MLB's 10 Biggest Flops of the Year
Baseball has been full of surprises this season.
The Washington Nationals have gone from a hopeful contender to a team that currently has the best record in baseball. The Pittsburgh Pirates are headed toward their first postseason since 1992.
The Baltimore Orioles have risen up as a surprise challenger to the New York Yankees in the AL East. And the Oakland Athletics may be the biggest surprise of all, contending for the AL West title and a wild-card playoff spot on the strength of a young pitching staff that seemingly doesn't realize it shouldn't be doing this well.
But baseball has also seen plenty of disappointments this year. Teams expected to be major contenders have failed to fulfill expectations. Breakouts ended up breaking down instead. There have been some major letdowns during the 2012 season. Here are the 10 most notable flops.
We could just begin and end this list with the Miami Marlins. Has there been a bigger disappointment in baseball this season?
With a new ballpark, new uniforms, new manager and new players, it was supposed to be a new era for baseball in South Florida. Instead, the new Marlins turned out to be the same ol' Marlins dressed in bright orange alternate jerseys.
This team did have a brief stretch of glory. The Marlins went 21-8 in May and actually tied for first place in the NL East in early June. But climbing to those heights just led to a bigger fall. From there, they plummeted to a lime-green splat at the bottom of the division standings.
Frustrated with an underperforming team that was at least expected to be a fringe playoff contender, ownership went into sell-off mode at midseason. That led to a far too familiar scenario for Marlins fans: watching some of their best players shipped off to other teams.
Former franchise cornerstone Hanley Ramirez, his lethargic attitude and nearly $40 million in remaining salary were dumped to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez were traded to the Detroit Tigers, but at least the Marlins got top pitching prospect Jacob Turner in that deal.
Ace pitcher Josh Johnson was shopped around the majors, but couldn't yield the Marlins' asking price.
According to CBS Sports' Danny Knobler, owner Jeffrey Loria is angry and his team won't like him when he's angry. Changes are coming to the front office and surely to the roster. But until Loria realizes that he's been the problem all along, how much can really be different?
Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox as a whole have been a disappointment ever since the end of last season, when they went 7-20 in September and squandered a nine-game lead in the American League wild-card race.
That was followed by the now-classic skewer job by Bob Hohler in The Boston Globe, in which accounts of fried-chicken-and-beer fueled clubhouse escapades and a prescription-drug hazed, womanizing manager scandalized Red Sox Nation.
The Red Sox thought they made the necessary changes in scapegoating Terry Francona but didn't clean out their house nearly as thoroughly as they should have. New manager Bobby Valentine had no idea what kind of cesspool he was stepping into.
One player expected to lead a turnaround and flush the 2011 collapse from memory was ace starting pitcher Jon Lester. Instead, he just took the dirty mop bucket and splashed the filthy water back on the floor.
Lester has had his worst season as a big leaguer, compiling a 5-10 record and 5.36 ERA. He leads the majors with 90 runs allowed. He's giving up 9.9 hits per nine innings.
The Red Sox had a chance to shake up their roster at the July 31 trade deadline, with suitors like the Atlanta Braves showing interest in giving Lester a change of scenery. But Boston opted to keep the southpaw it has signed through 2014.
That was probably the right decision, but the Red Sox are hoping 2012 is a fluke for Lester.
Considering that the Philadelphia Phillies were expected to contend for another NL East title or at least a wild-card playoff spot, should they be considered an even greater flop than the Miami Marlins?
At least the Phillies have the excuse of injuries to point to.
Ryan Howard was already tabbed to miss the first half of the year while recovering from the ruptured Achilles' tendon he suffered in the last at-bat of Philadelphia's 2011 season. Then Chase Utley's knees kept him out until the end of June.
Roy Halladay confirmed the worst fears of those who thought his arm was worn down by developing a sore shoulder. Placido Polanco can barely take the field anymore.
With a depleted lineup, the Phillies have had one of the worst offenses in the National League this season. Spending so lavishly on the starting rotation came back to bite general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., as he could do little to fill the holes on his roster. That finally forced Amaro into a role he's never played before: trade deadline seller.
Shane Victorino was traded to the Dodgers. Hunter Pence was dealt to the San Francisco Giants. Cliff Lee was dangled to any playoff contender willing to surrender the center field and third base prospects that Amaro was seeking.
