Eric Chavez missed most of last season when he reaggravated a shoulder injury he had surgery on the previous offseason. Chavez has only played in a total of 23 games since July 27th, 2007 and has had three different surgeries since. However, all signs have been positive for Chavez in his recovery so far and the A's fully expect him to be in their starting third basemen on opening day. Chavez remains the longest tenured player on the A's. The six-time gold glove winner remains a great candidate to receive the comeback player of the year award. If he can return back to form, Chavez is capable of hitting 30 homeruns and driving in well over 100. He should also have plenty of RBI chances while batting behind Matt Holliday and Jason Giambi in the lineup.
What has happened to "Pronk" the past couple of seasons? From 2004-2006, Travis Hafner was one of the games most feared hitters hitting over .300, driving in over 100 people, and showing 30-40 home run pop. However, Hafner started to decline in 2007 when his power numbers cut in half from the previous season and his average dipped 40 points. Then in 2008, Hafner hit a lousy .197 in 200 at bats before getting shoulder surgery. However, Dr. James Andrews found no structural damage on his shoulder while performing surgery which leaves us guessing what the real problem was with Hafner. Regardless, he has been a force on his team in the past and if he can return to form, he should be in the running for this award and the Indians in the running for the postseason.
3. Jason Varitek - C - Boston Red Sox
Unlike most Comeback Player of the Year Candidates, Jason Varitek isn't coming off of any sort of injury. The captain of the Red Sox had two bad seasons in the past three years and after Varitek hit a lousy .220 a year ago, there are questions as to whether or not he can remain an effective major league ballplayer. Last season Varitek reached career lows in batting average and slugging percentage, while his OBP was the worst it has been since his rookie season in 1998. Varitek may need to make a permanent switch to batting right handed. The switch hitter hit .284 off of left handed pitching last season, but just .201 off of right handers. While Varitek remains in Bostons lineup, he remains a good candidate for the award if he can just start hitting again.
Jorge Posada is the third player in this post that had to have shoulder surgery. His ability to swing the bat hasn't declined a bit and he's only two seasons removed from one where he had an OPS+ of 154 and finished 6th in MVP voting. Posada actually has a pretty good shot at winning this award. The thing that concerns me though is his defense. He was only able to throw out 17% of baserunners a year ago and two seasons ago it was just 23%. His defensive skills are declining meaning that he would be best utilized as a designated hitter, but the Yankees already have Hideki Matsui occupying that spot. Even if he stays at catcher this season and moves their next season, that would only mean that the Yankees still have a defensive liability in Jeter at shortstop.
5. Brad Penny - SP - Boston Red Sox
Meet shoulder victim number four in this post. Brad Penny has been one of the Dodgers best pitchers over the last four seasons, but struggled mightily last year as he suffered a shoulder injury. Penny is capable of being an ace in a rotation, and given the right run support, he could win a lot of games as a member of the Sox. However, he is somewhat prone to injury and nobody really knows how he is going to react this season following his struggles of a year ago. If he is anything like the player he was two seasons ago that netted him 3rd in National League Cy Young voting, the Red Sox might have found themselves a diamond in the rough this offseason.
LHP Dontrelle Willis (Detroit Tigers)
RHP Bartolo Colon (Chicago White Sox)
RHP Justin Verlander (Detroit Tigers)
RHP John Smoltz (Boston Red Sox)
OF Gary Sheffield (Detroit Tigers)
OF Andruw Jones (Texas Rangers)
3B Josh Fields (Chicago White Sox)