Between broken limbs, snapped ligaments and something called bilateral leg weakness, we were robbed of seeing a lot of talented men play baseball in 2011. But as the new year approaches and we send out our best wishes for a happy and healthy 2012, it's heartening to know that last year's injured will be aiming to be top contributors in the season ahead.
In no particular order, here's a look at 10 comeback story lines which could have a big impact on the teams that are welcoming these players back.
Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants — Posey's collision at home plate with Scott Cousins back in May sparked one of the year's biggest controversies, but the catcher's broken left leg also spelled doom for an already thin San Francisco offense. With the frugal Giants standing relatively pat in the free-agent market, much will be expected from the return of Posey's bat to the team's lineup. The good news is that Posey's rehab is going well and he's slated to be ready for workouts once spring training opens in late February. Manager Bruce Bochy says Posey will see time at first base to ensure that he doesn't put too much stress on the leg.
Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals —Tommy John surgery for the team's ace didn't exactly hinder the Cards' run to the World Series title, but having his Cy Young-caliber talents taking the mound every fifth day might have saved them from having to qualify for the playoffs on the season's final day (after a dramatic rundown of the Atlanta Braves, no less). Wainwright was a very vocal and supportive presence for his teammates in 2011, now he'll get back to the business of also doing his part performance-wise.
Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies — It was one thing to get bounced by the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS after a 102-win season. It was quite another to have the year concluded with a play that ended with Howard crumpled on the ground with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Though Jim Thome was signed as a cheap source of replacement power, Howard's targeted return around midseason will receive a lot of attention. Especially if the Phillies struggle to score runs.
Kendrys Morales, Los Angeles Angels — Last week's $254 million signing of Albert Pujols eliminates the need for Morales to return to first base in the O.C. Still, the Halos' $3 million contract tender on Monday night shows they're still hoping that the switch-hitting Morales can return to the field — well, the DH spot at least — for the first time since breaking his leg during a home plate celebration in May 2010.
Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins —Ninety-nine losses from one of the most consistent teams of the last decade are a lot easier to understand when the M&M boys combine for 151 games played and seven home runs in 2011. Mauer says he's past the rash of misfortune that hampered him this season, while Morneau is expected to start the season at first base. The latter will need a good amount of luck, though: He's missed a total of 212 games over the last three seasons.
Daisuke Matsuzaka and Clay Buchholz, Boston Red Sox — These two pitchers are about as different as you can get and Boston will come armed with a different set of expectations from each in 2012. But after the unreliable rotation they were rolling during this year's epic collapse, they'll be happy with any kind of bounce back from Matsuzaka in the last year of his contract and something similar to the great 2010 that Buchholz posted (17-7, 2.33 ERA over 173 innings pitched).
Joba Chamberlain, New York Yankees — After all the expectations from a few seasons ago, it's hard to imagine that the highlight of Joba's 2011 was riding on a float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. The right-handed reliever had Tommy John surgery in June and while he's said to be on track, he likely won't be ready until midseason, if at all. An early return would be a welcome surprise for the Yankees, considering every contender is always searching for bullpen help near the trading deadline.
Andre Ethier, Los Angeles Dodgers — While teammates Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw put together dream seasons in 2011, the story was a little different for Ethier. Though he made headlines with a 30-game hitting streak early in the year, Ethier struggled with his power, hitting only 11 home runs until being shelved by knee surgery in the final month of the season. A healthy Ethier would definitely help Los Angeles' chances in the NL West, especially it it means a revival of his power.
Johan Santana, New York Mets —Remember him? While the days of Santana's reign as one of the league's most dominating pitchers are ancient history, GM Sandy Alderson is hoping for a "solid season" from the man who is still due a total of $50 million over the next two years. But even adjusted expectations can't make that a guarantee as Santana just missed the entire 2011 campaign after a complicated shoulder surgery limited him to just three minor-league rehab starts.
Shin Soo Choo, Cleveland Indians — Perhaps Grady Sizemore deserves this spot, but Choo has been one of the team's offensive forces more recently than the man to his right in the outfield. A fractured thumb and strained oblique muscle limited Choo to just 85 games in 2011, but he's expected to be 100 percent by the start of spring training.
Others we'll be keeping an eye on: Josh Johnson, Kevin Youkilis, Tommy Hanson, Stephen Drew, Bobby Jenks, Jonathan Broxton, Brian Wilson, Ike Davis.