Former winners, top prospects are awards favorites for 2013
Miguel Cabrera, this year's AL MVP, is the best bet to win the award again in 2013
Bryce Harper should challenge Ryan Braun, the 2011 MVP, for that honor
Past Cy Young winners Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez will contend
Now that the 2012 Baseball Writers of America Association awards have been announced, let's take a stab at guessing who might win the three major player awards in 2013.
It is, of course, hard enough to figure out who is going to win these awards in October (though I've correctly predicted all 18 winners since 2010 and where 50 of the 54 top-three vote getters would finish over that same span), let alone the previous November when past winners such as Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke don't even have teams for the coming season. Still, when I wrote this column a year ago, I correctly guessed one of the finalists for each of the six awards, so there is some method behind the madness here.
1. Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Tigers
Cabrera, who will turn 30 in April, has finished in the top five in the AL MVP voting in each of the last four years and had two other fifth-place finishes in the NL with the Marlins. Over the last three seasons he has hit .334/.420/.604 while averaging 37 home runs and 123 RBIs. He's arguably the best hitter in baseball. With the Tigers already looking stronger for 2013 with the return of designated hitter Victor Martinez and the addition of free-agent rightfielder Torii Hunter, it would be a bigger surprise if Cabrera isn't in the top three in next year's MVP voting than if he is.
2. Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees
Cano has finished in the top six in the AL MVP voting in each of the last three seasons. Over the last four he has hit .314/.365/.534 while averaging 29 home runs and 102 RBIs and winning a pair of Gold Gloves. He's the best second baseman in baseball, and he just turned 30 in October. The Yankees have a lot of work to do this offseason, but they're perennial contenders, and Cano is their best player.
3. Mike Trout, CF, Angels
Trout can't possibly be better in 2013 than he was in 2012, can he? Normal aging curves would say he's a very good bet to be better at 21 next year than he was at 20 this year, but what more can he do? Well, he'll get to play in April, and he might hit for more power. Trout slugged .590 with 22 home runs over his final 83 games in 2012. Is a 40/40 season, the fifth ever in major league history, out of the question? What about the first-ever 40/50 season in major league history? Trout's 2012 season has set expectations sky-high, but the fact of the matter is that Trout could suffer some regression in 2013 and still be a deserving top-three finisher for the MVP award.
1. Ryan Braun, LF, Brewers
Braun finished third for this award in 2008, won it in 2011 and was the runner-up to Buster Posey this year. Over the course of his six-year career he has hit .313/.374/.568 while averaging 34 home runs and 107 RBIs, and in the last two seasons he has stolen 63 bases at an 83 percent success rate, going 30/30 both years. Braun turns 29 on Saturday and as with Cabrera, it would be a surprise if he's not an MVP finalist again next year.
2. Joey Votto, 1B, Reds
In early July of this past season, Votto tore the meniscus in his left knee sliding into third base and eventually missed 48 games due to the injury. When he returned, he failed to hit a home run in 127 plate appearances between the regular and postseasons. He did, however, hit .330 with a .488 on-base percentage in those 127 PA, and he was hitting .342/.465/.604 on the season and leading the MVP discussion when he was forced to the disabled list. He also led the league in on-base percentage for the third-straight year despite falling well short of the required number of plate appearances (adding the necessary number of empty plate appearances to his line didn't drop him below second-place Buster Posey, whose raw OBP was 66 points lower).
Votto, who just turned 29, is a career .316/.415/.553 hitter, won the 2010 NL MVP and finished sixth in 2011 while also picking up a Gold Glove for his play at first base. After returning from his knee surgery, Votto realized his back side wasn't strong enough to allow him to hit for power, so he choked up and focused on singles and walks. Assuming his knee will be able to heal fully over the winter, his power should return, and he should be right back in the thick of the MVP race next year.
3. Bryce Harper, CF, Nationals
Hey, no pressure, kid, but you're coming off the best age-19 season by a hitter in major league history and playing for a Nationals team that should contend again in 2013. Looking at the leap Trout made from his age-19 to age-20 seasons, it's hard not to expect big things from Harper in 2013. After all, big things have been expected from him for years and he continually lives up to those expectations. Harper hit .341/.407/.690 with 10 home runs and five stolen bases (in six attempts) in his final 34 games of the 2012 season. He's a five-tool talent and has emerged as an excellent defensive centerfielder despite being drafted as a catcher in 2010 and only recently moving to his current position. If he's not in the top three of the MVP voting in 2013, chances are he'll still be on this list again next November.
1. Justin Verlander, RHP, Tigers
Verlander, the 2011 AL Cy Young and MVP, was the best pitcher in baseball in each of the last two seasons, and over the past four has averaged a 20-8 record, 2.95 ERA, 244 strikeouts and 238 innings pitched. He has finished in the top three in the Cy Young voting in three of the last four years, will be 30 in February and should be back in the top three next November.
2. Jered Weaver, RHP, Angels
Weaver, who just turned 30 in October, has finished in the top five in the Cy Young voting in each of the last three years and might have ranked higher than his third-place finish this year had he not missed a handful of starts due to a minor back injury. That his strikeout rate has declined in each of the last two years while his luck on balls in play has improved points to a regression via a correction in the latter trend or a continuation of the former one. Still, he has been good enough for long enough now that until that regression happens, he has to be considered a preseason favorite for this award.
3. David Price, LHP, Rays
Choosing between Price, this year's winner, and Felix Hernandez, the 2010 winner, for this last spot was tough. Price gets the nod because Hernandez hasn't actually finished in the top three in the Cy Young voting since he won it. Also, while Hernandez is roughly seven months younger than the 27-year-old Price, he also has a lot more mileage on his pitching arm, 1,620 1/3 major league innings to be exact, more than twice Price's 786 1/3. Price, the top draft pick in the nation in 2007, has finished in the top two in the voting in two of the last three years, and while he didn't deserve to win over Verlander this year, he did belong in the top two.