With the winter blues in full effect, it’s time to think Spring. Spring Training that is. Pitchers and catchers report in less than a week for some teams and that means that baseball, and warmer weather, is just around the corner. Every team will head to Arizona or Florida with a sense of anticipation for the season, but only a few can be considered serious World Series contenders.
The Boston Red Sox entered the 2013 season with 30/1 odds at the Las Vegas Hotel & Casino to win the World Series and they cashed in as a longshot, winning Major League Baseball’s championship after losing 93 games in 2012. Their opponents, the St. Louis Cardinals, entered the season at 16/1 at LVH. Five teams had odds of 9/1 or less, with the Tigers, Angels, Nationals, Dodgers, and Reds comprising that group. The Tigers lost in the American League Championship Series, the Angels and Nationals missed the playoffs, the Dodgers lost the National League Championship Series, and the Reds were eliminated in the Wild Card round. Keep that in mind as we look at the futures market for the 2014 season.
At BetOnline.com, the Dodgers are the World Series favorites at 6/1. The Tigers are next in line at 8.5/1. The Nationals and Red Sox continue to get respect in the futures market with a 10/1 payout. The Cardinals check in at 11/1. Here’s a list of all of the teams and their odds (courtesy of BetOnline):
Red Sox 10/1
Blue Jays 28/1
White Sox 40/1
There are still some moves to be made in free agency and there is always the possibility of a blockbuster trade before the start of the season, but this board certainly presents some value. The goal of any futures wager, just like any other wager, is to make money. With future wagers, the ideal outcome would be to have the opportunity to guarantee profit, either by winning your original wager or being able to hedge part of it throughout the playoffs.
Here are some suggestions for World Series future bets:
Detroit (8.5/1) – It’s hard to go with a favorite right out of the gate, but the Tigers are poised for another deep postseason run. Unlike most of the teams on this list, the Tigers are almost assured of making the playoffs in some fashion, playing in one of baseball’s weakest divisions, the American League Central. Even if they somehow lose the division crown to the Indians or Royals, the pitching staff and the offense are too good for this team to win less than 90 games.
The Tigers grabbed headlines earlier this offseason by trading away Prince Fielder and Doug Fister, while acquiring Ian Kinsler, Robbie Ray, Steve Lombardozzi, and Ian Krol. They also added Joe Nathan in free agency. The under-the-radar move that nobody is talking about is the addition of Rajai Davis. The Tigers got just 2.3 wins above replacement player (per Fangraphs, or fWAR) from the left field position in 2013 and just 0.8 fWAR in 2012. The right-handed hitting Davis will likely platoon with left-handed batter Andy Dirks, whose on-base plus slugging percentage was 67 points higher against righties than against lefties. Davis batted .319 against lefties with an .857 OPS. He also stole 45 bases. The combination of those two will put another above average hitter in the lineup for the Tigers.
The trade of Fielder allows the Tigers to move Miguel Cabrera back to first base, a position he’s more comfortable with and one that will save wear and tear on his body. Cabrera, the reigning two-time American League MVP, was a shell of himself in September and the postseason. From the start of the season through August, Cabrera hit 43 home runs and drove in 130 runs. With Cabrera back at first, Kinsler at second, Jose Iglesias at shortstop, and projected starter Nick Castellanos at third, the Tigers have the best infield defense they’ve had in years.
The starting rotation remains elite, even with the loss of Fister. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski said in November, prior to the Fister trade, that Drew Smyly would be used as a starter in 2014. That gives the Tigers a rotation of Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Rick Porcello, and Smyly. The Tigers had the best rotation in baseball in several metrics, including fWAR by 9.3, strikeouts per nine innings, fielder independent pitching (FIP) by 0.27, and strikeout-to-walk ratio.
The bullpen is the team’s only question mark, but a veteran closer like Nathan will help to put things in order. The team has two quality left-handed matchup relievers, young fireballer Bruce Rondon in his second season in the Majors, and other hard throwers that miss bats.
This is an elite team that will likely be favored in any playoff series it competes in, so hedging should be a definite possibility. On paper, the Tigers certainly look like the best team in the American League and they are definitely worth a look at 8.5/1.
Cardinals (11/1) – The 2013 World Series runner-up will again be a factor in 2014 as the St. Louis Cardinals will aim for a fourth straight playoff berth. The Cardinals remain mostly in tact, despite Carlos Beltran leaving via free agency and David Freese via trade. In place of Beltran, the Cardinals acquired speedy outfielder Peter Bourjos and signed Jhonny Peralta in free agency to replace Beltran’s offensive production.
The two big offseason moves by the Cardinals will fill two of the team’s biggest holes. Cardinals shortstops posted a slash line of .226/.282/.314 and accumulated a negative fWAR of minus-0.3. Only the Yankees and Marlins got less offensive production from the shortstop position. Peralta, with a career slash of .268/.330/.425, will be a major upgrade at that position and his defense is serviceable enough to not hurt the Cardinals.
