The MLB playoffs are underway. Never mind that a single postseason baseball game will fail to score higher ratings than an NFL scrimmage, October remains a month for baseball among us seamheads.
This week also provides for us a time to reflect on the regular season.
I present to you the best and worst of the 2013 MLB season…
BEST SEASON: Pittsburgh Pirates
Twenty years without a winning season — snapped. Twenty years without a playoff appearance — snapped. Twenty years of being an afterthought in Steeler country — snapped. The Pirates’ 94 wins marked a 15-game improvement over last season and a 37-game improvement from three seasons ago. They have an MVP candidate (Andrew McCutchen) and a Manager of the Year frontrunner (Clint Hurdle). They have one of the finest stadiums in the game and now an enthused fanbase to fill it. They have the nicest uniforms in the sport, a roster with an average age of 28 and a stockpiled farm system. It’s been a great year in the Steel City…finally.
WORST SEASON: The fans of Chicago
Chicago boasts some of the finest baseball fans in the world. Cubs fans and White Sox fans hate one another, but this year they could crack out the Bears gear early and commiserate with each over a beer or twelve. The rebuilding Cubs finished 30 games under .500. The White Sox were worse. At least Cubs fans didn’t expect to win in 2013.
BEST STORY OF 2013: Evan Gattis, Atlanta Braves
He gave up baseball to wander the country in search of spiritual enlightenment. He worked as a parking valet in Dallas, at a pizza parlor in Boulder, went back to Texas where he was a janitor, then a ski lift operator in New Mexico, unemployed hippy in California, and finally a Yellowstone National Park employee. In 2010, he decided to give baseball a try again. In 2013, he led all MLB rookies with 21 home runs.
WORST STORY: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
I’m not so naive as to think that PEDs are out of the sport. I’ve learned not to be surprised by anyone who tests positive. But Ryan Braun is a special case. He’ll never live down the lies he told and the lives he didn’t care if he destroyed to cover up his PED use. Furthermore, with stories of PED use going back to college, one has to wonder if Braun can even play at the Major League level without the juice. The Brewers owe him a lot of money to be a star, not a mediocre hitter and major distraction.
BEST FREE AGENT SIGNING: Francisco Liriano, Pittsburgh Pirates
I don’t know how you can beat getting a 16-8 record and a 3.02 ERA from a $1 million investment.
WORST FREE AGENT SIGNING: B.J. Upton, Atlanta Braves
Check out these numbers for the first year of a five-year, $72 million deal: 9 HR, 26 RBI, .184 batting average.
BEST TRADE: The Rays send James Shields to Kansas City for Wil Myers
What James Shields brought to Kansas City was sorely needed. The team improved by 14 games in the standings and was relevant for the first time since 2003. As for Tampa, they did what Tampa does. Move high-priced talent for low-priced talent and make the playoffs. Wil Myers is the next Dale Murphy.
WORST TRADE: The Miami-Toronto offseason blockbuster
Let me begin by stating there is no excuse for what Miami did back in November. They sold their fans on a star-studded team that was ready to compete year-in and year-out inside their brand new stadium. Then, after one season, they dumped five veteran contracts in one convenient deal. That said, the Marlins are definitely smelling like roses right now from that trade. Toronto took on $147 million in salary to gain one game in the standings. Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck were traded away mid-season, Jose Reyes spent most of the year injured and Josh Johnson was arguably the worst pitcher in baseball. Plus, the Jays gave away several top prospects in the deal.
THE SOON-TO-BE BEST TRADE: Colorado sends Carlos Gonzalez to Seattle for James Paxton, Brandon Maurer, and Carter Capps.
This trade makes too much sense for both teams. The Rockies can’t afford to continue with the injury-proned Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki eating up most of the team’s payroll. The Rockies need good young pitching and the Mariners are loaded with young power arms. Seattle had eight pitchers average more than a strikeout per inning this season, and eight of their top 15 prospects are pitchers. Plus, Seattle needs an offensive superstar desperately.
THE SOON-TO-BE WORST TRADE: Paul Goldschmidt for lefty specialist Javier Lopez
Okay, so this trade is never going to happen, but I’m exaggerating for emphasis. Arizona GM Kevin Towers is obsessed with acquiring bullpen help, and no one in the organization is telling him to stop. It won’t be Goldschmidt, but is Towers’ next flawed transaction a Chris Owings for John Axford kind of thing?
BEST ORGANIZATION: St. Louis Cardinals
Great fans, great tradition, but most importantly the Cardinals have a great organization. They not only finished with the best record in baseball this year, the Major League roster features an array of young stars and the farm system is the envy of the league.
WORST ORGANIZATION: Tie: Houston Astros and Miami Marlins
The Astros and Marlins finished with the two worst records in baseball this year, but that’s not even the troubling part. What makes these two franchises the worst in all of sports is that they don’t even want to win. The Marlins’ fire sale prior the season should have led to arrests. Meanwhile, the Astros have finished with the worst record in the game three seasons in a row, but the organization made more money than any franchise in baseball in 2013. Why would anyone in Houston attend a single Astros game next year?
BEST DEBATE: AL MVP: Chris Davis or Miguel Cabrera?
Davis led the majors in home runs (53) and RBI (138) this year, but he might not win the MVP. After all, the reigning league MVP (Cabrera) hit 44 homers, drove in 137, and batted a Major League-best .348 this year. AND Miggy wasn’t healthy the entire month of September. AND his team won their division and made the playoffs.
WORST DEBATE: Should wins be thrown out as a pitching stat?
Sabermatricians want to eliminate the “win” stat for pitchers. Are they crazy? Despite its many flaws, I would argue the “win” remains the purest pitching statistic we have for starters. Whatever twists and turns the game brings, a starting pitcher’s job is to out-pitch the opponent that given day the ball is placed in his hand.
THE NEXT BEST THING: Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins
As I watched Mike Trout bust out in 2012, I knew I was watching the future of the game. Trout is the best young player I’ve ever seen. I had a similar experience in 2013, once Miami’s Jose Fernandez was called up by the Marlins. Clayton Kershaw is still just 25 years old and undeniably the game’s best pitcher right now. But Fernandez is 21 and the only guy in baseball capable of being better than Kershaw.
THE NEXT WORST THING: The Dodgers give Kershaw and Robinson Cano $300 million contracts
It only takes one team to ruin spending in MLB. Twenty-nine teams said Prince Fielder wasn’t worth what his agent was asking for, but the agent went to 84-year-old fossil Mike Ilitch and the Tiger owner matched Fielder’s salary demands. Last year, everyone said to be careful of Josh Hamilton. Twenty-nine teams listened to the warning, but Angels owner Arte Moreno had to steal the front page from the Dodgers so he now owes a potentially washed-up outfielder $106 million over the next four seasons. This year, and in light of Ryan Braun’s situation, teams would be crazy to sign a player linked to PEDs to the monster $300 million deal Cano’s agent is asking for, but someone will do it. And that someone is the Dodgers, who throw away money like a despondent Jesse Pinkman.
BEST GOOD-BYE EVER: Mariano Rivera
Not only did the greatest closer in baseball history finish a 17-year Hall-of-Fame career with one team, he completed it without any bad press. Then, he and the Yankees gave us a farewell so great that Rivera couldn’t justify putting the uniform back on for the Houston series that ended the season.
WORST GOOD-BYE EVER: Alex Rodriguez
Don’t get me wrong, the man has no intention of leaving the game. However, there is a chance he could be done. A yearlong suspension, a fed up Yankee organization cutting him and eating his contract, and no team wanting to touch the disgraced former superstar — all of these things could happen.