2018 MLB Odds: Big Markets Carry Big Expectations

  • We’ve set the odds for who will win the World Series and which players will take home the MLB’s most coveted hardware.
  • The Dodgers are hoping to win one more game than last year after coming tantalizingly close to a title.
  • Derek Jeter gave his former team a big boost by sending Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees.

I never saw Get Rich or Die Tryin’. In terms of fictionalized stories about rappers hitting it big, 8 Mile satiated that need, probably forever. But the title of that movie seems to be the motto for most of Major League Baseball this season. Outside a handful of the game’s richest clubs, most teams’s title chances look dead on arrival headed into the 2018 season.

The days of a small or mid market team “money balling” their way to contention look to be over, at least for the foreseeable future (Of the top ten favorites for the World Series, only Arizona is outside the top half of the league in payroll, sitting 16th). Instead, shamelessly tanking is the new trend, and almost a third of the league isn’t even interested in fielding a competitive team this season.

In fairness, the last two World Series champions, the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs, made all the suffering and last-place finishes appear worth it, as both teams sucked their way into a franchise altering core of batters. But while hapless clubs like Oakland and Miami throw away season after season, waiting for their chance at a Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant or Anthony Rizzo, it’s worth noting that the Astros and Cubs were always at a distinct advantage: they play in some of the biggest markets in the country. When the time came to contend, they were able to bring in the big money arms to put their team over the top.

Now, thanks to the league’s arbitration rules, the Astros and Cubs get to continue to throwing money at the best starting pitchers in baseball, all while paying their league MVPs well below market value. Stumbling onto those cheap young All-Stars is something all the league’s top contenders have managed to do, and some didn’t even need to tank to do it.

After just a few mediocre seasons, the Yankees were able to load up their prospect pipeline. Now, after taking advantage of Miami’s firesale, they are home to both the reigning AL and NL home run champions in Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. Division rival Boston followed a similar trajectory, trading for ace Chris Sale last year and adding slugger J.D. Martinez this offseason to an under-paid outfield.

The Dodgers have never taken a season off, qualifying for the last five postseasons and finishing above 80 wins for over a decade. Yet somehow, they still managed to find top-notch prospects, boasting the past two NL Rookie of the Year winners in Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger. Pairing that loaded offense with a Clayton Kershaw-led rotation means almost a guaranteed return to the playoffs, where the Dodgers will look to win one more game than last season.

The list of true contenders at the outset of spring training appears to be rather short. But that doesn’t mean this MLB season lacks intrigue. There’s going to be some thrilling storylines, including the first true two-way player in nearly a century. Throw in some tight races for individual accolades, and there will be plenty of chances for bettors to fling funds around this summer. And with some surprisingly big names still remaining on the free agency market, perhaps one or two more clubs can get serious about contending in the coming month?

Let’s take a look at the state of the league a month away from Opening Day.

2018 World Series Odds

Pictured: either a strike out or a home run. That’s all Aaron Judge does. (Photo credit: Keith Allison (Flickr) CC License)

  • Chicago Cubs: 7/1
  • Houston Astros: 7/1
  • Los Angeles Dodgers: 7/1
  • New York Yankees: 7/1
  • Cleveland Indians: 9/1
  • Boston Red Sox: 10/1
  • Washington Nationals: 11/1
  • Los Angeles Angels: 20/1
  • Arizona Diamondbacks: 22/1
  • Colorado Rockies: 22/1
  • San Francisco Giants: 25/1
  • St Louis Cardinals: 25/1
  • Milwaukee Brewers: 30/1
  • New York Mets: 30/1
  • Toronto Blue Jays: 30/1
  • Minnesota Twins: 40/1
  • Seattle Mariners: 40/1
  • Baltimore Orioles: 60/1
  • Tampa Bay Rays: 60/1
  • Texas Rangers: 60/1
  • Philadelphia Phillies: 80/1
  • Atlanta Braves: 100/1
  • Pittsburgh Pirates: 100/1
  • Cincinnati Reds: 200/1
  • Chicago White Sox: 200/1
  • Kansas City Royals: 200/1
  • Oakland Athletics: 200/1
  • San Diego Padres: 200/1
  • Detroit Tigers: 300/1
  • Miami Marlins: 500/1

