With about 100 days of the offseason left until Opening Day, teams continue to assess who they’ve lost and where their weaknesses and needs are heading into the Christmas holiday.
With the December free agent market as hot as it was, several teams have already drastically improved their World Series odds, while some perennial contenders still have work to do to get back to the level of talent they had in 2019.
Here’s a look at the field of contenders, and how Las Vegas is currently thinking about their World Series odds after some major free agent chips are off the board.
The Yankees acquiring Gerrit Cole changes the balance of power in the American League from the AL champs to New York. With the Red Sox and Indians on austerity plans heading into 2020, it’s the Yankees and Astros who are unsurprisingly favored to duel it out and battle for the American League pennant.
The Astros loss is the Yankees gain, and the Cole signing leaves Houston with an ace-sized hole at the front-end of their rotation. While there are plenty of starting pitchers available, after Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dallas Keuchel, the talent drops off precipitously.
The Astros did not appear to make a strong run at Cole, so it seemed apparent they would lose their star pitcher. The question now is who replaces the myriad of innings Cole threw, both in the regular season and the playoffs. What the Astros really need in 2020 is another strong and healthy performance by Justin Verlander, whose consistent fastball speed seemingly defies the aging curve. Still, it’s a major loss for Houston, as everyone in the rotation has to move up a spot now.
In the National League, the Dodgers are again favored to make it to the World Series, though much like the Astros, they have some holes to fill in their rotation. L.A. is losing three competent, if not all-star starters. One of whom, Ryu, posted Cy Young numbers last year. In addition, but less stinging, they are also losing Rich Hill— who is good when he pitches, but perpetually injured— and Alex Wood. L.A.’s pitching depth makes them favorites in the NL, as they currently have Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, Kenta Maeda, and Julio Urias slated as their top-four starters.
Good news for the other top tier of contending teams, as the Red Sox and Indians don’t appear likely to be making improvements going into 2020— in fact, they likely will both be worse off from a personnel perspective than they were in 2019, when they both missed the postseason.
The Indians already traded away Corey Kluber, and are entertaining offers on Francisco Lindor, as rumors swirl around the Red Sox potentially trading Mookie Betts. We can discuss in another article the travesty of teams slamming shut their window of contention, but it’s good news for the rest of the AL to have previously talented, big-spending teams on austerity plans.
It’s strange to see the Braves and Nationals in the same tier as the Red Sox and Phillies, as the Nationals largely have the same team coming back with exception to all-star Anthony Rendon. While Rendon’s bat will no doubt be replaced by a lesser hitter (duh), it was the Nats’ starting pitching that earned the franchise their first ever World Series championship. With the same rotation set to return in 2020, it’s strange that the Phillies, whose season was sunk due to a lack of starting pitching, are in the same tier.
The Braves were one game away from an NLCS showdown with their division rivals, but a pitching clunker in the first inning of game five of the NLDS hoisted the Cardinals to the LCS instead. The Braves started the offseason by signing the best free agent reliever in Will Smith as well as Cole Hamels, who will replace Dallas Keuchel in their rotation.
Atlanta lost Josh Donaldson, and it’s unlikely he’ll land back in Atlanta, so there’s still a bat need in their lineup. As of today, Atlanta has Johan Camargo slated as the starting third baseman. Whether or not they upgrade the position remains to be seen.
This next tier of teams is the most eclectic of the bunch, inclusive of a 2019 division winner, three wild card teams, and several teams that missed the playoffs in 2019. Of those that missed the postseason last year, some have already improved via free agency so far this offseason, while others have done very little to improve.
The biggest free agent signing for any team on the list is the Angels inking Anthony Rendon to a multiyear deal. They still have a long way to go before a pitching upgrade thrusts them into the conversation as AL contenders. They have a strong core, with a lineup of Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, and a healthy Shohei Ohtani (both on the offensive side of the ball, and as a pitcher). The strong middle-of-the-lineup makes the Angels pitching moves that much more important.
The Cubs “dynasty” did not pan out exactly as many people anticipated, as Chicago’s run of four consecutive postseason berths hit a wall last season. Though they entered 2019 as the division favorites in a competitive NL Central, they were bested by both the Cardinals and Brewers.
Starter Cole Hamels left via free agency, and their hole at second base is still a glaring weakness (last year Cubs second basemen combined for a wRC+ of 81).
Last season the Twins took advantage of a juiced ball, and their record-breaking offense shattered the franchise record and led the majors with 307 dingers. The homer-happy offense managed to hide a lack of starting pitching prowess which is still the major need for the Twins going into 2020.
The Brewers have become infamous for trying to do a lot with a little. The loss of catcher Yasmani Grandal will sting, but Milwaukee backfilled one of the best defensive catchers in baseball by trading for Omar Narváez who will platoon with Manny Piña.
The Brewers magic will depend on decent starting pitching performance from lefty Eric Lauer, (acquired in the Zach Davies trade with the Padres), Brett Anderson and Josh Lindblom, none of whom are household names.
The A’s bullpen last year blew 30 saves, and the team still managed to win 97 games. Though they are at a distinct disadvantage being in the same division as the Astros (ditto for the Rays and the Yankees), they will have to shore up their bullpen. Though they have Liam Hendriks, adding another relief arm will go a long way, though it’s been a while since the A’s made a splash in free agency.
Unlike the A’s, the Rays managed to get a ton of value out of their bullpen, en route to a Wild Card victory in Oakland. Although they lost their catcher, Travis d’Arnaud, they backfilled him with Mike Zunino. There’s only so much the Rays want to do to be able to compete with the Yankees. For now, they remain competitive, but it’s no surprise the Yankees top our list with more than half the league ahead of the budget-conscious Rays.
If you want to have some real run, the Blue Jays are currently at 100/1, with the Pirates at 200/1, the Giants 300/1, and the Mariners and Royals are 500/1. The Orioles, Tigers, and Marlins bring up the rear all at 1000/1.
Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano