP Nick Blackburn, Twins 3. C Miguel Olivo, Mariners 4. SP Josh Collmenter, Diamondbacks 5. SP John Lannan, Nationals

Matusz gets a demotion to the minors -- a much-deserved one -- while Blackburn, Collmenter and Lannan have cooled off after hot stretch. Olivo has slipped into a slump and is dealing with a hamstring issue right now that has kept him out. All are worthy drops in mixed leagues and will be readily available if they heat up.

The most-scouted players:

1. OF Mike Morse, Nationals 2. OF Eric Thames, Blue Jays 3. 3B Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals 4. OF Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies 5. OF Alex Gordon, Royals 6. SS Jose Reyes, Mets 7. OF Ryan Braun, Brewers 8. OF Jayson Werth, Nationals 9. 1B David Murphy, Mets 10. OF Travis Snider, Blue Jays

All but Thames and Snider are dealing with injury situations that could affect their playing time this week. None appear headed for the DL, so you can likely expect them to return by the middle of the week. Thames is hot after his call-up; Snider has just gotten the call, too. Both should get playing time in the coming weeks and are viable options in mixed leagues when they are going well. Snider has a considerably higher ceiling of the two, though.

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