When Victor Martinez tore his left ACL and was ruled out for the 2012 season, the Tigers' lineup was dealt a devastating blow. Detroit president, CEO and general manager Dave Dombrowski vowed the rest of his talented lineup would step up, and then he surprised the baseball world by signing free-agent first baseman Prince Fielder to help fill Martinez's place in the lineup.
With Fielder's help replacing Martinez's lost production, the Tigers went on to win the American League pennant. They'll try to make a second straight trip to the Fall Classic with the presence of their .300-hitting, run-producing designated hitter Martinez reinserted into the lineup.
The Tigers -- now with a heart of the order that includes Fielder, Martinez and reigning Triple Crown and AL Most Valauble Player Award winner Miguel Cabrera -- are not alone among teams in baseball easing key players back into the mix.
From St. Louis to Boston, down to Miami and up in Denver, there are players who have been absent, but hopefully not forgotten. The talent of these players, who missed considerable chunks of the end of last season -- if not the entire year -- is such that it could form an All-Star team. Let's take a look at some of the guys who may have faded from our memory by the end of last year but who we should be fortunate to see back in uniform this spring.
Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies: With Tulowitzki coming off three straight monster seasons of batting at least .297 with at least 27 home runs and 92 RBIs while also winning Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards in 2010 and '11, Colorado had high hopes for its superstar shortstop when it entered last season. But Tulowitzki's groin injury in late May knocked him out for the rest of the year, and without him, the Rockies struggled. Colorado finished with the worst record in its 20-year history, but figures to be in better shape in '13 if the two-time All-Star shortstop is back at full strength. Tulo says he's eager to test his health and, though he had hoped to represent Team USA in the upcoming World Baseball Classic, he can now focus on taking the time in Spring Training to help get the Rockies back on track.
Jose Bautista, Blue Jays: With the offseason the Blue Jays have had, there's been plenty of chatter about practically every player on the roster not named Bautista. It's a tremendous opportunity now for the perennial AL MVP Award candidate to return to the lineup with the likes of Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera, along with Edwin Encarnacion, who hit 42 homers a season ago. Bautista, who leads the Majors in home runs since 2010 with 124, told reporters earlier this month that his fractured left wrist has fully healed and he's been swinging a bat for a month without any setbacks.
Martinez, Tigers: Without Martinez, the Tigers made it to the World Series last season. With all of the key pieces returning to join him in 2013, what does the future hold for the reigning AL champs? Only time will tell. But Detroit missed Martinez's bat for much of last season, when it was without an additional run producer and high-average hitter to help lengthen the lineup as role players like Alex Avila, Brennan Boesch and Delmon Young struggled. Without Martinez's .330 average and .850 OPS from 2011, Detroit's designated hitters in 2012 hit a combined .257 with a .687 OPS. The Tigers held a slim hope that Martinez would return from his ACL injury by the end of last season, but that was ruled out and a new timetable was set for this spring. Martinez has reportedly been hitting for about two months and running the bases for a month.
Logan Morrison, Marlins: LoMo was one of a multitude of Marlins to go down by the end of last year's disappointing season, as his year was cut short before August with a right knee injury. Morrison had surgery in September, but he is taking a cautious approach for his return. The slugger cautioned that he will not be ready for the start of Spring Training and may even miss Opening Day. Primarily a left fielder since his rookie season in 2010, Morrison will move to first base this season, with Carlos Lee looking less and less like an option. But when Morrison does return, it will be a welcomed addition; only one other player in Miami's projected lineup (Giancarlo Stanton) has hit more than 17 homers in a season.
Mariano Rivera, Yankees: Surely, no Yanks fan could ever forget Rivera, baseball's career saves leader with 608. So while Rafael Soriano -- now departed for the Nationals -- helped ease the pain of that loss, fans in the Bronx have Rivera's return to look forward to this spring. After appearing in at least 45 games each year since 1996, Rivera was limited to just nine this past season when he tore his right ACL in early May. He vowed to put off his retirement for one more season, signing a one-year deal this winter to return and close games in 2013. Rivera said in January that his knee was "95 percent" healthy and expects to have a normal Spring Training workload when pitchers and catchers report next week.
David Ortiz, Red Sox: The second half of last year wasn't pretty for Ortiz or the Red Sox. While Boston struggled, the slugger tried to recover from an injured right Achilles tendon -- he was injured on July 16, returned on Aug. 24 for one game and then was out for the rest of the year -- that limited him to just 90 games. Without him, the Red Sox plummeted to the bottom of the AL East standings and finished the year 26 games behind the rival Yankees. Ortiz told WEEI.com on Wednesday that he's "not completely recovered, but I'm going to be ready to go for Opening Day."
Wilson Ramos, Nationals: With the way the Nats established themselves as one of the best teams in baseball in 2012, it was hard to believe they were missing one of the centerpieces of their lineup for nearly the entire season. And yet, Washington still managed to thrive without Ramos, who hit .267 with 15 homers and 52 RBIs in 113 games in 2011, thanks largely to Kurt Suzuki and Jesus Flores. With Ramos, a truly formidable lineup becomes even more so, and that should come to fruition sometime in the early spring. Ramos is expected to work his way back during to full health from his right ACL tear during Spring Training, and be on the 25-man roster to start the season. Suzuki should begin the year as the starter, while the Nationals hope Ramos will be able to return to his full-time position early in the year.
John Danks, White Sox: The surprising White Sox gave the Tigers a serious run for their money in the AL Central last season, and they might have had an even better chance at taking the division title if Danks' season had not ended on May 19. He needed surgery to repair a capsular tear and minor debridements of his left rotator cuff and biceps on Aug. 6, and Danks has grown increasingly optimistic as his rehab program has ramped up since January. He plans to be ready for Spring Training.
Colby Lewis, Rangers: As it stands, Texas is set to begin this season without its 2012 Opening Day starter, as Lewis continues to rehab from surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his right arm. He made 15 starts last year before being placed on the disabled list on June 26 with tendinitis, then made one start on July 18 before heading back to the DL and undergoing surgery on July 27. The tentative target date is a June 1 return, but the recent reports have been positive, and the time of his return could be pushed up.
Rafael Furcal, Cardinals: After appearing in just 97 games in 2010 and 87 games in '11, Furcal seemed poised to log a full season last year before going down with an elbow injury in late August. As it turned out, Pete Kozma proved to be a worthy replacement, batting .333/.383/.569 in 26 games and helping the Cards to reach the National League Championship Series. So while Furcal is the incumbent shortstop and is expected to be St. Louis' Opening Day starter, it remains to be seen how the 35-year-old's elbow will respond to the rest and rehab, and whether Daniel Descalso, Ryan Jackson or Kozma could play their way into that spot. The three will also compete for the second-base job. With that group, and a healthy Furcal in the mix, the Cardinals have plenty of options for their middle infield.