Who are the early favorites for the 2018 Comeback Player of the Year Awards?
Sometimes lost among some of the more prominent honors during award season, the Comeback Player of the Year Award celebrates one player in each league who showcased a notable return to form following a year of injury or relatively poor performance. Last year, Greg Holland took home the award in the National League for his stellar relief work in Colorado after returning from Tommy John surgery, while Mike Moustakas earned the award in the American League for his All-Star campaign with the Royals after coming back from a torn ACL.
You don't have to be a guy returning from injury to win the award, though -- Casey McGehee won the AL Comeback Player of the Year after literally coming back to America after playing in Japan in 2013. Two other recent winners, Fernando Rodney (2012) and Rick Porcello (2016), have earned the award after simply posting underwhelming numbers the year before. Francisco Liriano also earned the award after a year of poor performance -- and he did it twice!
Who is in the running for 2018 Comeback Player of the Year? Let's take a look at the field:
Francisco Liriano -- 2017 season: 38 appearances, 11 starts, 5.66 ERA
After being dealt to the Astros midway through last year, Liriano got moved to the 'pen and became a rarely used lefty arm throughout Houston's iconic postseason run. In the offseason he signed with the Tigers and has been pretty good in his first three starts, posting a 2.55 ERA.
More important, Liriano is the only player to ever win the award multiple times. It's still early, but if he won a third Comeback Player of the Year Award, they should just rename the award after him like they did with Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman and the Reliever of the Year Awards.
Hanley Ramirez -- 2017 Season: 133 games played, .242/.320/.429, 23 HR
The Red Sox offense has been producing at dream-like levels recently, and the rejuvenation of HanRam has been a huge part of that. Ramirez's Red Sox tenure thus far has been perfectly sufficient, but this year, he's been off to a scorching start and has looked more fluid and dynamic at the dish. With a spot in the 300 steals/300 homers club potentially up for grabs, perhaps we'll see this version of Ramirez all season long.
Aaron Sanchez -- 2017 Season: 8 games started, 36 IP, 4.25 ERA
Don't forget how dope Sanchez was back in 2016. In his first full season as a starter, he threw for an ERA of exactly 3.00 in 192 innings and finished seventh in AL Cy Young voting. Forget how injured he was last year -- that's not a fun thing to think about. Think about 2018 instead!
He's yet to fully kick it back into first gear so far this season, but Sanchez appears fully healthy and should re-establish himself as one of the most exciting young pitchers in the game.
Noah Syndergaard -- 2017 Season: 7 games started, 30.1 IP, 2.97 ERA
Yes, even gods can hit the DL. 2017 was a rough year for Thor as a torn lat muscle kept him on the shelf for much of the season. So far this year, the flow-dacious flamethrower has looked just like his former self in his four starts, posting an ERA under 3.00 with 33 strikeouts in only 21 innings. Syndergaard certainly fits all the qualifications of a Comeback Player of the Year, and he'd also be the second youngest player to ever win the award, behind only Buster Posey in 2012.
Francisco Cervelli: -- 2017 Season: 81 Games, .249/.342/.712, 5 HR
After a multi-year run as one of the most consistent backstops in the game, Cervelli had a sub-par and injury-riddled 2017. The fun-loving Venezuelan Pirate is back to his old habits so far this year, posting an .894 OPS while also deftly handling Pittsburgh's young rotation.
Jose Bautista: -- 2017 Season: 157 Games, .203/.308/.366, 23 home runs
After a disappointing end to his Blue Jays career in 2017, it looked for a bit like we'd seen the last of Joey Bats, the man who gave us the single greatest postseason bat flip of all time.
But just this week, the Braves announced they'd signed the 37-year-old to play third base for them. Considering Bautista didn't quite look like himself in 2017, our expectations are measured. But remember, this is a guy who seemed destined for mediocre utility-man status before erupting into one of the best players in baseball. Count him out at your own risk.