2012 MLB Busts Guaranteed to Post Better Years in 2013
No one ever wants to be labeled a "bust" or a "flop," but each season there are a handful of players who come up well short of expectations and turn in a disappointing campaign.
In some cases this signals the beginning of the end, but for others a bounce-back season is a reasonable expectation.
With that, here are the 2012 MLB busts who are in the best position to post better seasons in 2013.
I opted not to consider a player who missed substantial time due to injury to be a bust, so guys like Mariano Rivera, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Troy Tulowitzki, Jacoby Ellsbury, Roy Halladay and Carl Crawford aren't included on this list.
Instead, the focus was strictly on players who disappointed with their performance on the field and who are capable of turning things around with a big season in 2013.
RP John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers
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2012 Stats: 75 G, 5-8, 35-of-44 SV, 4.67 ERA, 12.1 K/9
A year after leading the National League with 46 saves and taking home NL Rolaids Relief Man honors in 2011, John Axford took a big step back last season.
He struggled to the point where he actually lost the closer's job during the second half to Jim Henderson, but he reclaimed it and converted 13-of-14 save chances with a 2.93 ERA over the final month of the season.
The Milwaukee Brewers' offseason focus was tweaking their bullpen, but they gave Axford a vote of confidence in the closer's role, and the job will again be his in 2013.
He may not pitch quite as well as he did in his breakout 2011 season, but he should again rank among the better closers in the National League.
1B Justin Smoak, Seattle Mariners
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2012 Stats: .217/.290/.364, 19 HR, 51 RBI, 49 R
Acquired from the Texas Rangers at the deadline in 2010 as the key return for Cliff Lee, Justin Smoak has failed to live up to his tremendous power potential so far in Seattle.
He's hit 34 home runs over the past two seasons, but he simply hasn't hit enough to be anything short of a liability offensively.
He shortened his swing late last season and hit .341/.426/.580 with five home runs over the season's final month. That success has carried over to the spring, where he's hit .386/.417/.773.
This is likely a make-or-break season for Smoak, and there is reason to believe he could be in line for a breakout campaign.
SP Dan Haren, Washington Nationals
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
2012 Stats: 30 GS, 12-13, 4.33 ERA, 142 K, 176.2 IP
Dan Haren entered last year as one of the best pitchers in baseball, coming off of a season in which he went 16-10 with a 3.17 ERA.
However, back and hip issues hampered him last season, and he put up the worst numbers of his career in a contract year.
He settled on a one-year, $13 million deal with the Washington Nationals to replace Edwin Jackson in their rotation, and he'll be looking to position himself for a multi-year deal next offseason.
It hasn't been the prettiest spring (19.1 IP, 23 H, 13 ER), but those numbers are inflated by a poor outing in which Haren was battling some dead arm. He may not return to elite form, but he should improve on last year's numbers in a low-pressure situation in Washington.
3B Michael Young, Philadelphia Phillies
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2012 Stats: .277/.312/.370, 8 HR, 67 RBI, 79 R
In his 13th and what would turn out to be final season with the Rangers, the 36-year-old Michael Young put up the worst numbers of his solid big league career.
Due $16 million in the final year of his contract, the Rangers sent Young and $10 million to the Philadelphia Phillies for reliever Josh Lindblom and prospect Lisalverto Bonilla.
After playing all over the field the past two seasons, he'll be the Phillies' everyday third baseman, and that stability could help him get back on track offensively. He'll also be looking to prove he has something left in a contract year.
RP Heath Bell, Arizona Diamondbacks
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2012 Stats: 73 G, 4-5, 19-of-27 SV, 5.09 ERA, 8.3 K/9
With three straight 40-plus save seasons under his belt, Heath Bell was a hot commodity when he hit the free-agent market last offseason.
He wound up signing a three-year, $27 million deal with the Miami Marlins as part of their busy offseason, and like the team in general, he flopped big time, eventually losing his job to Steve Cishek.
He was shipped to Arizona this offseason as part of a three-team deal, and he'll serve alongside David Hernandez in setting up closer J.J. Putz.
The 35-year-old thrived in a setup role for Trevor Hoffman before becoming a closer, and with a chip on his shoulder and far less pressure than last season, he should once again be a solid late-inning option.
CF Cameron Maybin, San Diego Padres
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2012 Stats: .243/.306/.349, 8 HR, 45 RBI, 67 R, 26 SB
A former top prospect with the Detroit Tigers and Marlins, Cameron Maybin was acquired from Florida for a pair of relievers prior to the 2011 season.
He finally had a breakout season of sorts in his first year in San Diego, swiping 40 bases and posting a 4.6 WAR (h/t FanGraphs).
That was enough for the Padres to lock the 25-year-old up with a five-year, $25 million deal, and he responded with a dreadful season last year.
However, hidden in his rough final numbers was a solid second half, as he hit .283/.333/.402 after the break. If he can build off of that, there is still time for him to be a key piece of the Padres' future.
SP Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox
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2012 Stats: 33 GS, 9-14, 4.82 ERA, 166 K, 205.1 IP
Jon Lester was one of the best left-handers in all of baseball from 2008-11, going a combined 65-32 with a 3.33 ERA and 8.7 K/9 as the ace of the Boston Red Sox.
However, like much of the Red Sox roster, he struggled last season, and as a result his name even came up in trade rumors as the deadline approached (h/t ESPN's Buster Olney).
He stayed put, and he'll once again enter the season as the ace of the Red Sox staff. He is in the final guaranteed year of his contract, and the Red Sox hold a $13 million option for next season.
The 29-year-old has allowed just six hits and two earned runs over 20 innings of work this spring, and while it's never good to put too much stock in spring stats, it's a promising sign nonetheless.
1B Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals
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2012 Stats: .232/.304/.359, 14 HR, 60 RBI, 65 R, 14 SB
Eric Hosmer was a stud right out of the gates as a 21-year-old rookie in 2011, hitting .293/.334/.465 with 19 home runs and 78 RBI to finish third in AL Rookie of the Year voting.
It was a different story last season, though, as his OPS plummeted from .799 to .663, and he finished the season hitting near the bottom of the lineup.
The young slugger is simply too talented to not bounce back, and in 2013 he should serve as the key run producer the team thought he would be last season.
SP Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants
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2012 Stats: 33 GS, 10-15, 5.18 ERA, 190 Ks, 186 IP
A two-time Cy Young winner and one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball entering last season, Tim Lincecum saw the wheels fall off in his sixth big league season as he was among the worst starters in baseball.
He found himself in the bullpen during the postseason where he thrived, allowing just three hits and one run while striking out 17 over 13 innings of work.
He's been hit hard again this spring, but he's pitching for what could be an enormous contract if he can return to his Cy Young form. At the very least, expect an improvement over last season's performance.