2018 MLB Preview: World Series & Free Agency Odds

Jose Altuve sliding back into first base
Jose Altuve sliding back into first base (EricEnfermero (wikimedia commons) CC License)

Now that the Houston Astros have fulfilled their destiny and captured the 2017 World Series, their first in franchise history, we can officially turn our attention to the MLB offseason. It’s not going to be as exciting as the summer the NBA just treated us to, but there are some big names set to hit the open market and Shohei Otani, a man they call the “Japanese Babe Ruth,” is headed stateside.

Where will the “Jambino” (copyright) land? Will his good buddy and impending free agent Yu Darvish wind up in the same place? We look at all that and more, but first, a quick rundown of who will succeed the Astros as kings of baseball, and who will be the comically incompetent court jester.

NB: all odds are for the 2018 MLB season unless otherwise stated. 


2018 World Series odds

Don’t trust in the odds at Vegas sportsbooks: (1) they over-round the cumulative probability way past 100%; (2) they shorten the odds on popular, big-market teams because they know they’ll still get action; and (3) they have the Twins level with the Reds and Padres, which is grounds for an insanity diagnosis.

Here’s a more realistic picture.

  • Houston Astros: 17/2
  • Los Angeles Dodgers: 17/2
  • Cleveland Indians: 9/1
  • Washington Nationals: 12/1
  • Chicago Cubs: 14/1
  • New York Yankees: 15/1
  • Boston Red Sox: 16/1
  • Arizona Diamondbacks: 19/1
  • St. Louis Cardinals: 30/1
  • Colorado Rockies: 33/1
  • New York Mets: 35/1
  • San Francisco Giants: 38/1
  • Los Angeles Angels: 40/1
  • Milwaukee Brewers: 40/1
  • Minnesota Twins: 40/1
  • Toronto Blue Jays: 40/1
  • Seattle Mariners: 45/1
  • Tampa Bay Rays: 50/1
  • Texas Rangers: 50/1
  • Baltimore Orioles: 55/1
  • Pittsburgh Pirates: 70/1
  • Kansas City Royals: 70/1
  • Miami Marlins: 70/1
  • Atlanta Braves: 85/1
  • Philadelphia Phillies: 120/1
  • Cincinnati Reds: 120/1
  • Oakland Athletics: 150/1
  • Chicago White Sox: 150/1
  • San Diego Padres: 150/1
  • Detroit Tigers: 250/1

 

As their epic seveng-game World Series showed, there wasn’t much to choose between the Astros and Dodgers last year, and both will bring back their elite cores. Where LA has the edge in starting pitching, the Astros have the edge at the plate. Don’t forget about Cleveland. The Tribe won 103 games last year, best in the AL, and was virtually unstoppable in the second half. If not for some poorly timed October injuries, it might have been the Indians celebrating in 2017. The Nats get the nod for second in the NL over the Cubs by virtue of their starting rotation, which has the best top-end in baseball between Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez, and the fact that the Cubs have rotation needs to fill.

It might seem incongruous to have the Yankees nearly twice as long as the Astros, whom they took to seven games in the ALCS. But remember, whereas the Astros will cruise to another AL West title (avoiding the Wild Card game), the Yankees will be in a heated battle with Boston for the AL East crown. Even if they both make the playoffs, one will have to contend with the annual coin-flip game.


Odds to Finish with Worst Regular-Season Record in 2018

  • San Diego Padres: 3/1
  • Detroit Tigers: 4/1
  • Chicago White Sox: 7/1
  • Oakland Athletics: 9/1
  • Cincinnati Reds: 11/1
  • Miami Marlins: 13/1
  • Philadelphia Phillies: 20/1
  • FIELD: 7/1

 

They say that Rome wasn’t built in a day, but surely eight years should be long enough to build a winner in San Diego. The Padres lost over 85 games for the seventh straight season in 2017, and it’s unlikely the team’s fortunes will improve next year. Part of the problem is that San Diego has the league’s youngest roster. The other issue is that it has the league’s third-smallest payroll. Many franchises can overcome one of those impediments, but few can overcome both. Expect many more hitting slumps, and a lot more unsightly errors as the Padres embark on the umpteenth year of their rebuild.


