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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

One 2012 Postseason Award the Twins Can Win

The way it seems right now, even with the optimism that accompanies Spring Training, it's tough to imagine the Twins hoisting the 2012 World Series trophy. In fact, I can't reasonably imagine the Twins having the AL Cy Young award winner on their pitching staff, or the AL MVP in their batting order. But there is one award that this team was built for: The Comeback Player of the Year.

According to the criteria, the award is given to a player judged to have "re-emerged on the baseball field during a given season." It's worth noting, for no other reason than that it's sort of funny, that the award is sponsored by Viagra. Historically, Comeback Player award winners, not surprisingly, were sidelined much of the previous season before returning to glory. For example, Lance Berkman won the award for the NL in 2011, after having a fantastic season. But in 2010, he batted only .248 and needed a knee surgery. Jacoby Ellsbury -- for many a favorite for the 2011 MVP award -- locked up the AL Comeback Player award in 2011. If you recall, he only played 18 games in 2010, primarily the result of an early season collision that fractured several ribs. So to say that he came back bigtime in 2011 is an understatement. Our own Francisco Liriano won the award in 2010, and was likely cited for his "full" recovery from Tommy John surgery that sidelined him in 2007, and that took a few years from which to rebound.

Doesn't this award just scream Twins in 2012? Here are a few odds-on favorites for the 2012 AL Comeback Player award.

Joel Zumaya: He hasn't thrown a pitch in a major league game since June 28, 2010, when he suffered a non-displaced fracture to his elbow. Prior to that, Zumaya had a solid career, winning the setup man of the year award in 2006. He had a 2.58 ERA in 2010 prior to his injury, and, for his career, Zumaya has a 3.05 ERA. If he's somehow healthy this season, I don't have much doubt he could instantly come to the top of the list of Twins relievers. It would be a good comeback story, especially considering the painful way that Zumaya last exited a game.

Joe Mauer: Since this award cites players for "re-emerg[ing] on the baseball field," it could rightfully be awarded to a player who, for several reasons, simply wasn't on the baseball field much in 2011. Whether it was the bilateral leg weakness that kept him out most of the first half of 2011, or the pneumonia that eventually sidelined him for good, Joe Mauer simply wasn't around much of last season. Reportedly, he spent a lot of time on the trainer's table, and even went to the Mayo Clinic for diagnosis and treatment. Sure, Mauer's story doesn't have the same appeal as, perhaps, Zumaya's, but it is worth mentioning. If Mauer can stay on the field, and remain healthy and productive this season, he could be a worthy candidate.

Justin Morneau: Here's a guy I would love to see win the award. Sidelined the final month of the 2009 season with a stress fracture in his lower back, the second half of 2010 after suffering a concussion, and off-and-on in 2011 as a result of approximately 30 different injuries, this could actually be more of a "lifetime achievement comeback" award for Morneau. A win for Morneau would mean that he stayed healthy (which in turn would mean that he remained symptom-free from his concussions), and that he played good baseball. In fact, Morneau probably doesn't have to hit 30 home runs and drive in 120 RBIs to win this award. A decent season might be enough for him.

Francisco Liriano: I'm pretty sure that simply being awful the previous season, in and of itself, doesn't qualify you for the award, but Liriano did have some time on the disabled list in 2011 -- in May, and again in August, if I recall. If, somehow, Liriano were to return to 2010 form, he might get some votes.

In the end, it looks like it takes a special story, such as overcoming a serious injury, coupled with good on-the-field play the next season, to win this award. The Twins, though, do have some promising candidates. Perhaps all the maladies suffered in 2011 could mean hardware in 2012? I'm not sure what the award itself looks like, but the fact that it is sponsored by Viagra does raise a red flag.

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