The hope is that shedding some payroll will create enough flexibility to build a more complete—and younger—roster for next season. By re-signing Cole Hamels, the Phillies will bring back a strong top three in their starting rotation. But will that be enough to contend next year?
Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals
The Kansas City Royals were a popular sleeper pick in the AL Central before the season, a young upstart presumably ready to challenge the old guard of the Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians.
However, it quickly became apparent that none of the fresh talent that excited so many was on the Royals' pitching staff. Kansas City has a team ERA of 4.40, one of the worst in the major leagues this season.
But no one embodies the disappointment of 2012 more than first baseman Eric Hosmer. After a rookie season in which he hit .293/.334/.465 with 19 home runs and 78 RBI, Hosmer looked ready to become baseball's next great first baseman.
Instead, he's been one of baseball's great flops, hit hard by the sophomore jinx. Hosmer began the season by hitting .188 with a .662 OPS in April. It's gotten slightly better for him since then—he hit .270 with a .778 OPS in June—but he hasn't been able to dig out of the hole he created.
It's important to remember that Hosmer is only 22 years old, however. He has plenty of opportunity to bounce back from a bad season, develop into the great hitter most everyone expects him to be and be the face of a franchise that hopefully doesn't have to settle for many last-place finishes in the future.
Much like the Phillies, the Milwaukee Brewers couldn't overcome an onslaught of injuries that buried them this season.
Shortstop Alex Gonzalez and first baseman Mat Gamel went down with season-ending injuries in early May. Pitcher Shaun Marcum developed a sore elbow and hasn't pitched since mid-June.
Worst of all, one of the season's few bright spots—catcher Jonathan Lucroy—broke his hand when a suitcase fell on it in his hotel room.
Expected to contend in the NL Central and perhaps defend last year's division title, the Brewers instead took a hard slide down the standings. As of Aug. 10, the Brew Crew is 51-59 and 14 games behind the first-place Reds in the division.
Perhaps closer John Axford best represents the 2012 Brewers. He's been nowhere near the pitcher that saved 46 games and compiled a 1.95 ERA last season. Axford has followed that up with a 5.10 ERA thus far, 18 saves and seven blown save opportunities that cost him the closer job.
General manager Doug Melvin didn't sell off all the pieces that he probably should have. But failing to sign Zack Greinke to a contract extension and dealing him to the Los Angeles Angels before the July 31 trade deadline says everything you need to know about how this season has gone in Milwaukee.
Justin Upton, Arizona Diamondbacks
In his fifth major league season, Justin Upton looked to be developing into a future superstar for the Arizona Diamondbacks. With 31 home runs and 88 RBI last year, Upton was an MVP candidate for one of the surprise teams in baseball. The future looked extremely bright for him.
That future may still hold plenty of promise for the 24-year-old right fielder. But Upton has been a major disappointment this season, hitting only nine home runs with 45 RBI and failing to be the cornerstone player that the D-Backs envisioned him to be.
General manager Kevin Towers either sees something in Upton he doesn't like or is intrigued by the haul of prospects his young outfielder could possibly bring in. Whatever the reason, Towers continues to entertain the possibility of trading his budding superstar.
For most of July, rumors of Upton being dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Atlanta Braves, Texas Rangers, New York Yankees or any other playoff contender in need of corner-outfield help kept the trade deadline buzz alive.
Ultimately, Towers decided to hold onto Upton for the rest of this season. But he's made it known that Upton is available and has strongly considered trading him at least twice since taking over the GM gig in Arizona.
Towers wants to trade Upton and will probably deal him in the offseason in hopes of bringing some young position player talent into the D-Backs' minor-league system.
Perhaps expecting the Colorado Rockies to contend with the Giants, Dodgers and D-Backs in the NL West was too much.
Yet the Rockies already had a strong lineup and added Michael Cuddyer and Marco Scutaro in the offseason. If their young pitching staff could develop and yield a fledgling ace starter, this team may have had a chance this season.
But the pitching staff has been an absolute disaster.
Veterans Jeremy Guthrie and Jamie Moyer were tabbed to be the anchors of a young starting rotation, but instead dragged the staff down to oceanic depths.
Juan Nicasio and Jhoulys Chacin fought injuries. And Drew Pomeranz and Alex White—acquired in last year's Ubaldo Jimenez trade—failed to develop into the top-level starters the team needed.
