Major League Baseball teams generally concern themselves with potential injuries around spring time, fearing the potential late time crunch of having to replace a key player in an awkward time between free agent and trade season. Many more teams, however, also have one eye towards the future, which could include the return of a key player or players, essentially adding a free difference maker in the process of a grueling 162 game schedule often times leading to a change in a team’s overall fortune.
Here we outline the potentially biggest key offensive players in the AL who could return to help their teams to the next level sometime after Opening Day.
Indians – Michael Brantley
The Indians’ Outfielder is following the traditional career arc, breaking out in his age 26 (and turning 27) season in 2013 and becoming an MVP candidate of sorts the past two years. The left fielder was hitting .310/.379/.859 before his season was cut short. Now, an Indians team with a young and deadly pitching staff will look for its best player to return from shoulder surgery and join the team around late April. A small price to pay if it can get a healthy 135 or so games out of Brantley in a lineup full of upside but yet to deliver.
Devon Travis – Blue Jays
The rookie second baseman burst onto the scene with most of the other Blue Jays in 2015, posting a promising .304/.361/.859 line in his first 62 games before shoulder surgery ended his campaign after 238 at bats. Travis, who only recently turned 25, is not expected back until early June and has not resumed baseball activities yet this year. However, the return of a potentially elite second baseman could only further the divide between the Blue Jays’ offense and the rest of the league, boosting the ‘Jays’ hopes towards a return to the playoffs and a potential second consecutive AL East crown.
Josh Hamilton – Rangers
Once upon a time, the left fielding Hamilton was the offensive equivalent to a guy like Darvish, a perennial MVP candidate who can anchor a lineup. At 34-years-old and having not had a full season since 2013 or an MVP caliber one since 2012, it’s unfair to expect Hamilton to come back and stay healthy, or still be a major force. Even so and even with the addition of Ian Desmond in left, Hamilton’s return would give Texas options and depth and it could happen as soon as early May. With World Series aspirations in Texas, Hamilton’s return and any chance of a return to glory could be an unexpected and major boost to the makeup of the team down the stretch.
Cameron Maybin – Tigers
Maybin came over to the Tigers in exchange for two prospects but will have to wait a little longer to try to help Detroit’s revamped outfield. The 28-year-old arguably had his best season in Atlanta last year, hitting .267/.327 with 10 HR and 23 stolen bases out of center field. The right handed hitter joins Justin Upton and JD Martinez as arguably the most formidible starting outfield in the AL, but it will be Anthony Gose in Maybin’s place. Maybin fractured his wrist in his first spring training game and will me out until at least the end of April.