This one photograph simultaneously captures one of the highest and lowest points of the 2013 MLB regular season.
On the right, you have Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera was putting together perhaps the greatest individual season in baseball history until hip and abdomen problems derailed his quest for greatness in late August. Despite a poor batting average and lack of power for the entire month of September, Cabrera is still one of the favorites to win the AL MVP.
On the left, you have Jhonny Peralta. Peralta was one of the bigger names implicated in the Biogenesis scandal that permeated every baseball conversation for months—and would return in full force if either Peralta or Nelson Cruz returned from their suspensions to help an AL playoff team.
But that's only the beginning of the list of this season's biggest winners and losers.
Oakland, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay entered the 2013 season among the five teams with the lowest salaries in the majors. Obviously rosters and payrolls have changed to some extent since late March, but those three teams were projected to pay their players a combined $191.9 million—also read as $37.1 million less than the Yankees are paying their players.
Nevertheless, assuming the Rays can hang on for dear life to a Wild Card spot, those small market teams are going to the playoffs while the Yankees watch from home.
In fact, only three of the 10 highest paid teams will compete in the postseason.
In what other American sport could you possibly do away with salary caps and still have this type of competitive balance?
Between Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss, the A's paid just over $2 million for 53 home runs. Meanwhile, Alex Rodriguez is getting paid roughly $4 million per home run this season.
Of course, there's a limit to how little you can spend on your roster and still be competitive. It's no coincidence that the Marlins and Astros are at the bottom of both the spending barrel and the standings.
There were certainly less valuable starting pitchers this season than Edwin Jackson, but it's more than just his league-leading 17 losses that earned him a spot on this list.
Once the Cubs traded Alfonso Soriano to the Yankees, Jackson became the highest paid player left on the Cubs roster—and by no small margin. His $13 million paycheck is more than double that of any other player on the team.
I can appreciate the fact that no one expected the Cubs to do much of anything this season, but it would have been nice if their most expensive asset wasn't also one of the biggest things dragging them down.
His 4.74 ERA is one of the worst among starters who logged at least 170 innings pitched this season.
Even worse for Cubs fans, Jackson is under contract for another three seasons.
For Matt Carpenter, 2013 was a year-long audition to determine whether he would have a job next year. An audition that he passed with flying colors.
After three years in the Cardinals farm system, Carpenter took on a utility role in 2012. Between first base, second base, third base, left field and right field, he collected enough table scraps to appear in 114 games with better-than-your-average-backup types of numbers.
With Skip Schumaker out of town, Rafael Furcal on the sidelines and Daniel Descalso batting a putrid .227 in 2012, Carpenter was given ample opportunity to showcase his talent.
Which he did. Over and over again.
Carpenter batted .352 in the month of May and followed it up with a .342 average in June. He's been even better down the home stretch, batting .374 in September in a pennant race.
It'll be interesting to see what St. Louis does with him next season. Carpenter came up through the farm system as a third baseman, but that's where 2011 postseason hero, David Freese resides. Carpenter has spent the bulk of this season at second base, but that's the future home of Kolten Wong.
Of course, having too many overqualified players is hardly something about which the Cardinals will complain. They'll find somewhere to regularly play one of the top finishers in the National League in WAR.
There's a fine line between being a rebuilding team and becoming the laughing stock of an entire nation.
It's a line over which the Astros have tripped and fallen on their faces time and again this season.
Much like the Cubs a few slides ago, no one was actually expecting the Astros to be any good this year. However, we haven't even remotely begun to witness any signs of improvement. To the contrary. In fact, they have lost 13 consecutive games since September 14, scoring two or fewer runs in 11 of those 13 games.
Coupled with their 106 losses in 2011 and 107 losses in 2012, they have put together the three worst consecutive seasons since the New York Mets lost 340 games from 1962-1964. For all of their troubles, Jose Altuve and perhaps Jason Castro are the only members of the major league club that aren't completely expendable.
And just think, if the Angels had been as good as they were supposed to be, the Astros' record would only be that much worse—as they went 10-9 against the Angels this season.
