MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

10 teams poised to get boost from comebacks

10 teams poised to get boost from comebacks

Josh Hamilton is trying for another comeback. Good for him. Good for us, too. Baseball is more interesting when he's on a Major League diamond.

Here's the thing. It's impossible to know what kind of player Hamilton can be, since he's 35 and recovering from yet another surgical procedure -- this time to his left knee.

Hamilton didn't play a game in the Majors in 2016, and he played only 139 combined from 2014-15. When the Rangers announced Tuesday that Hamilton had agreed to a Minor League contract, it was an acknowledgement of the unknown.

Hot Stove Tracker

Remember how good Hamilton once was? From 2008-12, he was one of baseball's 10 best players, with 43 home runs in '12 and 32 in '08 and '10. Hamilton's OPS was .912 during those five seasons, and he won the American League Most Valuable Player Award in 2010, when the Rangers made the first of two straight World Series appearances.

If Hamilton is still close to that kind of player, he's capable of changing the balance of power in the AL West.

Daniels on Hamilton's return

On the other hand, at least a dozen other teams will go to Spring Training with a degree of uncertainty as key players attempt to come back from injuries.

These are the things that stress out general managers. After all the planning and all the projections, there are things they simply cannot know.

Let's look at 10 teams counting on comebacks from injuries.

1. Mets
RHPs Matt Harvey (shoulder), Jacob deGrom (elbow), Zack Wheeler (elbow), LHP Steven Matz (shoulder)

How's that for an impressive list? It's also a reminder of how incredible the Mets' postseason run was last season, and how much fun 2017 can be. If Harvey, Matz, etc., are healthy, the Mets will have baseball's best pitching staff by miles and be positioned to challenge the Nationals in the National League East, as well as the Cubs and Dodgers in October.

2. Astros
LHP Dallas Keuchel (shoulder), RHP Lance McCullers

The Astros are consensus favorites to win the AL West, but that consensus is based on the assumption that their two best starting pitchers will be healthy. Neither made a September start last season, as Houston went 13-16 and finished five games out in the AL Wild Card race. Both pitchers have passed every offseason test so far.

Keuchel, McCullers on health

3. Dodgers
LHPs Scott Kazmir (neck), Hyun-Jin Ryu (shoulder), RHP Brandon McCarthy (hip)

The Dodgers won a fourth straight NL West title despite using 15 starting pitchers. Considering how much depth they've accumulated, they could probably do the same thing again. However, they would rather not. Kazmir and McCarthy likely will be good to go on Day 1 of Spring Training. Ryu, who is rehabbing in South Korea, is more of a question mark.

4. Nationals
RHP Stephen Strasburg (elbow)

Strasburg made one brief start after mid-August, and the Nationals won the NL East anyway. They're favored to win again, but with the Mets stronger and the division improved, the margin for error is thin. If the Nats have a healthy Max Scherzer and Strasburg lined up in October, they would be a formidable postseason team.

5. Angels
RHPs Garrett Richards (elbow), Matt Shoemaker (skull fracture)

The Angels probably are postseason hopefuls with their Nos. 1-2 starters healthy. Without them, they could be challenged to stay in contention. Both pitchers have been medically cleared to prepare for Spring Training.

6. Cardinals
RHPs Lance Lynn (elbow), Michael Wacha (shoulder)

These two could transform a solid rotation into one of baseball's two or three best. Lynn will have had 17 months to recover from Tommy John surgery by Opening Day and seems poised to regain his top-of-the-rotation status. Wacha is optimistic about jump-starting his career.

7. Rangers
Hamilton (knee) and RF Shin-Soo Choo (leg)

With Hamilton, the Rangers simply would like to find out how much productive baseball he can play. Choo is being counted on to bounce back after playing 48 games and being placed on the disabled list four times in 2016. He's owed $81 million over the next four seasons.

Hamilton returns to Rangers

8. Indians
LF Michael Brantley (shoulder, biceps)

Brantley played just 11 games last season, and he hasn't yet taken batting practice after undergoing a biceps procedure in August. That said, his physical therapy has gone well, even though the Indians have no idea when he'll play in a game. At this point, Cleveland probably would be thrilled to have Brantley healthy and productive in the second half of the 2017 season.

9. Royals
3B Mike Moustakas (knee)

Moustakas' collision with Alex Gordon on May 22 epitomized the spirit of what got the Royals to the World Series in 2014-15. Unfortunately, it also ended his sixth season after 27 games. Moustakas has poured himself into his rehab, and he says he will be ready for the start of Spring Training.

10. Red Sox
3B Pablo Sandoval (shoulder)

Sandoval would appear to be more of a luxury than a necessity, since the Red Sox are solid favorites to win the AL East. At 30, he has the ability to make an already deep lineup even better.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @richardjustice. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.