Verlander, Pujols voted Comeback Players of the Year

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK – Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander and St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols won baseball’s Comeback Player of the Year awards Tuesday night.

Verlander, the American League recipient, returned from Tommy John surgery to lead Houston to its second World Series championship. He had the lowest ERA in the majors and was a unanimous winner of his third Cy Young Award – becoming the first player to earn the prize after not pitching in the previous season.

Pujols, honored in the National League, came back to St. Louis for his farewell season and posted his biggest numbers in years at age 42. The three-time MVP compiled an .895 OPS for the NL Central champions and became the fourth major leaguer to reach 700 career home runs.

The winners were chosen in voting by the 30 team beat reporters at MLB.com.

Verlander went 18-4 with a 1.75 ERA and 185 strikeouts in 28 starts and made his ninth All-Star team. He won Game 5 in Philadelphia for the first World Series win of his illustrious career, then became a free agent this month.

The 39-year-old right-hander made only one start in 2020 because of his elbow injury and missed the entire 2021 season while recovering from surgery.

Pujols batted .270 with 24 homers and 68 RBIs in 109 games for the Cardinals after getting released by the Los Angeles Angels in May 2021 and finishing last year with the Dodgers.

His OPS was his highest since his last season with the Cardinals in 2011 (.906) before joining the Angels, and his home runs were his most since hitting 31 in 2016 for the Angels.

The 11-time All-Star hit 18 home runs in the second half and retired after the Cardinals were eliminated from the playoffs by Philadelphia in the wild-card round.

He finished his career fourth in major league annals in home runs (703), second in RBIs (2,218) and total bases (6,211), and ninth in hits (3,384).

RHP Fairbanks, Rays agree to 3-year, $12 million contract

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Dave Nelson/USA TODAY Sports
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Reliever Pete Fairbanks and the Tampa Bay Rays avoided arbitration when they agreed Friday to a three-year, $12 million contract that could be worth up to $24.6 million over four seasons.

The deal includes salaries of $3,666,666 this year and $3,666,667 in each of the next two seasons. The Rays have a $7 million option for 2026 with a $1 million buyout.

His 2024 and 2025 salaries could increase by $300,000 each based on games finished in the previous season: $150,000 each for 35 and 40.

Tampa Bay’s option price could increase by up to $6 million, including $4 million for appearances: $1 million each for 60 and 70 in 2025; $500,000 for 125 from 2023-25 and $1 million each for 135, 150 and 165 from 2023-25. The option price could increase by $2 million for games finished in 2025: $500,000 each for 25, 30, 35 and 40.

Fairbanks also has a $500,000 award bonus for winning the Hoffman/Rivera reliever of the year award and $200,000 for finishing second or third.

The 29-year-old right-hander is 11-10 with a 2.98 ERA and 15 saves in 111 appearances, with all but two of the outings coming out of the bullpen since being acquired by the Rays from the Texas Rangers in July 2019.

Fairbanks was 0-0 with a 1.13 ERA in 24 appearances last year after beginning the season on the 60-day injured list with a right lat strain.

Fairbanks made his 2022 debut on July 17 and tied for the team lead with eight saves despite being sidelined more than three months. In addition, he is 0-0 with a 3.60 ERA in 12 career postseason appearances, all with Tampa Bay.

He had asked for a raise from $714,400 to $1.9 million when proposed arbitration salaries were exchanged Jan. 13, and the Rays had offered for $1.5 million.

Fairbanks’ agreement was announced two days after left-hander Jeffrey Springs agreed to a $31 million, four-year contract with Tampa Bay that could be worth $65.75 million over five seasons.

Tampa Bay remains scheduled for hearings with right-handers Jason Adam and Ryan Thompson, left-hander Colin Poche, third baseman Yandy Diaz and outfielder Harold Ramirez.