The stout farm system might be a light at the end of the tunnel, but that tunnel also might be another two years long.
The decision to add Jose Fernandez to the Opening Day roster was met with mixed reviews.
Most were optimistic about him and excited to see what the top prospect could do while simultaneously expressing concerns about whether he was ready for the big leagues and whether the Marlins were wasting a year of his service time.
In the end, Fernandez became perhaps the most talked about rookie pitcher since Kerry Wood in 1998.
He recorded a quality start in 12 of his last 13 appearances. After shaking out some early jitters in April, only once in his last 24 starts did he allow more than three earned runs to score in a game.
Fernandez was nothing short of incredible, and actually gave the world a reason to look at Miami's upcoming slate of games.
2012 was a pretty magical year for Chase Headley.
After hitting just four home runs in a 2011 season that was cut six weeks short by injury, Headley belted a personally unprecedented 31 home runs. He also stole 17 bases and batted .286 en route to the fourth-highest WAR among National League batters.
Things have been a bit different this year.
When you're on a pair of lists with Josh Hamilton and Paul Konerko that are comparing 2012 production to 2013 production, it's probably not a good thing.
It's an even worse thing when you're up for an arbitration hearing after the 2013 season.
Many expected Headley to be the belle of the trade deadline ball this past July, but now it'll be interesting to see if anyone even wants him in July 2014.
He does have five home runs in September after hitting just eight over the first five months of the season, but only time will tell whether Headley is rounding back into form.
Love him or hate him, you have at least some sort of non-statistical opinion about Yasiel Puig, which is more than can be said for at least 98 percent of the other players in the majors.
By that fact alone, Puig-Mania was a huge win for the 2013 MLB season.
The Dodgers were dead in the water when Puig burst onto the scene in June. Don Mattingly was on the hot seat, and then some. Then, out of nowhere, they became the best team in the majors and Mattingly could be headed for the 2013 NL Manager of the Year Award.
We'll never know whether Puig's arrival sparked the team's turnaround or if those two events occurred coincidentally, but that didn't stop the blogosphere from fawning over him day and night.
Between debates over inclusion on the All-Star roster, debates over whether he deserves to be the NL Rookie of the Year and questions about his character/attitude, Puig has been a lightning rod for attention from day one.
And with the playoffs on the horizon for the Dodgers, it's possible we've only just scraped the tip of the iceberg.
It wasn't all bad for the AL rookie class. Wil Myers has played well, Chris Archer and Martin Perez have pitched well and Jose Iglesias has been Houdini with his glove.
On the whole, though, and especially in comparison to what the National League had to offer, it was a very disappointing season for those making their long-term debut in the American League.
Aaron Hicks and Jackie Bradley Jr. were supposed to be the cream of this year's crop, but neither had a batting average above .214 at any point in this season. Nick Tepesch, Justin Grimm, Brandon Maurer and Brad Peacock were all colossal disappointments to their AL West employers.
Even in-season call-ups-full-of-promise like Jurickson Profar and Xander Bogaerts didn't remotely deliver on lofty expectations.
On the bright side, at least there will be a very finite limit on the number of times a writer asks if an American League player will undergo a sophomore slump in 2014.
Though they both battled injuries while playing for sub-.500 teams, both Carlos Gomez and Carlos Gonzalez put up some incredible stats this season.
Let's start in Colorado, where Gonzalez was batting .297/.366/.597 and on pace for 41 home runs and 30 stolen bases before a finger injury in late July derailed his season.
Gonzalez has been great for a while now, batting at least .295 and joining the 20/20 club in each of the previous three seasons. But he was clearly reaching a new peak this season. He turns 28 on Tuesday, which is historically the age at which players are at their greatest. Here's hoping he bounces back to wow us again in 2014.
CarGo number two has been one of the few bright spots for the Brewers this season. With 23 home runs, 37 stolen bases, career highs in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage and the best outfield defense in the majors, Gomez has broken out in a huge way this season.
Hopefully we'll look back on 2013 as an excellent season for Gomez, rather than remembering it for one unfortunate incident that took place this past week.
