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Burned by Pujols? Here's how to find talent in a pinch

Replacing Albert Pujols will be a tall order for fantasy baseball owners.

It's not an impossible one, though, so let's examine some of those options.

The first course of action would be to simply check your waiver wire. Availability will obviously differ based on the depth of your league -- but here's a sampling of the players on the market in our 10-team league here at The News.

* Mark Trumbo, L.A. Angels: He's hit in six straight games, upping his season average to .261 to go with 12 home runs and 31 RBIs. The 25-year-old has struggled with runners in scoring position, hitting just .226, so if that average climbs more toward his regular numbers he becomes quite an appealing option.

* James Loney, L.A. Dodgers: He won't give you a lot of power (just four homers this season) but he's been on fire the past four weeks, with a .353 batting average, three home runs and 13 RBIs. Loney got his terrible baseball out of the way in April -- when he hit just .208 -- so there's a decent chance some owners gave up on him then.

* Ty Wigginton, Colorado Rockies: He belted a pair of home runs Wednesday to reach nine on the season, giving him 27 RBIs. As a bonus, he also has eligibility at third base and has played six games in the outfield, which may be enough to qualify there for some leagues.

* Daniel Murphy, N.Y. Mets: With Ike Davis likely lost for the season, Murphy will see more time at first for the Mets. He's coming off a 3-for-4 game Thursday against Oakland and has four homers, two triples and 23 RBIs this year.

* Derrek Lee, Baltimore Orioles: He's on the decline after hitting .306 with 35 home runs and 111 RBIs, but he did have a four-game stretch this week in which he had 11 hits, including a five-hit game against Washington. Lee's power numbers are way down -- he has just four home runs -- but he's a proven veteran who has put up big numbers in the past. If he can get hot in the summer months, he can carry you through until Pujols returns.

* Anthony Rizzo, San Diego Padres: He's clearly struggling, with a .158 average in 38 at-bats since being called up, but the 21-year-old remains one of the best prospects in baseball. Especially in keeper leagues, he's worth picking up while Pujols is out. It could pay off big next season.

Of course, the other option for Pujols owners is to consider a trade, either of him or to find another first baseman. Where you are in the standings should determine your course of action there.

If you're near the top of the standings and think your team can hold onto a playoff spot, there's no sense in making a panic deal. If you're fighting to get in, though, you might have to pull the trigger.

The good news is first base is deep this season in fantasy. Washington's Michael Morse, Toronto's Adam Lind and Pujols' replacement, Lance Berkman (who has shifted from outfield to his old first base spot), are all having unexpectedly big seasons.

If you decide you have to move Pujols, hold out for top dollar because he's as good as they come in fantasy, despite his slow start to the season.

> Trio of third basemen

Unlike across the diamond at first base, it's harder to find third basemen. Those in need of help there should track these three players:

* Mark Reynolds, Baltimore Orioles: He started June hitting less than .200, but has got his average up to .231 and has hit 11 home runs in the past eight weeks. That's the key for Reynolds, his power. He'll never hit for average, but he's averaged 35 home runs over the past three seasons.

* Chris Johnson, Houston Astros: He's hit .309 with nine extra-base hits in 18 games this month, and the good news doesn't stop there. Johnson is also hitting just .558 on line drives (yes, there is a stat for that) after hitting .803 last season as a rookie. That means he's hit a lot of balls right at people. If those start finding gaps, it increases his value.

* Scott Rolen, Cincinnati Reds: Like Lee, Rolen is a proven veteran who is on the downside of his career. He's still getting plenty of at-bats (181), though, and has hit .395 over the past two weeks. He's got a respectable 30 runs driven in and provides decent depth.

e-mail: jskurski@buffnews.com

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