2009's best 'comeback' seasons

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Because everyone likes a good comeback story.

Chris Carpenter: After being sidelined for much of the past two seasons following Tommy
John surgery, Chris Carpenter has not only become a near-lock as the NL
Comeback Player of the Year, but he could be in line for his second Cy
Young, as well. Carpenter finished the regular season at 17-4 with a
league-best 2.24 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP (2nd in NL). Only teammate Adam
Wainwright had more wins while only Dan Haren had a lower WHIP. 22 of
his 26 starts were Quality Starts (or 79% of the time — tied with Zack
Greinke) — only Tim Lincecum (81%) and Felix Hernandez (85%) did it more often. Imagine what he could have done if he didn’t miss
nearly five weeks with a rib cage injury? Wow.

Aaron Hill: The Blue Jays weren’t quite sure what they were getting when Aaron
Hill showed up to Spring Training this season. After all, he was
working his way back from post-concussion symptoms that limited him to
just 55 games in 2008. However, the 27-year-old Hill blistered the ball
from the start, batting .365/.412/.567 with five homers and 20 RBI in
April. He finished with a .286/.330/.499 line, leading all major league
second basemen with 36 homers (3rd in AL) and 108 RBI (5th). Only
Alfonso Soriano (38 in 2003, 39 in 2002) hit more home runs in a
season at the position in American League history. The Jays have tons
of problems to address in the offseason, but Hill and Adam Lind aren’t among them.

Scott Podsednik:
This is the kind of comeback story you can root for. Scott
Podsednik’s future in the majors looked uncertain after he was released
by the Rockies during Spring Training on the heels of a lousy
.253/.322/.333 line in 2008. He eventually signed on with the White Sox
in mid-April, and after spending a couple weeks with Triple-A
Charlotte, the 33-year-old outfielder returned to the majors when the
team’s center field options fizzled out. It didn’t take long for him
to secure a stranglehold on the job, batting .304/.353/.412 with seven
homers (most since 2004), 48 RBI (most since 2003), 30 stolen bases
(7th in AL) and 75 runs scored in 132 games. Chone Figgins will
probably be too rich for the White Sox blood during the offseason, so
look for “Scotty Pods” to return as the club’s leadoff hitter with a just reward in hand.

Justin Verlander: It’s easy to forget that Justin Verlander’s 17 losses were
tied with Barry Zito and Aaron Harang for the most in the majors last season. It
looked like he was headed for the same fate this season when he started
at 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA over his first four starts. However, he has been
one of the most dominant starters in the majors over his past 30 starts, going 19-7
with a 2.92 ERA. He kept the Tigers postseason hopes afloat on Sunday,
allowing three runs over 7 2/3 innings, tying C.C. Sabathia and Adam
Wainwright for the major league lead in victories. He was a true
workhorse for the Tigers in 2009, logging a major-league high 240 innings. The
26-year-old fireballer was tops in the league with 269 strikeouts while
his 20 games of eight strikeouts or more tied him with Tim Lincecum.

Todd Helton: Todd Helton’s chronic back condition reduced him to just 83 games in
2008, batting a career-worst .264/.391/.388. After undergoing
arthroscopic surgery last September, he opened the 2009 season with
serious questions about his durability and just how the surgery would
affect his performance at the plate. While he’ll never touch the same
historic on-base totals of his prime, he came pretty close in 2009,
batting .325./416/.489 with 15 homers and 86 RBI. Incredibly, he
managed to play in 151 games this season. His .904 OPS still placed him
among the top-15 in the league. The Rockies have to feel a little bit
better about the roughly $36 million they owe him over the next two

The international draft is all about MLB making money and the union selling out non-members

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - MARCH 13:  A fan flies the Dominican Republic flag during the game against Cuba during Round 2 of the World Baseball Classic on March 13, 2006 at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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On Monday we passed along a report that Major League Baseball and the MLBPA are negotiating over an international draft. That report — from ESPN’s Buster Olney — cited competitive balance and the well-being of international free agents as the reasons why they’re pushing for the draft.

We have long doubted those stated motivations and said so again in our post on Monday. But we’re just armchair skeptics when it comes to this. Ben Badler of Baseball America is an expert. Perhaps the foremost expert on international baseball, international signings and the like. Today he writes about a would-be international draft and he tears MLB, the MLBPA and their surrogates in the media to shreds with respect to their talking points.

Of course Badler is a nice guy so “tearing to shreds” is probably putting it too harshly. Maybe it’s better to say that he systematically dismantles the stated rationale for the international draft and makes plan what’s really going on: MLB is looking to save money and the players are looking to sell out non-union members to further their own bargaining position:

Major League Baseball has long wanted an international draft. The driving force behind implementing an international draft is for owners to control their labor costs by paying less money to international amateur players, allowing owners to keep more of that money . . . the players’ association doesn’t care about international amateur players as anything more than a bargaining chip. It’s nothing discriminatory against foreign players, it’s just that the union looks out for players on 40-man rosters. So international players, draft picks in the United States and minor leaguers who make less than $10,000 in annual salary get their rights sold out by the union, which in exchange can negotiate items like a higher major league minimum salary, adjustments to the Super 2 rules or modifying draft pick compensation attached to free agent signings.

Badler then walks through the process of how players are discovered, scouted and signed in Latin America and explains, quite convincingly, how MLB’s international draft and, indeed, its fundamental approach to amateurs in Latin America is lacking.

Read this. Then, every time a U.S.-based writer with MLB sources talks about the international draft, ask whether they know something Ben Badler doesn’t or, alternatively, whether they’re carrying water for either the league or the union.

President Bill Murray speaks about the Cubs from the White House

CHICAGO - APRIL 12:  Celebrity Bill Murray clowns around with Chicago media before the opening day game between the Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 12, 2004 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Pirates defeated the Cubs 13-2.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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I don’t know why Bill Murray is in Washington today. I don’t know why he’s at the White House. But I do know that he was there in Chicago Cubs gear, standing at the lectern in the press briefing room, voicing his full confidence in the Cubs prevailing in the NLCS, despite the fact that Clayton Kershaw is going for the Dodgers tomorrow night.

“Too many sticks,” president Murray said of the Cubs lineup. And something about better trees in Illinois.

Four. More. Years.