Adam Wainwright perhaps has the most remarkable journey back from injury, in that his right elbow surgery at the beginning of Spring Training was, for many, an ominous turn for the Cardinals' season to come. That the season ended in World Series celebration with recuperating ace Wainwright rightfully enjoying every bit of it with his Cards brethren was no subtle irony.
While the Cardinals are entering an offseason wondering whether the iconic Albert Pujols will return, at least they know Wainwright will, and that very fact figures to be a plus for St. Louis, no matter what the future of Pujols holds.
Much like co-ace Chris Carpenter did at age 32, Wainwright is hoping reconstructive elbow surgery at age 30 leads to healthy years down the road. So far, so good, as a normal throwing routine is the goal for February. Wainwright was getting his fastball velocity back toward the 90-mph range in October -- he even threw out a ceremonial first pitch in the World Series.
Buster Posey is, he hopes, into a normal offseason mode after some good work in Arizona while rehabilitating his fractured left ankle, an injury sustained when Florida's Scott Cousins blasted him and bent Posey's leg backward at home plate. That was in late May, not quite two months into his second season after winning the 2010 National League Rookie of the Year Award, and Posey's season was over that instant. It was a double whammy for the Giants, losing their catcher and cleanup hitter, the first and perhaps most painful of many blows to their World Series defense.
Having wrapped up the Arizona portion of his rehab, where he recently ran corners for the first time since the injury, Posey will be spending the offseason at home in Georgia with his wife, Kristen, and their 2 1/2-month-old twins, Lee and Addison. And when they're getting ready for their first birthday, a real and full second season will be Daddy's goal on the field.
"Overall, I'm really happy," Posey said as he was wrapping up his Arizona workouts at the end of October. "I'd say I'm about four, five weeks ahead of where I thought I'd be at this point. To be at this point five months removed from the injury ... I feel really good about that."
Josh Johnson was off to one of the best starts of the season in the Majors, cruising into May having earned Pitcher of the Month honors in the NL for April. But then he felt some shoulder tightness on May 16, and soon after his 2011 season was over before it really picked up steam for the 6-foot-7 right-hander.
The best words Marlins fans could hear about it right now?
"The shoulder feels great," Johnson said last weekend. "I haven't felt anything in a long time."
Johnson has been on a throwing program and plans to long toss throughout the winter to continue to build up arm strength. He ran into some blister issues as he was throwing simulated games at the Marlins' Spring Training complex at the end of the regular season. But that didn't keep him from walking the runway at the Miami Marlins renaming ceremony and fashion show, and won't keep him from being back at full strength when he returns to the complex for Spring Training 2012.
Ryan Howard, in one of the most memorable images of October, crumpled to the ground while making the last out of the Division Series against the Cardinals, having ruptured his left Achilles tendon. He had surgery within days and is targeting a full return for the start of the regular season, assuming all goes well.
Howard isn't the only member of the Phillies using the offseason to get healthy, as Placido Polanco is recovering from double sports-hernia surgery, Cole Hamels from removal of loose bodies in his left elbow and a sports-hernia operation as well, and Hunter Pence is recovering from, yes, you guessed it, surgery from a sports hernia.
A few other injury comebacks in the works:
Lest we forget, two-time Cy Young winner Johan Santana is coming off a season lost to shoulder surgery. He's expected to be ready for Spring Training and what will be his fourth season on the field for the Mets, which before his one-season interruption brought 40 wins and a 2.85 ERA but a higher WHIP and fewer strikeouts than his best Twins days. There's a lot riding on his return, too: He's got two more guaranteed years and a $25 million team option remaining on his six-year, $137.5 million contract.
Oakland's rotation took four injury hits in the month of May, and two key left-handed cogs for that young group hope to get back in action in 2012. Dallas Braden (shoulder surgery) is on track for Spring Training, while Brett Anderson (Tommy John surgery) is hoping for a midseason return.
One factor in the Braves' collapse down the stretch was they couldn't get Jair Jurrjens back on the mound, thanks to a right knee ailment. It's one they hope is behind the right-hander heading into '12, assuming he's still around as trade rumors swirl around talented the 25-year-old.
Stephen Drew hopes to be back for a suddenly resurgent Arizona team after missing most of the second half with a broken right ankle. It's apparent the D-backs would like some insurance, however, with both Willie Bloomquist and John MacDonald re-signed quickly.