Who had a better year in MLB than Mike Trout?
The calendar is just days away from turning to 2013. With that, the book will effectively be closed on the 2012 season as we look ahead toward the year to come in MLB.
But 2012 provided several memorable performances that won't be quickly forgotten.
Obviously, some players were recognized for their achievements with MLB's individual awards, honoring the best hitters and pitchers in each league. Their place in baseball history is assured.
But plenty of other stars had great seasons, the kinds of seasons that they surely wish would never end. For some, 2012 was a breakout year. For those who already established themselves, this year provided affirmation of their greatness.
Here are 12 MLB stars who may not want to let go of 2012 and move on to the new year just yet. They might want to savor their great season a bit longer.
With a memoir in bookstores, 20 victories and the National League Cy Young Award, 2012 was a great year for R.A. Dickey.
The knuckleballer's season also included a streak of 44.2 innings without allowing an earned run, during which he looked like the most dominant starting pitcher in MLB.
After the season, Dickey even appeared on The Daily Show because he's one of the few baseball players—or professional athletes—that has interesting things to say and can talk about matters besides the sport he plays.
The year almost ended on a bad note, as Dickey and the New York Mets couldn't agree on a contract extension. But he was eventually traded to the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Blue Jays inked him to a two-year, $25 million deal, but also look like a favorite to win the AL East after general manager Alex Anthopoulos' aggressive team makeover.
Mike Trout was the runaway choice for American League Rookie of the Year and a runner-up for the league's MVP award.
Trout's case for MVP stoked a divisive debate between so-called traditionalists and sabermetrics devotees that caused hard feelings and heated arguments between baseball fans, reporters and analysts.
Ultimately, the Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera won the AL MVP, but Trout announced himself as a star presence in MLB for years to come. He batted .326 with a .963 OPS, 30 home runs, 83 RBI and 49 stolen bases in 139 games.
In the field, Trout's defense in center provided seemingly limitless range and highlight-reel catches. Unfortunately, he was robbed of a Gold Glove Award.
Anyone who wasn't sure what a "five-tool" player was in baseball could look at Trout's play and see a living embodiment of the term.
Did any baseball player have a better year than Buster Posey?
His .336 batting average led the National League. He won the league's MVP award. And his San Francisco Giants won the World Series.
That's an impressive trifecta, one that any player aspires to. (The Tigers' Miguel Cabrera won a Triple Crown, but didn't get that championship—and, in fact, made the final out as the Giants beat Detroit in the World Series.)
Baseball fans can argue over whether Posey, Yadier Molina or Carlos Ruiz is the best catcher in MLB, but the Giants' 25-year-old backstop has the most hardware to show off.
When Posey is in the lineup full time, the Giants win the World Series. San Francisco did it in 2010 and again this season. That's surely an oversimplification, but look at the results. No other player has had that kind of impact.
The race for the American League Cy Young Award was a close one between David Price and Justin Verlander. There didn't seem to be a wrong choice in the vote.
But the Tampa Bay Rays' left-hander emerged as the winner, finally receiving recognition as one of the best pitchers in MLB.
Price won 20 games for the Rays—one of two pitchers to reach that number in the AL—and led the league with a 2.56 ERA. To allow so few runs against the level of competition in the AL East was particularly impressive and was likely the difference in him winning the Cy Young.
The Rays finished five games behind the Yankees in the AL East and three games out of a wild-card playoff spot, but it wasn't because of Price's effort. Had Tampa Bay's offense been able to produce more, Price likely would have pitched in the postseason.
With the team's acquisitions of outfield phenom Wil Myers from the Kansas City Royals and Yunel Escobar from the Miami Marlins, and hopefully a full year from third baseman Evan Longoria, run support should be less of a problem for Price next season.
After a 2011 season during which he was limited to 43 games because of a torn labrum in his left shoulder, Adam LaRoche didn't appear to have much of a future with the Washington Nationals.
Nats fans really wanted Prince Fielder, and when Fielder signed with the Tigers, general manager Mike Rizzo had to answer to the local reporters.
But LaRoche came back fully healthy and showed he could be the power-hitting first baseman that the Nationals wanted and needed.
With 33 home runs and 105 RBI, LaRoche had a resurgent Gold Glove and Silver Slugger-winning season that made him an MVP candidate. For the first two months of the season, he was virtually the only offense that Washington had in their lineup.
LaRoche picked a great time to have a breakout season, as he was in a contract year. However, his return to the Nationals is currently uncertain. LaRoche wants a three-year deal, knowing it will probably be the last contract of his career. The Nats won't budge from a two-year offer.
Regardless of where he ends up, LaRoche should cash in on his 2012 success.
The first baseball player to win a hitting Triple Crown in 45 years surely doesn't want 2012 to end.
With a .330 batting average, 44 home runs and 139 RBI, the Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera became the first batter to lead his league in all three of those offensive categories since Carl Yastrzemski did it for the Boston Red Sox in 1967.
That achievement also earned Cabrera his first AL MVP award in a surprisingly one-sided vote among Baseball Writers Association of America balloters.
For all the talk about the many ways Mike Trout impacted a game besides the traditional numbers used to measure great hitters, voters stuck with the conventional view and gave Cabrera 22 of 28 first-place votes.
Unfortunately, Cabrera was also the final out of the 2012 season, taking a called third strike from the San Francisco Giants' Sergio Romo in Game 4 of the World Series to cap a four-game sweep.
