2012's Best and Worst from MLB

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistDecember 24, 2012

2012's Best and Worst from MLB

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    With the new year right around the corner, it's time to look back on the year that was 2012 in the MLB.

    The season culminated in a dominant World Series performance by the Giants, and the regular season gave us more than our fair share of memorable moments.

    So here is my take on some of the "bests" and "worsts" of 2012 in the MLB, as we put the year behind us and look forward to 2013.

Worst Free-Agent Signing: Heath Bell

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    After saving 40-plus games in three straight seasons, Bell hit the free-agent market as one of the most sought-after relievers of the free-agent class.

    He signed a three-year, $27 million deal with the Marlins as part of their spending spree, and it looked as though he'd be a key piece of what was expected to be a successful 2012 season.

    Instead, the Marlins flopped, and Bell did the same, blowing three of his first five save chances and finishing the season 19-of-27 on saves with a 5.09 ERA.

    He was sent to the Diamondbacks this offseason as part of a three-team trade, and he'll look to get back to the level that made him one of the game's best ninth-inning arms.

Best Free-Agent Signing: Josh Willingham

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    After hitting 29 home runs with 98 RBI while batting cleanup in a dismal Athletics offense, a number of teams were interested in Willingham when he hit the free-agent market.

    In the end, the Twins signed him to a three-year, $21 million deal to replace the departed Michael Cuddyer, and he did that and then some.

    The 33-year-old hit .260 BA, 35 HR, 110 RBI with a .890 OPS and won the Silver Slugger, as he was arguably the best bargain in all of baseball at $7 million last season.

Worst Trade: Padres Trade Anthony Rizzo for Andrew Cashner

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    After acquiring Yonder Alonso from the Reds along with three other players in the deal that sent Mat Latos out of San Diego, the Padres had two of the game's top first-base prospects in Alonso and Anthony Rizzo.

    Rizzo became trade bait, and he was sent to the rebuilding Cubs for starter/reliever Andrew Cashner, a hard-throwing right-hander who missed much of 2011 with arm problems.

    After roughly three months of demolishing Triple-A pitching to the tune of .342 BA, 23 HR, 62 RBI, Rizzo made his Cubs debut and showed all the makings of a future impact run-producer.

    Over 337 big league at-bats, he hit .285 BA, 15 HR, 48 RBI. Ideally, he'll man first base and bat cleanup in Chicago for the next decade.

    Meanwhile, Cashner was limited to just 46.1 innings of work, making five starts, 28 relief appearances and multiple trips to the DL.

    He's off to a roaring start next season, too, as he's expected to miss the start of the season after injuring the thumb on his throwing hand in a hunting accident (h/t ESPN).

    Trading Rizzo wasn't a bad idea, seeing as Alonso looks to have a bright future as well, but there is no question the Padres should have been able to get substantially more in return.

Best Trade: Giants Acquire Marco Scutaro

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    Looking to improve their average offense to a late-season push, the Giants acquired Marco Scutaro and Hunter Pence at the trade deadline.

    While it was the former All-Star Pence who captured the headlines at the time, it was Scutaro was stole the show down the stretch and in the postseason.

    In 61 games with the Giants, Scutaro hit .362 BA, 3 HR, 44 RBI as he fit perfectly in the No. 2 spot in the San Francisco lineup.

    All it took to acquire Scutaro from the Rockies was 23-year-old infield prospect Charlie Culberson, who has hit .262/.311/.384 in six minor league seasons.

Flop Pitcher: Ricky Romero

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    Coming from someone who used a fairly early pick on him in his fantasy baseball league, there is no doubt Romero was among the biggest disappointments of 2012.

    Romero had improved in each of his three big league seasons leading up to 2012, and he appeared poised to emerge as one of the game's top starters after a 15-11, 2.92 ERA, 178-strikeout season in 2011.

    However, he took a huge step back, ranking as one of the worst starters in all of baseball when he went 9-14 with a 5.77 ERA and an AL-high 105 walks.