Odds on Free-Agent Landing Spots: Pitchers

Shohei Otani (SP/OF, Japan)

  • Seattle Mariners: 5/2
  • Los Angeles Dodgers: 7/2
  • Chicago Cubs: 6/1
  • Los Angeles Angels: 8/1
  • New York Yankees: 10/1
  • FIELD: 6/1

 

It’s far from a sure bet that two-way star Shohei Ohtani will leave Japan for the Majors. The 23-year-old has yet to hire a U.S. agent and is said to be unhappy with a clause in the MLB’s new labor agreement that would severely restrict the size of his first stateside contract. However, if Ohtani does make the jump, we believe his most likely landing place will be Seattle. It’s home to a large Asian population and has previously embraced Japanese players like Ichiro Suzuki, Hisashi Iwakuma, Kenji Jojima, and Munenori Kawasaki. The Mariners understand how to make Japanese players feel at home and, just as importantly, how to market them to the community.

It’s also worth keeping an eye on where Yu Darvish signs in the offseason. The Dodger rental is close friends with Ohtani, and the two players may try to join forces in the same Major League city.

Yu Darvish (SP, Dodgers)

  • Cubs: 3/2
  • Blue Jays: 4/1
  • Phillies: 10/1
  • Cardinals: 15/1
  • Dodgers: 30/1
  • FIELD: 7/2

 

Yu Darvish picked an awfully bad time to have his two worst outings of the season. The Japanese right-hander completely fell apart on baseball’s biggest stage, losing two games and posting a sky-high 21.60 ERA in the World Series. His performance will certainly impact his next payday, but it won’t scare away suitors altogether. His stuff is still electric, and he figures to be a whole lot better when he stops inadvertently advertising his off-speed pitches.

The Cubs could be first in line, particularly if they lose ace Jake Arrieta. Speaking of whom …

Jake Arrieta (SP, Cubs)

  • Rangers: 3/2
  • Nationals: 4/1
  • Brewers: 5/1
  • Cubs: 12/1
  • FIELD: 17/3

 

Few teams are in greater need of starting pitching than the Rangers, who finished with the fifth-worst ERA and BAA in the American League after unloading Darvish at the trade deadline. Arrieta may no longer be a Cy Young-caliber hurler, but he’s a reliable starter who can be counted on for 30 starts and 14-16 wins per season. He’d be an excellent upgrade for Texas, and a positive first step towards building a competitive staff.

Wade Davis (RP, Cubs)

  • Astros: 2/1
  • Cardinals: 7/2
  • Twins: 6/1
  • Cubs: 10/1
  • Braves: 15/1
  • FIELD: 6/1

 

If there’s one thing we learned from the World Series it’s that the Astros’ bullpen could use reinforcements. Manager A.J. Hinch gave up on closer Ken Giles and turned to starters Brad Peacock, Francisco Liriano, and Charlie Morton to maintain the team’s 5-0 lead in Game 7. Wade Davis would go a long way towards strengthening the team’s pen and negating one of their few remaining weaknesses

CC Sabathia (SP, Yankees)

Image result for cc sabathia
CC Sabathia pitching for the Yankees (Keith Allison (flickr) CC License)
  • Yankees: 1/2
  • Angels: 9/1
  • Brewers: 11/1
  • FIELD: 11/2

 

No longer the dominant pitcher who won the 2007 Cy Young Award, Sabathia proved over the last couple seasons that he still has a little life left in his left arm. He’s rebounded from a terrible 2015 (4.73 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 4.68 FIP) by going 23-17 with a 3.81 ERA, 1.297 WHIP, and 4.38 FIP. At 37, a long-term deal isn’t in his future, but he wants to stay in New York and there is mutual interest from the team, which make sense; the Yankees would benefit from another year of Sabathia as a back-end rotation arm.

If not the Yankees, the Angels are — as always — in dire need of quality starters, as are the Brewers, a team Sabathia excelled with in 2008.

Lance Lynn (SP, Cardinals)

  • Cubs: 8/1
  • Rangers: 9/1
  • Brewers: 11/1
  • Orioles: 12/1
  • Cardinals: 15/1
  • FIELD: 3/4

 

Lynn returned from 2015 Tommy John surgery this year, and it didn’t go very well if you dig beneath the surface. His 11-8 record and 3.43 ERA mask the fact that he posted his worst career marks in all of the following categories: HR/9, SO/9, BB/9, SO/W ratio, and FIP. But the promise he showed during his first four years (plus solid counting stats) will convince a team to spend relatively big on the 30-year-old. It’s a seller’s market this year, and Lynn has a reasonable sales pitch.