That led the Rockies to resort to the drastic measures of going with a four-man pitching rotation and limiting each starter to 75 pitches per outing. Giving the plan a fancy name like "Project 5,183" sounds exciting but looks more like insanity.
The presumed idea was to help save an overworked bullpen. Yet the logic of limiting starters' innings and thus forcing relievers to pitch more innings has just never made any sense.
Give credit to the Rockies for trying something different in an attempt to salvage a hopelessly lost season. But this team needs to follow a far more traditional path next year.
Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants
Somehow, the San Francisco Giants hold first place in the NL West despite their ace starter having the worst season of his six-year major league career.
Tim Lincecum is 6-11 with a 5.43 ERA in 23 starts this season. In the first half of the year, Lincecum had the worst ERA of any starting pitcher in baseball, carrying a 6.42 mark (along with a 3-10 record) on his shoulders.
Whether it's because his mechanics are out of whack, his strength was sapped by a 20-pound offseason weight loss, or because his arm is just worn out after four years of heavy use from a body that probably wasn't meant to withstand that kind of rigor, Lincecum has been a total mystery this year.
However, he's been much better during the season's second half, compiling a 3-1 record and 2.48 ERA in five starts. Lincecum continues to compete and manager Bruce Bochy kept him in his regular turn in the Giants' rotation. His velocity seems to be coming back to last season's levels and he's throwing his slider again.
With the Giants in a tough race with the Dodgers for a playoff spot, Lincecum will obviously be a key part to the postseason charge. Whatever happened during that terrible first half of the season will hopefully never been seen again.
The Cleveland Indians were expected to contend with the Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox for the AL Central title—and perhaps one of those extra wild-card playoff spots—this season.
But it just never came together for the Tribe, and the season climax will probably end up being the just-ended 11-game losing streak the team endured.
Grady Sizemore was expected to provide the lineup with a strong leadoff hitter and excellent outfield defense, but succumbed to a back injury and hasn't seen the field at all this year.
Carlos Santana took a major step back, hitting only 12 home runs with 51 RBI to this point, perhaps worn down by the demands of playing catcher. And Asdrubal Cabrera hasn't been much better, supplying half of the 25-homer, 90-RBI output he gave the Indians last year.
The starting rotation has been a major disappointment as well. The major offender here has been Ubaldo Jimenez, who was expected to be an ace-level starter—or at least a strong No. 2 starter behind Justin Masterson—when he was acquired from Colorado a year ago.
Jimenez actually highlights the curiosity of this year's Indians team. General manager Chris Antonetti and president Mark Shapiro made what looked to be an "all-in" move last season in getting Jimenez. To pull off the trade, the Tribe had to tap into a deep well of minor league talent that looked to make Cleveland a strong future contender.
That move didn't pay off in the way the Indians had hoped. Maybe Jimenez is just never going to be the pitcher that he was in the first half of 2010 with a 15-1 record and 2.20 ERA. But a major investment like that was never followed up with a commitment to bringing in some top-level free agent talent for this season.
Did the plan change? Did ownership see that the Jimenez move failed and decide it wasn't worth supplementing with more talent?
We may never know the answers. But the Indians look like a team that squandered an opportunity and may spend years trying to recover.
Matt Garza, Chicago Cubs
Calling Matt Garza a flop really isn't fair. And to be frank, it's a stretch to include him on this list when he's had a perfectly respectable season.
A 3.91 ERA should result in a record far better than 5-7, which indicates that Garza has been pitching for a bad Chicago Cubs team this year.
But we're labeling him a flop because he wasn't able to give the Cubs what they truly needed this season. Garza needed to be traded—presumably to a playoff contender—for a load of prospects that would help provide the depth that president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer so desperately want for their minor-league organization.
Instead, Garza developed a triceps injury just before the July 31 deadline, scaring off any team thinking of making a deal for him. Those fears were confirmed when Garza went on the disabled list with a stress reaction in his right elbow.
Garza could still be dealt for prospects during the offseason. But he'll be less appealing with one year left before free agency than he would've been with a half-season and one additional full season at this year's trade deadline.
The injury turned out to be yet another example of bad luck for the Cubs. Epstein is either left to salvage whatever he can get for Garza in the offseason or hope he can be the ace for a rebuilding team in 2013.
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