Candidates abound for Comeback Players of the Year

Candidates abound for Comeback Players of the Year

Candidates abound for Comeback Players of the Year

How do you like your Comeback Player of the Year? It might not be such an easy meal to order since you can have it any way you like.

Take 2012. The awards, given to one player in each league as a result of voting by the 30 team beat reporters, represented the two primary schools of thought that seem to accompany an honor bestowed upon players who have "re-emerged on the baseball field during a given year."

For Tampa Bay reliever Fernando Rodney, last year's American League winner, it was a case of being bad one year and really good the next. Rodney wasn't getting it done for the Angels in 2011, but he took advantage of an injury to Kyle Farnsworth while with the Rays in '12 and ended up notching 48 saves and pitching to a 0.60 ERA.

For 2012 National League winner Buster Posey, it was the old rebound-from-injury scenario. Posey went from winning the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year Award and being a World Series winner to an unlucky victim when he suffered a season-ending left leg injury in a collision at the plate with then-Marlin Scott Cousins on May 25, 2011. Posey got healthy, came back and won the 2012 NL MVP Award. The Comeback Player of the Year thing seemed preordained.

"I think after an injury like that, it's just nice to be back on the field," Posey said. "And then to be recognized not only for your accomplishments -- but really for just being back in action -- it's nice."

So ... what about this year?

It's too early to crown or discount anyone, but a number of players in both leagues are building cases for the AL and NL Comeback Player of the Year Awards presented by Blockbuster. Here are some of the favorites:

American League

Scott Kazmir, Indians: It seemed like the once-dominant lefty's career was over in 2011 and '12, when he had lost his velocity, command and a spot in the Major Leagues. But Kazmir found something in winter ball and has been strong for Cleveland, going 7-5 with a 4.18 ERA through Wednesday and striking out 103 batters in 114 innings.

Neal Cotts, Rangers: How about this story? Cotts, a huge bullpen piece for the White Sox during their World Series run in 2005, hadn't pitched in the Major Leagues in four years when he resurfaced with Texas this season at the age of 33. All he's done so far is go 4-1 with a 0.93 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 38 2/3 innings.

Brett Gardner, Yankees: Injuries limited him to 31 at-bats in 2012. Gardner has come all the way back and then some, with a .271 batting average, 61 runs scored, eight homers, 39 RBIs and 20 stolen bases as a key catalyst for the New York offense and a sterling defensive outfielder.

James Loney, Rays: The Rays signed Loney, who had been an underachiever with the Dodgers and Red Sox (including a combined six homers and .630 OPS in 2012), for $2 million plus incentives in the offseason, thinking he might just come into his own at age 28. Bingo. Loney is hitting .314 with 10 homers and 55 RBIs for Tampa Bay and has been excellent at first base.

John Lackey, Red Sox: Lackey missed all of 2012 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. He has been terrific this year, despite a 7-10 record, putting up a 3.32 ERA and striking out 123 batters in 133 innings with a 1.218 WHIP that is among his career best in that category.

Also: Victor Martinez, Tigers; Michael Kohn, Angels; Eric Hosmer, Royals; Brett Cecil, Blue Jays.

National League

Chase Utley, Phillies: The perennial All-Star second baseman's 2011 and '12 campaigns were shortened and essentially ruined by knee problems, and many were questioning if he'd ever be the same. Utley has answered a lot of those questions in a bounceback season during which he has gotten his OPS back up to .848 and hit 15 homers.

Francisco Liriano, Pirates: Liriano was a combined 6-12 with a 5.34 ERA last year while pitching for the Twins and White Sox. His problem was command -- he walked 87 batters in 156 2/3 innings. This year, Liriano has been one of the big revelations on the incredible Pittsburgh team. He's 13-5 with a 2.68 ERA and has 113 strikeouts and 45 walks in 114 innings.

Marlon Byrd, Mets: Byrd got a total of 143 big league at-bats with the Cubs and Red Sox in 2012 and didn't do a whole lot with them, batting .210 with one homer and nine RBIs. This year, at the age of 35, Byrd has resurfaced in New York and made the most of his opportunity, batting. 282 with 18 homers and 63 RBIs.

Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies: It's tough to consider Tulowitzki a comeback candidate when he's a perennial MVP candidate, but he fits the bill. Tulowitzki had only 181 at-bats last year, hitting eight homers while driving in 27 runs before groin problems prematurely ended his season. He had a lengthy stay on the disabled list this year, but he's nevertheless hitting .305 with 20 homers and 65 RBIs.

Jayson Werth, Nationals: He hit only five homers and drove in 31 runs last year while garnering only 300 at-bats because of injury, but Werth's power is back. Through Wednesday, he had a .930 OPS, 17 homers and 49 RBIs in 310 at-bats.

Also: Logan Morrison, Marlins; Manny Parra, Reds; Carl Crawford, Dodgers, Kevin Gregg, Cubs.

Doug Miller is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.