Last year’s baseball offseason was a snoozefest. We didn’t see the winter’s top free agents, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, sign contracts until just before spring training started. A couple of others, Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel, didn’t even sign until the middle of the regular season.
It’s safe to say this year’s offseason has been the polar opposite. It has been a wild ride. We have seen a number of high-profile players, including Mookie Betts, Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon, switch teams.
However, the offseason news cycle has been absolutely dominated by the Houston Astros’ cheating scandal. Even with spring training now underway, this story doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon, either.
As a result of Major League Baseball’s investigation into whether the Astros had illegally stolen signs in previous seasons, Houston was essentially forced to part ways with manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow. The Astros and their players have also been relentlessly lambasted by media, fans and fellow players in the weeks since. The furor has only risen since several Astros players, as well as owner Jim Crane, issued their apologies just over a week ago.
We’ll see what happens to this story once the regular season actually starts in about a month, but this has the feel of a drama that will continue to play out all year long.
Because no Astros were suspended or even fined by MLB as a result of the investigation, it’s safe to assume we will see opposing players trying to issue a little justice during games. That could lead to some ugliness, to be sure.
There is also actual baseball to be played, lest we forget. While the Astros are now the biggest villains in American professional sports, they are also still expected to be among the best teams in the league in 2020. Oddsmakers aren’t quite as bullish on their chances of winning the World Series as they have been in either of the last 2 years, but the Astros are still among the betting favorites to win the title again this fall.
Yankees, Dodgers Favored
As of this writing, the much-maligned Astros check in with the third-best chances of winning the 2020 World Series, Only the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers, a couple of teams that have been victimized by the Astros’ scandal in recent years, have more favorable odds, according to BetOnline:
Odds to Win World Series
New York Yankees
Los Angeles Dodgers
New York Mets
St. Louis Cardinals
There hasn’t been a ton of parity in baseball over the past few seasons. While few expected the Nationals to win the 2019 World Series, the fact that they did so was hardly a surprise in retrospect given the sheer amount of talent on the roster.
There is a very clear divide between competitive teams and those in the midst of rebuilding processes these days. It seems as though more than half of the league is not actively trying to win games as they instead look to stock up on young talent in their respective minor league systems. On the other end of the spectrum, we have several teams, including the Astros, with an ungodly amount of star-level talent.
The Yankees and Dodgers have essentially put together All-Star teams. The Yanks forked over $324 million in order to pry Cole away from Houston over the winter, while the Dodgers essentially traded nothing in exchange for Betts, the 2018 American League MVP. The Red Sox were looking to save some money, and the Dodgers were happy to take Betts off of their hands.
Houston Favored to Win AL West
Baseball is different from most other American pro sports leagues considering how few teams make the playoffs every year. Just 10 of the league’s 30 clubs qualifies for postseason play every year, which is quite different from the NBA and NHL, where over half of the teams are playoff-bound on a yearly basis.
The Astros have won the American League West in each of the last 3 years, and they’re minus-money favorites to claim a fourth straight divisional crown in ’20. Teams like the A’s, Angels and Rangers seem to have made improvements this winter, but the scandal-ridden Astros are still expected to top the AL West at season’s end:
Odds to Win AL West
Los Angeles Angels
The Astros lost key contributors from last year’s American League championship team like Cole, Robinson Chirinos, Will Harris and Wade Miley, but the core remains. Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke will spearhead a solid rotation. Alex Bregman, the 2019 AL MVP runner-up, and Jose Altuve, the 2017 AL MVP, will feature in a lineup that also includes the likes of George Springer, Carlos Correa, Yordan Alvarez, Michael Brantley and Yuli Gurriel.
Even without Cole, this is a roster with very few weaknesses. We’ll never truly be able to quantify how much the trash can banging aided their run to a 2017 World Series title, but you would have to be profoundly naive to expect this team to go from a 107-win outfit to anything worse than a 90-win team within the span of one offseason.
Bettors Bearish on Houston
While Houston is still a sizable favorite to win the West, their projected win total has dipped over the past few weeks as the scandal has grown. FanDuel initially tapped the Astros with an over/under of 98.5 wins for the 2020 regular season. However, the total has already dipped to 94.5.
The Astros performance in their “apologies” this morning will increase the rallying cry for baseball to suspend players. Fans asked for vacating and rings returned. After seeing the Astros arrogance, they’re going to want more now. Wouldn’t be surprised in baseball reopened case.
FanDuel says that a whopping 91.7 percent of the money placed on the prop has come in on the under, which has forced the line to decline.
William Hill has a similar story. Darren Rovell reports that William Hill has seen almost 90 percent of all bets on Houston’s win total come in on the under on 94.5. That makes the Astros the second-most popular under bet at William Hill, behind only the Red Sox, who are also mired in a cheating scandal of their own.
It seems as though many of the under bettors are still banking on the possibility that some Astros players wind up getting suspended by the league as a result of the scandal. It seems doubtful that the league will take such action at this late stage considering the results of the investigation were revealed over a month ago, but there is certainly no shortage of public pressure on commissioner Rob Manfred to take more action.
William Hill also says that the Astros are not among the most popular options among bettors to win it all this year. The book says that 49 percent of all bets have come in on 4 teams to win it all. The Yankees have accounted for 21 percent, the Dodgers generated another 11 percent, while the White Sox and Angels have both attracted 9 percent of William Hill’s 2020 World Series bets. The Astros, meanwhile, have accounted for just a quarter of one percent of William Hill’s World Series futures handle.
Buy-Low on the Astros
Bettors often make the mistake of betting with their hearts rather than with their heads. The Astros are Public Enemy No. 1 right now, and it seems as though plenty of bettors are gleefully putting money behind the Astros failing miserably in 2020.
Timing is everything when it comes to betting. With the Astros’ odds continuing to trend in the wrong direction, now is probably the best time to jump on them and go against the betting public.
The Astros have won at least 101 games in each of the last 3 years. The fact that their total has dipped so far despite the roster remaining largely intact is a bit ludicrous. There’s a reason the total was initially at 98.5. Bias has caused the number to fall, so I would be jumping to hammer the over now that it’s all the way down to 94.5.
The +800 odds on Houston winning the World Series are also attackable. Let’s not forget that this team was listed as a minus-money favorite to win it all just last year, and they were within 8 outs of doing just that in Game 7 against Washington. Cole’s presence was obviously a part of that, but this is still one of the most stacked teams in baseball.
I’m more bullish on the over on 94.5 wins than I am on the Astros at +800 to win the 2020 Fall Classic, but I think both are advantageous options as things stand today. The Astros may lead the league in hit-by-pitches this season, and with good reason, but I think people are overreacting to the on-field impact the cheating scandal will have on this team.
Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with GamblingSites.org since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, bu ...
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