2018 MLB Betting: 5 Division Value Bets You Need to Target
Whether it’s collusion by the owners or not, a lot of big-name players remain unsigned in baseball as the start of spring training approaches.
As of early February, approximately 120 players were still available on the free-agent market, including stars like Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish and J.D. Martinez. When those players finally land deals with teams (and you know they will), the landscape of the 2018 Major League Baseball season will look entirely different.
That’s why this might just be a good time to be looking for some extra value on the MLB futures. While most frontrunners already like their chances and aren’t looking to make any major upgrades, division darkhorses know they need to get better and should be entertaining every free agent possibility out there.
Here are 5 teams who already present a lot of value on the division futures odds at BetOnline and whose odds will only get shorter if they land a prize free agent before the start of the season.
1. Minnesota Twins
(+600 to win AL Central)
Alright, so the Twins have got to beat out the Cleveland Indians, whose -400 odds of winning the Central are higher than any other team in any other division. In fact, other than the Nationals (-125 to win the NL East), no other team pays less than even money to finish atop their group.
But as we all know, anything can happen in baseball. The Tribe may look invincible now, but the core of that pitching rotation is either aging (Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Josh Tomlin are all over 30) or unproven (can we really expect Trevor Bauer to go 17-9 again?) Injuries to a couple of key starting pitchers, relievers or position players may be enough to derail the Indians in 2018, and the drive might not be there anymore after back-to-back stellar campaigns weren’t rewarded with a World Series title.
If the Indians stumble, or even if they don’t, Minnesota is really the only other candidate in the Central to challenge for the division crown as the Royals (+1000 to win the Central), White Sox (+1600) and Tigers (+2500) all look to be in rebuild mode. The Twins’ promising young roster arrived a year or two ahead of schedule last season, winning 30 more games than they did in 2016 and reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
Minnesota’s already addressed its biggest weakness from last season, adding veteran arms Fernando Rodney, Zach Duke and Addison Reed to their bullpen. The Twins still have the veteran presence of Joe Mauer and Brian Dozier to make sure last year’s success doesn’t go to the heads of budding young stars like Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Jose Berrios. If Minnesota can manage to add a front-of-the-line starter in free agency (Darvish, Arrieta, Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb are reportedly on their radar), these +600 odds won’t be around for long.
2. New York Mets
(+250 to win NL East)
The Mets have to overcome a similar challenge that the Twins are facing: overthrowing a kingpin at the top of their division. The Nationals have finished atop the NL East the last 2 years and 3 of the last 4, and as mentioned earlier are -125 to repeat as division winners once again.
New York finished fourth in the East last year, 27 games behind the Nats, but we need to take that with a grain of salt. Ace Noah Syndergaard missed nearly the entire season after tearing his lat in April, while fellow mainstays like Yoenis Cespedes, David Wright, Matt Harvey, Zach Wheeler, Steven Matz and Jeurys Familia also missed a significant amount of time.
There are silver linings to be found in the Mets’ nightmarish 2017 campaign, both for the team and for bettors. All those injuries forced New York to give youngsters more playing time than they ordinarily might have received, allowing for the emergence of players like center fielder Michael Conforto (the Mets’ only all-star last season) and shortstop Amed Rosario. Meanwhile, finishing 22 games below .500 has now opened up a lot of betting value on a team that was just +160 to beat out the Nationals last season.
A few faces have changed from that 2017 roster, but the core (the rotation) remains essentially the same. It may feel like a big ask at this point, but if Syndergaard can actually stay healthy most of the year, he and Jacob deGrom form one heck of a 2-headed monster at the front of the rotation. Matz, Harvey and Wheeler also have the potential to be very effective at the back end of the rotation, especially if management holds true to its plans on limiting those starters to two times through the lineup.
With all that pitching, the Mets won’t need much offense to win a lot of games. Assuming Adrian Gonzalez still has something left in the tank, the top 6 in New York’s lineup (Rosario, Conforto, Cespedes, Jay Bruce, Gonzalez and Asdrubal Cabrera) looks good enough to produce enough runs to win most nights. At +250 odds to win the division, I think it’s worth rolling the dice that enough important Mets will make it through the season unscathed.
3. Chicago Cubs
(+175 to win NL Central)
It’s not often in MLB division futures betting that you’ll find value on the favorite, especially one as publicly adored as the Cubs.
But even when the Cubbies underachieved drastically last year, probably suffering a World Series hangover after ending the franchise’s 108-year championship drought the previous fall, they still finished 22 games over .500 and won the division by 6 games. And that was with the Brewers coming virtually out of nowhere and playing over their heads.
