With lineups locked for Week 20 (Aug. 11-17), we're down to six weeks left in the 2014 season -- or five if your league doesn't count the last week. And if you play in a Head-to-Head format with a playoff system in place, it's even fewer than that.
No matter how you slice it, we're there: crunch time
Crunch time is the time you need to win, which means after spending all season fortifying your team for the long haul, your focus should now shift to the short term. It's not quite Defcon 5 yet, but it's close enough for you to make some tough decisions.
I've put together a list of 13 high-profile players who, for one reason or another, aren't doing anything for you right now. Usually, it's because of injury, but not in every case. Ideally, I'd make every effort to hold on to these players for those 2-3 weeks (or however long) they're still expected to contribute, which is why I still list them fairly high in my freshly updated rankings, but that's not always possible when winning is paramount. It can be especially tricky to navigate if you own more than one. Sometimes, that extra bench spot is just too valuable.
I've ranked them in order from most droppable to least droppable, but again, you could justify dropping any of them in the right circumstances.
Brett Lawrie, 2B/3B, Blue Jays: If you stashed Lawrie for the six weeks he missed with a broken finger, congratulations. You got all of one at-bat out of him before he went back on the DL with a strained oblique. He could return as early as the first week of September or as late as the last week. Neither scenario gives him much time to regain your trust.
Brandon Phillips, 2B, Reds: Let's be honest: Phillips was barely startable in mixed leagues at the time of his thumb injury in early July, ranking 18th among second basemen in Head-to-Head leagues and 17th in Rotisserie. He may be just a week or two away from returning, but he's regressed to the point that it'll hardly matter in Fantasy.
Adam Eaton, OF, White Sox: Eaton's oblique injury doesn't sound especially serious, but the uncertain timetable for a player who had only become valuable because of a recent hot streak that may or may not have any legitimacy to it might be a deal-breaker for some. It was for me in a 10-team Head-to-Head league.
Michael Wacha, SP, Cardinals: He's doing some tossing, and the Cardinals sound fairly optimistic about a return, but Wacha won't be ready to throw off the mound until mid-August. By then, he'll have been off a mound for two full months, which should make for a lengthy rehabilitation. Maybe he'll give you a couple starts in late September, but would you be willing to throw him into the fire right away with your season on the line?
Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Diamondbacks: His own manager is already assuming he's out for the year, but Goldschmidt is so high-end that I'd prefer to wait for something more official if I have a DL spot to burn. Even just a week or two would make the wait worthwhile for a player of his caliber.
Yadier Molina, C, Cardinals: No telling why Molina's initial timetable was longer than Phillips' even though they both suffered what appeared to be the same injury on the same day, but regardless, he's only about five weeks into the suggested 8-12. He's out of the hard cast, so maybe he'll be able to return as early as the first week of September -- and at a thin position, the wait would be worth it -- but maybe not.
Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pirates: Alvarez is perfectly healthy -- at least physically -- but the Pirates no longer trust him at third base with the troubles he's had throwing the ball. He's been working out at first base and is an important enough part of the lineup that you'd think the Pirates would run him out there eventually. But if it's not on an everyday basis, he'll basically be a left-handed-hitting Mark Reynolds, which would crush his mixed-league value.
Ryan Zimmerman, 3B/OF, Nationals: Zimmerman is about two weeks into a six-week timetable for a Grade 3 hamstring strain after having already missed seven weeks with a broken thumb. In between the injuries, he was more or less himself, producing about an .800 OPS at a thin position, but by the time he returns, we'll have only two weeks to go. If you wouldn't be willing to start him right away, what's the point?
Joey Votto, 1B, Reds: Votto has already had two rounds of platelet-rich plasma injections in his strained left quadriceps -- an injury that has plagued him since mid-May. As of the last one July 21, he was supposed to be just 4-5 weeks from returning, which would make him just 2-3 weeks away now, but the absence of any sort of update is disquieting. He already tried returning once only to wind up back on the DL, so it's possible he doesn't return at all.
Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Rockies: Speaking of not returning at all, Gonzalez doesn't have a concrete timetable, but given the chronic nature of his injury -- he's out with left knee tendinitis -- the out-of-contention Rockies may choose not to force the issue. It's all up in the air, which could make releasing him potentially a fatal mistake, but given all the time he's missed already and the lack of production in between, stashing may prove to be a wild goose chase.
Masahiro Tanaka, SP, Yankees: If I was a betting man, I'd bet on Tanaka opting for Tommy John surgery before he returns to a major-league mound. That's where a UCL tear of any severity typically leads. But it's such a small tear that the possibility of Tanaka going the Ervin Santana route and rehabbing it sufficiently is at least plausible enough that I want to see it through to the end for a pitcher of his caliber.
Justin Verlander, SP, Tigers: Verlander's situation went from bad to worse Monday, when he left his start after just one inning with inflammation in his right shoulder. It's apparently mild enough that the Tigers think he can make his next start, but it makes his climb back to respectability that much more imposing. He's worth keeping around for two-start weeks, but in shallower leagues, that may not be incentive enough.
Mike Minor, SP, Braves: We should have a pretty good indication tonight if skipping him a turn was enough to get him right.