Can Barry Zito be the Comeback Player of the Year?

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Barry Zito 2.jpgAs I was reading Aaron’s last post one thought sprung to my mind: “I guess Barry Zito is the Comeback Player of the Year.” But then I thought about that a bit and now I’m not so sure.

Can you be the Comeback Player of the Year simply because of the expectations caused by your giant contract?  I mean, Zito had an ERA+ of 108 last year, which means that he was an above-average starter. To the extent that he is having a “comeback” year it is only because he’s paid to be an ace and has not been.

That doesn’t seem to be the point of the award, though. The award has only been around since 2005, but it has almost always gone to guys who suffered serious injuries or health problems (e.g. Jason Giambi, Chris Carpenter) suffered serious personal setbacks (e.g. Dmitri Young) or whose performance was so bad that it represented a career-threatening obstacle (e.g. Cliff Lee, who had been sent to the minors).

Zito doesn’t fit into any of those categories. He hasn’t been hurt. By all accounts his comfortable Bay Area existence has not been fraught with adversity. He pitched poorly in 2008, but (a) that was two years ago; and (b) he has otherwise been average or a little better.

If Zito wins the Comeback Player of the Year Award this season it’ll be solely because of the money he makes, not because he necessarily came back from anything. And I’m not sure I’m cool with that.

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.