    He's still just 28, and there will be a lot less pressure on him this coming season as he'll be the team's No. 5 starter rather than the staff ace.

Flop Hitter: Eric Hosmer

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    Hosmer entered the 2011 season as one of the top prospects in baseball, and he turned in a terrific rookie season at the age of 21 with a .293 BA, 19 HR, 78 RBI line to finish third in AL Rookie of the Year voting.

    Expected to build on that and emerge as one of the game's top run producers, Hosmer instead took a huge step backwards as he struggled through the entire season.

    He finished with a .232 BA, 14 HR, 60 RBI line, and the Royals will need him to bounce back and serve as the primary run-producer they expected him to be last season.

Breakout Pitcher: Chris Sale

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    The White Sox took Sale in the first round of the 2010 draft, and he made his big league debut that same season with a 1.93 ERA and 12.3 K/9 in 21 appearances out of the bullpen.

    He thrived in a setup role again in 2011 but was moved to the rotation for the 2012 season. While he tired a bit down the stretch (0-2, 5.82 ERA in final three starts), he emerged as a bona fide staff ace.

    On the year, he went 17-8 with a 3.05 ERA, and he struck out 192 hitters in 192 innings of work. The 23-year-old appears to have as bright a future as any young starter in the game.

Breakout Hitter: Edwin Encarnacion

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    Once a top prospect in the Reds organization, Encarnacion made his big league debut at 22 and was the team's everyday third baseman by the following season.

    However, it was not until this past season that he finally tapped into his tremendous potential, as he entered the season with a .260/.336/.453 slash line and 110 career home runs in seven seasons.

    This year, he jumped that slash line up to .280/.384/.557 with 42 home runs and 110 RBI as he carried the Blue Jays offense with Jose Bautista on the shelf.

Worst Pitcher: Jonathan Sanchez

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    In a deal that appeared to benefit both sides at the time, the Royals shipped outfielder Melky Cabrera to the Giants for left-hander Jonathan Sanchez.

    Rather than shoring up their rotation as they hoped, he struggled to a 1-6 record and 7.76 ERA through 12 starts before being shipped to the Rockies for Jeremy Guthrie in a swap of underperforming pitchers.

    He was even worse in Colorado, posting a 9.53 ERA in three starts, and it all starts with his lack of control (7.4 BB/9) and inability to miss bats when he is in the zone (11.4 H/9).

Worst Hitter: Drew Stubbs

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    Back in 2010, Stubbs looked to be on his way to stardom with a 22-home run, 30-steal season in his first year as a full-time starter.

    However, he followed that up by leading the league with 205 strikeouts in 2011, and he was even worse this past season.

    With a .213/.277/.333 slash line and a 30.5 percent strikeout rate compared to just a 7.7 percent walk rate, Stubbs brought little to the table offensively.

    He's still a great fielder and has a useful mix of power and speed, but he just doesn't hit for enough power right now to offset his lack of plate discipline and low contact rate.

Best Pitcher: R.A. Dickey

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    Perhaps the story of the season in 2012 from an individual standpoint was the breakout performance of Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. 

    The 37-year-old went 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA and 230 strikeouts in 233.2 innings of work. He led the NL with five complete games and three shutouts and put together an impressive streak of 44.1 straight innings without an earned run.

    He'll take his talents to Toronto this coming season, and it will be interesting to see how he follows up his breakout season.

Best Hitter: Miguel Cabrera

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    A case could certainly be made for Mike Trout being named AL MVP this past year, but when it comes to hitting in particular, there is no question Cabrera was the top dog in 2012.

    With a .330 BA, 44 HR, 139 RBI line, Cabrera won his second straight AL batting title and the first Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski back in 1967.

    After back-to-back "down" seasons from Albert Pujols, it is safe to say that Cabrera has emerged as the premier hitter in all of baseball, and his 2012 season was his best to date.