This year, the Cubs shouldn’t be lacking motivation. Though they’ve already got one Fall Classic under their belt, more titles are expected from this young and talented bunch. Infielders Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Baez are still in their primes or just entering them, and Kyle Schwarber can only go up from an awful 2017 campaign.
I’m not concerned about the starting rotation, either. John Lackey may be gone, but the Cubs still have several legitimate aces in Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and even Jose Quintana. Chicago is also rumored to be interested in Cobb, Darvish or even re-signing Arrieta.
Going into last year, you had to lay -500 on the Cubs to win the Central. Now that their stock has dropped and people are buying in on the Brewers (+250) or Cardinals (+225), plus money on the Cubbies looks like incredible value.
4. San Francisco Giants
(+375 to win NL West)
It’s an even-numbered year, and you know what that means in San Francisco. The Giants have won the World Series in 3 of the last 4 years that ended with a 0, 2, 4, 6 or 8.
Of course, that’s just a neat coincidence that doesn’t offer any sort of predictive value for how San Fran will fare in 2018. What does have predictive value, however, is all the moves the Giants have made to improve their team after bottoming out in the NL West last season with a disastrous 64-98 record.
The lineup has been revamped with the acquisitions of Andrew McCutchen, Evan Longoria and Austin Jackson, all veterans who have playoff experience. Though these 3 players may be past their prime, they’ve still got enough upside to significantly improve a Giants offense that finished 29th in baseball last year in runs scored. Their presence also provides more protection for Buster Posey and Brandon Belt while putting less pressure on Hunter Pence and Brandon Crawford.
Hopefully, Madison Bumgarner stays off his dirt bike long enough to put in a full season as the Giants ace, and Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija are both former leaders of pitching staffs who are capable of dominant years as well. Admittedly, the last 2 spots in the rotation are definitely question marks, but that’s where that improved offense will need to win some games. The bullpen, a huge issue last year, should also be a lot better in 2018 now that Mark Melancon is back from injury.
The Dodgers may look solid right now as NL West favorites (+120), but there’s no telling how they’ll rebound emotionally following a gutting loss to Houston in last year’s World Series. The Diamondbacks (+350) and Rockies (+450) are legitimate challengers as well, but I like these odds on a Giants franchise with plenty of remaining championship pedigree on its roster.
5. Seattle Mariners
(+600 to win AL West)
Every spring, I fall into this trap of liking the Mariners to win the AL West, and every year I’m cursing at myself in July. But with 2018 looking like the last kick at the can for an aging cast of star players, I have to give them one more chance.
There is a lot of veteran talent on this club. Nelson Cruz is one of baseball’s best and most consistent run producers, James Paxton was on his way to Cy Young contention before his 2017 campaign was cut short by injury, and we all know what Felix Hernandez is capable of, even if he’s a bit past his best-before date. And though Robinson Cano hasn’t quite put up the same numbers since leaving the Yankees for the Mariners in 2014 (Seattle’s ballpark probably has something to do with that), he’s still among the best power-hitting middle infielders in the game.
The acquisition of stolen base specialist Dee Gordon from the Marlins gives Seattle a ton of speed at the top of the lineup, and new first baseman Ryon Healy hit 25 homers last year in his first full season in the big leagues. I also think third baseman Kyle Seager is capable of even more than he’s shown over his first 7 seasons, even though he’s hit 20 or more homers in each of the past 6 campaigns.
Seattle doesn’t have a lot of prospects to offer at the trade deadline if the Mariners are in contention, but I can see this front office being willing to eat some big contracts in an effort to make the playoffs for the first time since 2001. Seattle fans weren’t happy after Asian sensation Shohei Ohtani passed up an offer from the M’s to join the Angels, so GM Jerry Dipoto may be more aggressive than usual in an effort to please the fanbase.
Even if all goes right this year in Seattle, I’d say the ceiling for this team is probably reaching the mid-90s in wins, so we’ll need some co-operation from the defending World Series champion Astros (+100 to win the West) to come back to the rest of the pack. But we saw with the Cubs last year how a title can make a team much less hungry the following year, and I’m not expecting Houston to win 100-plus again in 2018.
With so many free agents yet to sign, there’s still a lot of uncertainty about how teams will look at the start of the 2018 MLB season. But if you wait until all the big fish have landed, the division futures odds will have changed accordingly and you’ll no longer be able to get the same value on a lot of these teams who are currently under the radar.
Right now, I think backing darkhorses like the Twins, Mets, Giants and Mariners are the way to go, rather than laying juice with favorites like the Indians, Nationals and Astros. And with the Cubs coming off a down year, there’s actually a lot of value with the North Siders, especially if they go out as expected and add another top arm to their rotation.