After Opening Day and before the September playoff races, the two most intriguing points in the MLB regular season for casual fans are the All-Star game in early July and the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31.
That used to be the case, at any rate.
Boston won the Jake Peavy sweepstakes and Bud Norris was traded to Baltimore, but it was a very quiet trade deadline aside from those moves.
Some of this was due to the ability of teams to make waiver trades in August. The addition of the second Wild Card keeping teams hopeful for too long doesn't help matters, either.
Those facts combined with the sheer lack of trade-worthy talent on last-place teams made July 31 little more than another normal day in the baseball season.
We'll see if there are any blockbuster deals next July, or if this is bound to become an annual trend.
One of the plethora of rumored-to-be-moved players who ended up going nowhere at the trade deadline, Hunter Pence remained in San Francisco for the duration of the season—and drastically increased his offseason value while there.
After a sub-par 2012 season in which he batted .253 and stole just five bases, Pence re-signed with the Giants for one year at $13.8 million.
He bounced back this season, though, batting .282 with 25 home runs and a career-best 22 stolen bases.
It remains to be seen whether the Reds re-sign Shin-Soo Choo or if the Red Sox re-sign Jacoby Ellsbury, but there's a pretty good chance that Pence could become the most highly sought after free agent outfielder this winter.
Pence will turn 31 shortly after Opening Day, so he's not quite a spring chicken. That didn't keep the Nationals from offering a 31-year-old Jayson Werth $126 million for seven years of his services, though.
Thanks to a great 2013 season, Pence should be headed for quite the payday in a few months.
At the other end of the free agency spectrum, Josh Johnson's 2014 salary would have been higher had he literally just defecated on the mound every five days.
For the fourth time in the past seven seasons, Johnson failed to reach 90 innings pitched.
At least in years past, he made quality use of his limited innings. Not this year, though. Johnson ended up with an ERA of 6.20, a HR/FB rate more than double his previous career worst and a walk rate that has been on the rise for a fourth consecutive season.
Had he stayed healthy and posted a sub-4.00 ERA for a sixth straight season, Johnson likely would have become the highest paid free agent pitcher this winter. Instead, I don't know who in their right mind would be willing or able to offer him a multi-year contract.
It's tough to say whether or not Yasiel Plug was the spark that ignited the Dodgers' success in the second half, but there's no question that Waffle House was responsible for Atlanta's 14-game winning streak.
On July 26, a Waffle House opened inside Turner Field.
The Braves did not lose again until August 10.
Those are what we call facts, my friends.
It got so out of hand that "Waffle Ball" became a song, a hashtag and frankly a way of life.
Because of that winning streak, the Braves won the NL East by a landslide and are still in contention for home-field advantage in the National League.
Of course, we all know that Waffle House is all the home-field advantage they need.
After that Waffle House tomfoolery, it's time to get back to business.
Walk rates are the lowest that they have been since 2000. Similarly, league-wide strikeout rates and on-base percentage are worse than we've seen in this millennium:
Are pitchers getting more unhittable? Are batters becoming less patient? Are home plate umpires becoming more fallible? How much of that decline can be attributed to a lower rate of steroid abuse?
I don't have the answer to any of those questions. I just know the game has changed pretty drastically in the span of a decade.
One person who certainly doesn't mind the declining plate discipline of MLB batters is Yu Darvish.
Darvish has 269 strikeouts this season and should be making one more start on Sunday against the Angels. Provided he strikes out one batter in that game, he will have more strikeouts than any American League pitcher since Pedro Martinez recorded 284 whiffs in 2000.
Though Darvish has allowed the fifth-most walks and is near the top of the list in home runs allowed as well, he has done a fine job of keeping those bugs from biting in unison to keep his ERA at a pristine 2.82.
(For what it's worth, Chicago's Jeff Samardzija has allowed the same number of walks and home runs as Darvish, but has allowed 36 more earned runs to score, resulting in a 4.33 ERA.)
He may wind up finishing behind Max Scherzer for the AL Cy Young, but for my money there was no more dominant pitcher in baseball in 2013 than Darvish.
The scary thing is that he just turned 27 in August and has only been in the majors for two years. He could still show signs of improvement in upcoming seasons.