As for Bourjos, the bulk of his value will come from his legs, both on the basepaths and in center field. Cardinals outfielders were minus-27 defensive runs saved in 2013, the seventh-worst mark in baseball. The Cardinals were also 29th in stolen bases with just 45. Bourjos isn’t a prolific base stealer, but he has been successful 76 percent of the time when he has taken off. More than steals, Bourjos is very adept at taking extra bases on singles and doubles, which will lead to extra runs.
Another position player to keep an eye on is Oscar Tavares. Tavares was named Baseball Prospectus’s #3 ranked prospect in their Top 101 Prospects list earlier this week. The 21-year-old has hit at every level of the minors and was a fixture in the top-five of prospect lists prior to the 2013 season as well. He’ll open the season in Triple-A, but will be an impact player, possibly as early as June.
With Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter, and a healthy Allen Craig, the Cardinals offense should continue to be strong and the additions of Peralta and Bourjos will complement that group nicely. This will be a top 10 offense offering run support to a rotation that could be the best in the National League.
The Cardinals return the bulk their 2013 starting rotation in tact and continue to have the same hard throwers at the back end of the bullpen. Cardinals starters accumulated 13.6 fWAR. The rotation will be anchored by Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha, two right-handers that pound the strike zone and have excellent stuff. Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller are both coming off of great seasons and big things are expected of Miller in his second full season in the Majors. The Cardinals have plenty of options with the fifth starter spot, including crafty young lefty Tyler Lyons, oft-injured southpaw Jaime Garcia, or Joe Kelly, who overachieved as a starter in 2013.
The very young, very inexpensive bullpen of the Cardinals features several guys that throw in the mid-90s or higher, highlighted by closer Trevor Rosenthal. Flamethrower Carlos Martinez was impressive in 21 regular season appearances and he struck out 11 in 12.2 playoff innings. Randy Choate gives the youthful pen a veteran lefty for big situational outs. Jason Motte may be a bounceback candidate coming off major arm surgery.
The only real concern in backing the Cardinals is that the National League Central appears very competitive again. But the Cardinals have been to the NLCS in each of the last three seasons, giving you hedging possibilities or the chance of the Cardinals winning it all.
Padres (50/1) – This one is clearly a longshot, but there is a lot to like about the Padres while the Dodgers and Giants grab all of the National League West headlines. The Padres have a young team growing up together, which lends to a nice chemistry in the clubhouse and a team that can be dangerous if they start to believe in themselves. This is a team that has been plagued by injuries and suspensions over the last couple of seasons to lead to some misleading results. Carlos Quentin hasn’t been able to stay on the field consistently, Yasmani Grandal missed time with an injured oblique in 2012, a banned substance suspension and then a torn ACL in 2013, and Yonder Alonso also missed a portion of 2013. There’s no guarantee that Quentin and Grandal will stay healthy, but this is a pretty good offense with those two players.
Two of the better players nobody talks about are Jedd Gyorko and Everth Cabrera. Gyorko quietly hit 23 home runs last season, while Cabrera, now in his sixth season, hit .283 with a .355 on-base percentage. Chase Headley had a down year from his 2012 performance, but he’s now in a contract year and should be plenty motivated entering the season. Cameron Maybin still has plenty of potential, but struggles and injuries have stunted his development. Will Venable chipped in last season with 23 HR and 22 SB, making him a valuable commodity.
The Padres had the worst fWAR in baseball from their starting pitchers, but that could certainly turn around this year. The team is taking a chance on Josh Johnson, the former Marlins and Blue Jays starter who needs a fresh start. Johnson was hurt by Toronto’s infield turf and infield defense last season, leading to the highest batting average on balls in play (BABIP) in his career. Andrew Cashner is developing into a top of the rotation starter after beginning his career in the bullpen. Tyson Ross has had trouble staying healthy, but in 16 starts last season, he posted a 1.7 fWAR and was a strikeout and ground ball machine. The team will have a full season of starts from Ian Kennedy and the departure of Edinson Volquez is addition by subtraction. Eric Stults is a crafty lefty who pitches very well at home. Promising young starer Cory Luebke will be returning from Tommy John, so he could help at some point.
Petco Park was the most suppressive park in the league for run scoring, so it continues to be a pitcher’s park and that should help this rotation.
The bullpen lost two key members in Luke Gregerson and Joe Thatcher, but General Manager Josh Byrnes acquired Joaquin Benoit in free agency and added Alex Torres in a trade with Tampa Bay. Between Benoit and Huston Street, the Padres have two guys with closing experience that can also excel in a setup role.
The worries about the Padres are their health, middle relief, and the top-heavy National League West. This is a very talented team with a shot to be a major surprise if they’re able to stay healthy, so they could be worth a wager at a nice longshot price of 50/1. If nothing else, keep an eye out for their season win total, where a lot of value may be available.