Obviously, that's not the way Cabrera—or the Tigers—wanted to end the year. But he gave fans throughout baseball and the culture at large some history to witness with one of the best offensive seasons in recent memory.
Ryan Braun did the best he could to erase the memory of an offseason filled with controversy.
Braun's 2011 NL MVP award was arguably tainted by a positive test for excess testosterone. But the test results and the subsequent 50-game suspension that came with it were overturned due to questions of how Braun's sample was handled.
If there were any doubts as to whether or not Braun's 2011 performance was valid, the Milwaukee Brewers left fielder smacked those misgivings into the seats.
Braun led the NL with 41 home runs and finished second with 112 RBI. He ranked among the league's top five hitters in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging, while leading the NL with a .987 OPS.
The Brewers even got into the NL wild-card playoff race during the last month of the season, ultimately finishing five games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for that extra postseason bid.
Had Milwaukee made the playoffs, would Braun have had a better case for a second consecutive MVP or did he have no chance with his offseason drug-testing scandal?
What is it about Toronto that seems to invigorate sluggers into breakout seasons?
Two years after Jose Bautista exploded for 54 home runs, Edwin Encarnacion had a similar eruption, smacking 42 home runs with 110 RBI for the Blue Jays.
Just imagine if he had been the one to prevent Miguel Cabrera from winning the AL Triple Crown. Edwin Encarnacion? Yes, Edwin Encarnacion.
Considering he had never hit more than 26 homers in a season, some eyebrows may raise at Encarnacion's spike in power numbers.
But it's also worth noting that he's never been more consistent and stayed healthier through a season than he did in 2012. Encarnacion played 151 games, making 644 plate appearances—both career-high totals.
How much more effective will Encarnacion be with Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera hitting in front of him next season? Here's one guy on this list that may be eagerly anticipating the 2013 season as well.
For all the attention Stephen Strasburg got this season, he arguably wasn't the best starter in the Washington Nationals rotation.
Gio Gonzalez's first year in the National League after being traded from the Oakland Athletics couldn't have gone much better. The 27-year-old left-hander led MLB with 21 wins this season.
But sophisticated baseball fans and analysts know that wins don't necessarily measure a pitcher's merit anymore. That's all right, because Gonzalez put plenty of other notable numbers on his résumé.
Gonzalez finished among the NL's top 10 starting pitchers with a 3.16 ERA and 207 strikeouts, and finished two-thirds of an inning short of his third consecutive 200-inning season.
But perhaps most impressive was his .206 opponents' batting average. No starter in MLB had a better mark against the opposition. Some pitchers had more strikeouts, others gave up fewer walks, but not allowing opposing batters to get hits is really what pitching is all about, right?
The Boston Red Sox were supposed to get the better end of their trade with the Oakland Athletics one year ago.
Andrew Bailey was going to be the closer that the Red Sox needed after losing Jonathan Papelbon to free agency. Meanwhile, the A's were getting two prospects that would hopefully be future contributors to the big league club.
Would anyone have guessed that Josh Reddick would be the breakout player of this deal?
Reddick had shown promise in his first three seasons with Boston, looking capable of developing into a solid major leaguer. But he became an impact player in his debut season with Oakland.
With 32 home runs and 85 RBI, Reddick was the power hitter that the A's needed in their lineup. However, he was hardly a one-dimensional player; Reddick's defense in right field earned him his first Gold Glove.
How great is this deal looking for the A's? Reddick isn't eligible for arbitration until 2014. Oakland general manager Billy Beane may ultimately decide to trade his right fielder before he becomes expensive, but the A's should get at least one more year of good production out of Reddick.
How often does a closer have a case for the Cy Young Award?
Some writers and analysts—this one included—believe that starting pitchers should get more consideration for the award because they pitch so many more innings per season and thus have more of an impact on their team.
But Craig Kimbrel had the sort of season for the Atlanta Braves that made everyone think long and hard about how strongly a reliever should be considered for Cy Young honors.
Kimbrel tied for the NL lead with 42 saves, but that doesn't quite show how dominant a season he had. The 24-year-old right-hander allowed only seven runs and 27 hits in 62.2 innings, and struck out 116 batters, giving him a rate of 16.7 K's per nine innings.
With R.A. Dickey, Clayton Kershaw, Gio Gonzalez and a handful of other NL starting pitchers having outstanding seasons, 2012 wasn't the year that a reliever was going to win the league's Cy Young. But Kimbrel was so good that he had to be in the conversation. To some, he should have won the award.
No one seemed to be enjoying himself more at the end of the 2012 season than Sergio Romo.
Romo seized the Giants' closer job toward the end of the season, compiling 14 saves and a strikeout rate of 10.2 batters per nine innings. He was even better in the postseason, allowing just one run in 10.2 innings.
Of course, he played a decisive role in the final moment of the 2012 season, freezing Miguel Cabrera on an 89 mph fastball right down the middle of the plate for a called strike three to clinch San Francisco's second World Series championship in three years.
Romo had become a star before that, however, by video-bombing dugout interviews during the playoffs and making Joe Buck fall in love with him during their in-game chats.
Apparently, there's only room for one eccentric reliever in San Francisco. And with Brian Wilson suffering the second serious elbow injury of his career, the Giants' closer role now belongs to Romo. He has the affection and fascination of plenty of MLB fans to go with it.
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