When we first started hearing about Biogenesis in January, little did we know that its investigation and ramifications would persist for another eight months.
At this point, the Wikipedia page dedicated to the Biogenesis scandal is more in-depth than the pages for the majority of the players who served suspensions because of it.
The entire thing was a mess from start to finish.
There were so many leaks throughout the process that the players suspended and the lengths of their suspensions were common knowledge long before the official announcements. Players were guilty until proven innocent despite their legal rights to the contrary.
Perhaps worst of all, Alex Rodriguez is still living like an innocent even though he was proven guilty. It's been over a month since we heard much of anything about the 211-game suspension he was supposed to start serving in early August.
Could you even imagine the backlash if the Yankees had made the playoffs and Rodriguez was allowed to compete after the Rangers had their postseason dreams crippled by Nelson Cruz's suspension?
Let's just hold our collective breath in hopes that the 2014 season isn't marred by PEDs.
There's still time for him to hit one or two more, but this past Monday Chris Davis became just the fifth player in the past decade to hit 52 or more home runs in a single season.
Quite the far cry from the previous decade, in which there were 14 instances of a player hitting 52 or more home runs.
The shame of the matter is that he was on pace to do so much better.
Davis more or less tanked in the second half of the season, batting just .243 with 15 home runs—numbers which are pretty well in line with what he did in his previous years in the majors.
However, those numbers only look disappointing because of his monstrous stats in the first half. At the All-Star break, Davis was batting .315 with 37 home runs—which extrapolated to 62.4 at the end of the year. He hit more home runs in the first 96 games of the season than he had in any previous full year.
Both he and the Orioles would eventually fade away into slightly-better-than-mediocrity, but Davis gave us a fun few months of wondering if someone other than Miguel Cabrera might actually win a Triple Crown this year.
In every single season since 1969—even the strike-shortened seasons of 1981 and 1994—there has been at least one player with 11 or more triples. In total, there have been 185 individual seasons in the past 44 years with at least 11 triples.
We are in danger of breaking that trend.
Entering play on Friday, five players—Jean Segura, Starling Marte, Carlos Gomez, Denard Span and Brett Gardner—had 10 triples on the season. Mike Trout clocks in with nine three-baggers, while Jacoby Ellsbury and Adeiny Hechavarria have eight each.
That's the top of the leaderboard for a category that has been led by someone with at least 13 steals in each of the past 10 seasons.
The lack of individuals hitting triples has of course led to a lack of triples by the entire league.
Since Arizona and Tampa Bay were added in 1998, there have been at least 866 triples hit every season.
Barring some sort of unforeseen explosion of triples over the final two days of the season, there won't even be 800 hit this year.
We can chalk up the decline to any number of things—outfielders with better arms, improved defensive positioning, injuries to speedsters like Jose Reyes, Dexter Fowler, Ellsbury, Shane Victorino, Carl Crawford, Curtis Granderson, etc.—but the end result is a lower slugging percentage than we've witnessed in 20 years.
As far as relievers are concerned, we'll remember 2013 as Mariano Rivera's six-month-long retirement ceremony. The 43-year-old came back from a torn ACL to go out on his own terms—saving 44 games and getting showered with praise and gifts everywhere that he went.
However, we would be remiss if we didn't at least pay tribute to a couple of other incredible seasons by ninth inning specialists.
Craig Kimbrel was just as dominant as he has been for the past two seasons, setting a new career high for saves in a single season.
Greg Holland struggled early and only recorded two of Kansas City's first five saves of the season, but he has been out of this world since then. After allowing four earned runs to score in his first two innings of work, Holland has allowed just five earned runs to score in his last 64 innings of work, compiling a 7.54 K/BB ratio during that time.
Boston's Opening Day closer situation was much more cut and dry than Kansas City's, and Koji Uehara was no part of it. The Red Sox signed Joel Hanrahan to be their closer with Andrew Bailey presumed to be the backup.
After both pitchers struggled and suffered season-ending injuries, Uehara took over the closer duties, becoming the most valuable relief pitcher in the entire league.