A year ago in this space, I picked the Red Sox to defeat the Reds in the 2011 World Series, and both teams went on to miss the playoffs. So take the 2012 prognostications below with more than a grain of salt:
|AL East: Yankees, Rays, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Orioles.
AL Central: Tigers, Royals, Indians, Twins, White Sox.
AL West: Rangers, Angels, Mariners, Athletics.
AL Wild Cards: Rays, Red Sox.
NL East: Phillies, Nationals, Braves, Marlins, Mets.
NL Central: Reds, Brewers, Cardinals, Cubs, Pirates, Astros.
NL West: Giants, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Padres.
NL Wild Cards: Brewers, Nationals.
World Series: Yankees over Giants.
MVPs: Prince Fielder, Matt Kemp.
Cy Young Awards: C.C. Sabathia, Roy Halladay.
Rookies of the Year: Yu Darvish, Devin Mesoraco.
There's a sharp contrast in the number of contenders in the two leagues. In the AL, seven teams (everyone in the AL East but the Orioles, plus the Tigers, Rangers and Angels) have a realistic chance at the five playoff spots. In the NL, everyone but the bottom half of the NL Central plus the Mets and Padres has a shot.
DePaula originally presented himself to MLB as Rafael DePaula Figueroa and with a birthdate of April 1, 1992, which would have made him eligible to sign on July 2, 2008. He only threw in mid- to high 80s at the time and went unsigned that summer, though the following spring he drew significant attention by working in the low 90s and peaking at 95. But MLB suspended him for one year because of issues related to his documentation, making him ineligible to sign until Jan. 7, 2010.
In June 2010, BA assistant editor Ben Badler reported that DePaula had presented a new name (Jose Rafael DePaula) and birthdate (March 24, 1991, making him a year older than he originally stated). That November, he agreed to a $500,000 bonus from the Yankees, contingent upon him receiving a visa to enter the United States. That process took 16 months, during which he worked out at the Yankees' academy in the Dominican Republic.
Ben is our go-to guy on international affairs, and he says he'd grade DePaula as a 60/Extreme. On our Yankees Top 10 Prospects list, that would place DePaula in the midst of catcher Austin Romine (50/Low at No. 8), catcher/third baseman J.R. Murphy (55/High at No. 9) and outfielder Slade Heathcott (60/Extreme at No. 10). I'd err on the side of upside and put DePaula ahead of all of them.
Here are some more thoughts from Ben on DePaula:
His talent is legitimate. The fastball really is touching the high 90s, power curve, good body, good mechanics, he's just had an extremely atypical developmental path because of the suspension and visa issue. I don't stick my neck out much on the international amateur guys, but we did with Carlos Martinez at No. 3 for the Cardinals in 2011 and Miguel Sano at No. 4 for the Twins in 2010, and I think DePaula is that type of player. I don't like running up the 16-year-old signings much because there's still so much projection involved, but DePaula is 21 and has now stuff.
I do agree with Drew that under the new CBA, teams can't just spend as much money on amateur talent as they see fit, which will make it harder to build a deep farm system. However, the amount of talent available in the draft or internationally won't change because of the CBA (though it will vary from year to year). The value of prospects already has been on the rise as major league salaries continue to escalate, and I don't think the CBA will add much to their worth.
I didn't have a problem with the Gonzalez or Latos trades. Neither of those guys is a true No. 1 starter, but they're both No. 2s and in their mid-20s. Those guys don't come cheap, and Gonzalez and Latos help make their new teams legitimate playoff contenders.
Also remember that prospects aren't sure things. The Nationals gave up a pair of potential frontline starters in Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole to get Gonzalez, but the deal won't haunt Washington unless Gonzalez doesn't help it reach the posteason and both Peacock and Cole fully realize their upside. The Nationals also gave up catcher Derek Norris, who might not stay behind the plate and is blocked by Wilson Ramos, and Tom Milone, a finesse lefthander who will be no more than back-of-the-rotation fodder.
As for the Reds, the two main guys they surrendered for Latos were Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal, talented players who nevertheless would have had difficulty cracking Cincinnati's lineup. Alonso's ability to play anywhere but first base is limited, and the Reds are on the verge of signing Joey Votto to a long-term extension. Grandal is one of the game's better catching prospects but not as good as Devin Mesoraco. Righthander Brad Boxberger is ready to help a big league bullpen, but he's more set-up man than closer. Cincinnati won't miss him terribly, and it had tired of trying to figure out the enigma that is Edinson Volquez.
The qualifications for free agency haven't changed with the new CBA. Players still need six full years of major league service time before becoming free, with 172 days constituting a year. The 2012 season runs until Oct. 3, so the Nationals can delay Harper's free agency by an additional year if they wait until April 16 or later to promote him.
The date to delay Harper's arbitration can't be pinpointed yet. Players need three years of major league service time for arbitration, though players at the top of the two-years-plus class also qualify. The new CBA provides arbitration to the top 22 percent of players in that class, up from 17 percent in the previous CBA.
The amount of days needed for super-two arbitration has varied, from 139 in 2009, down to 122 in 2010 and back up to 146 in 2011. That's roughly 6-8 weeks into the major league season, which figures to become 8-10 weeks under the new rules. If Washington wants to delay Harper's arbitration eligibility—not nearly as important as putting off his free agency— it won't want to call him up before mid- to late June.