Thanks to Derek Jeter’s double-agent act, the Yankees get to drop Stanton in to the same bandbox that Judge belted 33 of his 52 homers in last season. New York’s offense is so powerful on paper, they look like the Bronx Atomic Bombers. But while homers are sexy, and attracting a lot of betting action, the Yanks look to have the least reliable pitching staff of the main contenders. We saw Houston shut down that swing for the fences lineup last ALCS, and unless New York can add another big arm, I wouldn’t trust this staff in a seven game series against the Astros, Dodgers or Cubs.

The Yankees might also be in one of the only tight division races this season in the AL East. With the hated Red Sox coming off a 93-win campaign, neither team will be able to coast to the finish line if they want to avoid a one-game playoff. Don’t expect a white knuckle finish elsewhere, though: the other five division titles in the MLB were decided by an average of 15 games last season.

That means there’s not a ton of contenders potentially coming from the wild card spot. Heck, I don’t even believe in all the projected division winners. The Nationals are a name that gets thrown around a lot, having averaged over 92 wins over the past six seasons. However, they’re still looking to win their first playoff series since Youppi! was leading chants in the Big O. No matter the sport, Washington teams have proven to be a sucker’s bet.

As for the rest, the Angels, Giants and Rockies should all get a look as decent-sized long shots, but beyond that, pickings are slim. The New York bump has some books listing the Mets as 20/1 odds to win it all, but the same betting rule for the NFL also applies to baseball: any team that is talking about playing Tim Tebow is not a championship contender.

2018 AL MVP Odds

  • Mike Trout (Angels): 3/1
  • Giancarlo Stanton (Yankees): 4/1
  • Jose Altuve (Astros): 6/1
  • Jose Ramirez (Indians): 9/1
  • Aaron Judge (Yankees): 10/1
  • Shohei Ohtani (Angels): 10/1
  • Carlos Correa (Astros): 15/1
  • Mookie Betts (Red Sox): 15/1
  • Francisco Lindor (Indians): 20/1
  • Josh Donaldson (Blue Jays): 20/1

This will easily be the most fascinating race in all of baseball next season. The already star-studded American League now has the reigning NL MVP joining the fray, as well as the ultimate wild card in Ohtani. Realistically, a player that can perform above-average as both a starting pitcher and a hitter should be deemed the most valuable, but will a generation of writers who have never seen a two-way player feel the same way? Will Ohtani even be able to perform up to expectations on both sides of the field?

Trout has won the honor twice in the last four seasons, and was on his way to a third before a thumb injury essentially took him out of the running. Yet despite missing a month and a half, he still finished 10th in the league in WAR. Jose Altuve led the way in that category last season, but in order to win back-to-back, he’ll have to not only overcome a loaded field; he’ll also have to beat out voter fatigue. Miguel Cabrera has been the only repeat AL MVP in the last two decades.

Once in the same conversation as Mike Trout, Bryce Harper has fallen well behind in the greatest active player debate. (Photo credit: Bart Hanlon (Flickr) CC License)

2018 NL MVP Odds

  • Bryce Harper (Nationals): 7/2
  • Paul Goldschmidt (Diamondbacks): 5/1
  • Kris Bryant (Cubs): 7/1
  • Nolan Arenado (Rockies): 7/1
  • Cody Bellinger (Dodgers): 9/1
  • Joey Votto (Reds): 9/1
  • Buster Posey (Giants): 12/1
  • Charlie Blackmon (Rockies): 15/1
  • Max Scherzer (Nationals): 20/1
  • Eric Hosmer (Padres): 22/1

Remember when Harper vs Trout was a debate? After a stunning 2015 campaign, the Nats outfielder had a dismal follow up season, while a knee injury slowed an improved 2017. Heading into free agency next year, the 25-year-old’s value is already sky-high, but this could be his last chance to claim an NL MVP. His biggest competition will come from the D-Backs steady hitting Goldschmidt, who has finished top three in MVP voting thrice before, but never gone all the way.

