Comeback award candidacy is star's dilemma
Strong crop of hopefuls return from injury, struggles in '10
Let's face it: Nobody wants to be a Comeback Player of the Year, at least not until he's already in position to do it.
Coming back means you were injured badly enough to miss all or a big chunk of the previous season, or you had an uncharacteristically poor one statistically. Coming back means there's something to come back from, so it's not tops on the awards wish list.
Then again, it has honored Chris Carpenter's ability to snap back from surgery to become an even better starting pitcher -- twice. And it has shown that a power hitter can rediscover his stroke and take it to a new level, as Carlos Pena did in 2007 with the Rays.
As one candidate this year observed as he returned to the All-Star Game after a three-year hiatus, coming back is a big part of what the game's about.
"This game is made up of failure," the Blue Jays' Vernon Wells said. "You have to be able to deal with it and move past it, learn from it. You're going to fail. It's how you respond to it that will define the kind of person and player you are."
As the 2010 season heads into the final weeks, a number of players have responded and positioned themselves for comeback honors consideration, be it by returning from a devastating injury or by their ability to bounce back to where they belong -- or both.
Here are a few candidates from each league:
Tim Hudson, Braves: Like Carpenter before him, Hudson is coming back from a reconstructive elbow procedure, and at age 35 that's not exactly a recipe for certain success. But, after undergoing Tommy John surgery and being limited to seven September starts last year, Hudson got himself ready for Spring Training and hasn't stopped since. He has become the ace he was meant to be in Atlanta from the beginning, putting together what's shaping up as his finest season with a 2.28 ERA through 26 starts. Now that he's right physically, he's been lights out.
Aubrey Huff, Giants: Huff might almost belongs in the MVP conversation as much as this one. In a 2009 season split between the Orioles and the Tigers, Huff's stats fell off the table -- with his homers dropping to 15 from 32, and his slugging percentage dipping to .384. But he has rediscovered himself in the heart of the Giants' lineup, delivering the most consistent threat the NL West contenders have had this year. With his college teammate at Miami, Pat Burrell, joining the comeback fun, Huff is leading the club with 22 homers and 73 RBIs as it heads into the stretch run.
Rickie Weeks, Brewers: Hand injuries have held back what may have been a perennial All-Star career for this multi-talented performer. But health has returned for the Brewers' powerful sparkplug, and he has responded with the type of season he expected of himself going into it. He leads all leadoff men in the Majors in homers (23) and RBIs (73) and is second only to the Yankees' Derek Jeter in runs scored, with 84.
Josh Hamilton, Rangers: Hamilton may have had the most incredible comeback not to win Comeback of the Year honors, rebounding from rock bottom to the All-Star Game in 2008 -- though some of that comeback came the previous year in his debut season with the Reds before he really burst out with the Rangers. This time, he's coming back from an injury-plagued 2009 season that limited him to 89 games, springing back to form with a Majors-leading .357 average, 28 homers and 89 RBIs -- surpassing or nearing his 2008 levels.
Francisco Liriano, Twins: Sometimes reaching a peak so early can set up a big fall, but Liriano has made it back from his injury-riddled fall following a tremendous start to his Major League career. After missing all of 2007, spending most of 2008 in the Minors and struggling mightily the next season, Liriano is back to being one of the game's best left-handers, having already posted career highs in strikeouts (165) and innings pitched (151 1/3).
Vernon Wells, Blue Jays: He became the center of the Blue Jays' offense and a perennial All-Star in the making -- and then for the last three years virtually dropped off the map. But Wells is back to producing runs with power, and his 22 homers and 60 RBIs are on the road to the types of numbers he posted in 2002-2006. He was rewarded with another trip to the All-Star Game this July, and he participated in his first Home Run Derby.
A few others: The Braves' Billy Wagner, showing once again that he's one of the best left-handed relievers in history; the Reds' Scott Rolen, not exactly coming off a down year but suddenly much more of a factor again with a contender; the Mets' R.A. Dickey might be more of a case of a late breakout than a comeback, but he has elevated his game as a knuckleballer and has come back from relative obscurity, at least; Adrian Beltre of the Red Sox is a case of high expectations not being met with the Mariners, now being more fulfilled as one of the top two-way threats in the game -- a superb fielder and a run-production threat at the plate.
And there's Fausto Carmona. In 2007, Carmona finished fourth in AL Cy Young voting, overshadowed by then-teammate and winner CC Sabathia. After that, two seasons of injury and ineffectiveness that culminated with his demotion to the Minors to cure his propensity for walks. Come 2010, he's back -- albeit with a much different Indians club -- at the level where he left off in 2007, or almost. Still, a good transformation story from rock bottom back up to the top.
With Vladimir Guerrero, like his teammate Hamilton, this type of production is what's expected of him now, as long as he's healthy. Unlike Hudson or even Weeks, this wasn't career-threatening stuff here, so some comebacks might be different than others.
Meanwhile, the Braves' Troy Glaus could be considered a candidate, and so could the Cubs' Carlos Silva -- but both of them have to make a comeback from the DL first to do it. On top of that, Glaus has to come back ready to play third base again now that Chipper Jones is out and Derrek Lee is in.
With Jones saying he intends to try to come back from his knee injury, perhaps there's an early leader for the 2011 NL award. And any number of Red Sox could be candidates in the AL.
At least those whose 2010 seasons might be marred by injury or ineffectiveness this year have something to look forward to in 2011.
John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.