MLB Futures Value Plays To Jump On Before Free Agency Shakes Out
At least point it barely needs to be said that this MLB offseason has been about as far from “Hot Stove” as possible. As of early-February, with Spring Training imminent, six of CBS Sports’50 best free agents available' have yet to sign with a ballclub.
At the top of those 50 are the unsigned Bryce Harper & Manny Machado, who are both seemingly the best combination of youth & elite production to hit free agency since A-Rod in the winter of 00-01. Among the rest of unsigned players are former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel, All-Star reliever Craig Kimbrel (although fresh off a disastrous World Series) and hit-and-play-anywhere guy Marwin Gonzalez.
MLB teams as a whole have shown a disinterest in spending big so far this offseason, as the Nats signing of Patrick Corbin remains the only nine-figure deal, and lots of capable vets have settled for one-year pacts. This may be frustrating for fans, but it means there’s a lot of impact pieces out on the market still to be settled, which gives gamblers an opportunity to buy low on some futures odds. Getting in now may be the best value before certain teams add players surely to improve their postseason odds.
All odds via Bet Stars
Philadelphia Phillies (Current Odds: 8/1 to win National League, 17/1 to win the World Series)
Over the course of the past 18 months, Philly has put the rest of baseball on alert that they’re going all-in. Last year they made big signings in Jake Arrieta & Carlos Santana, the latter of which they dealt this past December in exchange for Jean Segura. So far in free agency they’ve strengthened their lineup with Andrew McCutchen & shored up their bullpen with David Robinson.
The Phillies are already in a strong position to contend strongly in 2019, especially after their recent trade for All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto, but they don’t seem to be putting a cap on things just yet.
Long been seen as top contenders for one of the top two free agents, the Realmuto trade signals even more that the Phillies are going for it all. Either is at their best a potential 6+ WAR player and would be a huge jolt in this Phillies lineup (especially the left-handed Harper, as the Phillies projected first five hitters this year are all right-handed. Don’t count out a bid for Keuchel either, especially considering the pitching depth they’re up against in the NL East.
Getting on the 8/1 now, before a Harper/Machado signing, looks like the play. One of those bats could make them the top team in the NL East, ahead of the currently 7/1 Atlanta Braves. A Harper/Machado paired with Keuchel could lead them to challenge the Dodgers for top NL odds.
Chicago White Sox (Current Odds: 30/1 to win American League, 60/1 to win the World Series)
Let’s call a spade a spade; if you’re jumping on these odds, it’s because you believe the White Sox’s “sign anyone who’s connected to Manny Machado (his brother-in-law Yonder Alonso & workout buddy Jon Jay)” strategy this offseason will actually lead them to signing Manny Machado.
Frankly even if they do sign Machado you’d be crazy to bet on them to win the World Series. If you don’t mind a long-odds play with some upside, jumping on the Sox now, pre-potential Machado signing, could be a shrewd move.
To be fair, even plugging Machado into that lineup, you’d still need a lot to go right. You’d need bouncebacks from both Jay & Alonso, and for Jose Abreu to play to his career average in his age-32 season. On the mound, this bet won’t cash without a healthy Carlos Rodon, and Reynaldo Lopez & Lucas Giolito finally living up to their potential.
In addition, you’d need early returns from Eloy Jimenez & potentially Dylan Cease. But hey, maybe all that happens, plus Machado signs. Then you’ve got a good young team in a weak division and come October you’re kicking yourself for not jumping on the White Sox when they were 30/1.
New York Yankees (Current Odds: 10/3 to win American League, 13/2 to win the World Series)
“Wow, greatttt advice” you might groan sarcastically as you wind down this article, noting that I’ve finished with the team that currently has the 3rd best odds to win both the AL & the WS. They also haven’t been specifically connected to any of the big fish still on the market.
However, you can never, under any circumstances, count out the Yankees to make a big move. While personally I don’t see them paying big money for Keuchel after filling their rotation by already signing J.A. Happ & re-signing CC, it’d be just like the Yankees to decide to pay for Harper or Machado.
Putting Harper at 1B wastes his athleticism and the Yankees already have a crowded OF/DH situation, but if it gets down to brass tacks where Cashman & Co. think they’re Bryce Harper’s bat away from winning a title (and becoming the favorites to win the AL, or at least worsening their odds for gamblers) then I wouldn’t put it past them making the move.
Same goes for Machado. Miguel Andujar had an excellent rookie season and is promising, but I don’t think that would hold the Yankees back for a second if they thought the price was right with Machado. Adding either of their bats (especially Harper, as like the Phillies the Yankees main bats are right-handed & of course, Yankee Stadium) potentially vaults New York to the top of the World Series odds list.
By Kyle Bandujo