The Cubs and Brewers are two starter-needy teams and Lynn is a midwest guy, growing up in nearby Indianapolis.


Odds on Free-Agent Landing Spots: Hitters

JD Martinez (RF, Diamondbacks)

  • Red Sox: 4/1
  • Cardinals: 8/1
  • Giants: 9/1
  • Blue Jays: 12/1
  • Diamondbacks: 15/1
  • FIELD: 6/5

 

Arguably the most coveted free agent on the market, JD Martinez is going to significantly boost someone’s offense next season. Even with home runs at an all-time high, Martinez’s power will be a hot commodity. He was all-world with Arizona after getting moved at the deadline, batting .302 with a 1.11 OPS, 29 homers, and 65 RBIs in 62 games. He was so hot that his name was thrown into the NL MVP discussion, despite spending the first half of the year in the American League.

The Red Sox are a couple power-bats away from being truly terrifying, and they have the bankroll to win a bidding war with anyone. They could also hide JD’s miserable defense at DH, something NL teams like the Giants and Cards cannot.

Mike Moustakas (3B, Royals)

  • Angels: 2/1
  • Mets: 4/1
  • Braves: 6/1
  • Royals: 10/1
  • FIELD: 19/6

 

No team is set to take a bigger hit in free agency than the Royals, who could lose third baseman Mike Moustakas, first baseman Eric Hosmer, and outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Melky Cabrera. They’ll do everything in their power to keep Moustakas, but big-market clubs like the Angels and Mets are almost certain to make him an offer he can’t refuse.

Lorenzo Cain (CF, Royals)

  • Rangers: 5/1
  • Nationals: 11/2
  • Yankees: 6/1
  • Royals: 24/1
  • FIELD: 101/99

 

While the dream for the Royals would be to keep all of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Lorenzo Cain, their limited payroll won’t allow it. Of the three, Hosmer is the club’s top priority, as insiders are suggesting Kansas City is prepared to make an offer exceeding $100 million. With that kind of money tied up in one player, there definitely won’t be money to keep Moustakas or Cain.

With the latter turning 32 years old in April, some teams will be hesitant to give him a long-term deal. Expect the majority of his offers to come from contenders, or teams on the cusp. The Rangers would be a great fit, as they are desperate for speed in the outfield. The Nationals only have one more chance to convince Bryce Harper to stay, making this a crucial offseason for the organization. And with the Yankees being a lot further along with their rebuild than we expected, don’t ever count them out of high-priced free agents.

Eric Hosmer (1B, Royals)

  • Red Sox: 2/1
  • Mariners: 5/2
  • Rockies: 6/1
  • Royals:  8/1
  • FIELD: 7/1

 

The Mariners need help at several positions, but addressing their concerns at first base would be a natural place to start. Hosmer represents a tremendous upgrade over incumbent first baseman Danny Velencia, who hit just .256 with 15 home runs and 66 RBI in 2017.

The Red Sox would love to kick Mitch Moreland to the curb in favor of a better – and more consistent – run producer like Hosmer.

Jay Bruce (RF, Indians)

  • Indians: 7/1
  • Blue Jays: 8/1
  • Orioles: 11/1
  • Giants: 12/1
  • FIELD: 2/3

 

You generally know what you’re getting with Jay Bruce. He’s going to bat around .250. He’s going to hit 25-35 home runs. His OPS will be in the low to mid .800s. And, as long as he’s healthy, his fielding will be satisfactory. In today’s juiced-ball MLB, his power numbers aren’t as valuable as they would have been a couple years ago, and his low OBP (.324 in 2016; .319 career) sets him apart in a bad way. That’s a big part of why there was minimal interest at last year’s trade deadline. But he will get a sizeable multi-year contract, nonetheless.

Bruce played well with Cleveland after the deadline and has a postseason pedigree that might convince the team to keep him around. If not, the Blue Jays were one of the other teams interested in Bruce last year, and they are likely to have a Jose Bautista-shaped hole in right field.