2018 AL Cy Young

  • Chris Sale (Red Sox): 3/1
  • Corey Kluber (Indians): 7/2
  • Luis Severino (Yankees): 5/1
  • Justin Verlander (Astros): 8/1
  • Marcus Stroman (Blue Jays): 9/1
  • Dallas Kuechel (Astros): 11/1
  • Carlos Corrasco (Indians): 13/1
  • Ervin Santana (Twins): 13/1

Sale was in the driver’s seat for this race at All-Star break last year, racing out to an 11-4 record with a 2.75 ERA. But a decline in the second half combined with some electric pitching from Kluber kept the Sox from having back-to-back winners (I still can’t believe Rick Porcello won in 2016!) Many of the same faces are expected to be in the race this time around, and there’s some added excitement around Verlander, who showed a dominance in the playoffs that we haven’t seen out of him since 2011.

2018 NL Cy Young

  • Max Scherzer (Nationals): 5/2
  • Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers): 5/2
  • Yu Darvish (Cubs): 6/1
  • Zack Geinke (Diamondbacks): 8/1
  • Noah Synedergaard (Mets): 10/1
  • Stephen Strasburg (Nationals): 14/1
  • Carlos Martinez (Cardinals): 14/1
  • Aaron Nola (Phillies): 16/1

Though Kershaw is thought of as the best pitcher in baseball, it’s actually Scherzer who has taken home back-to-back NL Cy Young awards. A nagging back injury has kept Kershaw well short of topping the 200 inning mark over the last two years, while Scherzer has struck out a league-best 552 batters over that same stretch. If Kershaw fails to last the whole season again, Scherzer will still find competition for the award, from teammate Stephen Strasburg, new NL arrival Yu Darvish or one of the talented Mets pitchers returning from injury (that’s basically all of them).

Remaining Free Agent Odds

MLB teams have been dropping the ball in free agency, leaving some great names sitting at home. (Photo credit: Keith Allison (Flickr) CC License)

An odd new trend in the league is free agents over estimating their value on the open market, then going unsigned for months on end. Last year, big sluggers like Edwin Encarnacion, Mike Napoli and Mark Trumbo failed to generate much of a bidding war and this winter, club inactivity has stretched to other positions on the field. There’s enough free agent talent remaining to hold their own spring training camp, which is what players are doing. Names like former Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta, former All-Stars Mike Moustakas and Carlos Gonzalez, Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn and Jonathan Lucroy all remain unsigned, which has brought action from the Players Association against some of the more blatantly tanking teams. Eventually, all these players will find a home, but the odds of them getting fair market value are low, and the odds of playing for a contender look even lower.

Jake Arrieta, SP

  • Philadelphia Phillies: 5/3
  • Baltimore Orioles: 3/1
  • Washington Nationals: 9/2
  • Milwaukee Brewers: 7/1
  • FIELD: 11/1

Lance Lynn, SP

  • Minnesota Twins: 5/4
  • Baltimore Orioles: 2/1
  • Milwaukee Brewers: 6/1
  • FIELD: 9/1

Alex Cobb, SP

  • Baltimore Orioles: 2/1
  • Texas Rangers: 7/2
  • Milwaukee Brewers: 4/1
  • Minnesota Twins: 6/1
  • FIELD: 7/1

Mike Moustakas, 3B

  • Atlanta Braves: 9/5
  • Chicago White Sox: 5/2
  • New York Mets: 6/1
  • Kansas City Royals: 10/1
  • FIELD: 8/1

Carlos Gonzalez, OF

  • Colorado Rockies: 1/1
  • Houston Astros: 3/1
  • New York Mets: 5/1
  • FIELD: 9/1

Hockey may be a wildly unpopular sport in the U.S., but where no one is paying attention, there's a ton of value for Boris to mine. An avid NHL fan of over 20 years, Malloy made his first bet against a friend during the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals (going against Ray Bourque) and has been hooked ever since. He has yet to pay off that debt of $2, but he's made plenty back since. In between worrying about the league's next lockout, he regularly contributes to MTS and is also fluent in football, basketball, baseball and French (sort of).