The snap of the leather is about to become a welcoming sound among baseball fans everywhere as pitchers and catchers get set to officially report to Spring Training.
It’s not that I feel too far removed from watching the Red Sox take down the Dodgers in the World Series in November, but in my books, baseball’s return feels as fresh as ever.
While a stagnant free agent market has yet to play itself out as the two biggest names on the board, among a host of others, still remain without jobs for the 2019 MLB season, we can start to look at some futures and snag some value as we see fit.
One way to divulge into the MLB futures market is to identify some potential World Series matchups that carry some value. In other words, which teams do we think can get into the postseason and make a run? There’s a surprise or two when it comes to division races every single season, so while some of these may seem unrealistic, you just never know.
I’ll try and cover every “tier” of odds, so to speak, from some matchups that are very much in the realm of possibility while providing value all the way to some longshot clubs that could surprise their way to the Fall Classic.
*Odds courtesy of MyBookie.
Philadelphia Phillies vs. New York Yankees
The Yankees and Phillies have both been busy this offseason with the Phillies most recently putting an end to the J.T. Realmuto saga by acquiring the 27-year-old catcher from the Marlins, bolstering their chances of taking down the National League East in the process.
With someone named Harper still without a contract for next season, it’s quite likely the Phillies are among the teams keeping tabs on the superstar’s asking price on a lucrative long-term contract.
Aside from nabbing baseball’s best catcher in terms of WAR last season, the Phillies also went out and traded for shortstop Jean Segura and signed free agent outfielder Andrew McCutchen as well as reliable right-handed reliever David Robertson in an effort to fill some holes that dragged them down late last season.
On August 1st of last year, the Phillies led the NL East with a 59-48 record, a half-game ahead of second place Atlanta. Philly would hit a wall and go 21-34 the rest of the way and wound up finishing third in the divison. Management has been aggressive in making sure this doesn’t happen again.
For the Yankees, they knew they needed starting pitching and they went out and got it. They acquired star left-hander James Paxton from the Seattle Mariners to give themselves a co-ace to slide in behind Luis Severino.
The rotation now looks like one of the better groups in baseball on paper.
|James Paxton (SEA)||3.76|
*In 11 starts with the Yankees after being acquired at the non-waiver trade deadline.
The lineup will be without shortstop Didi Gregorius for much of the first half of the season as he recovers from September Tommy John surgery, but this group still strikes fear into opposing pitching.
The Yankees set an MLB record with 267 home runs in 2018, and there’s not much reason to believe they can’t approach that number again this time around.
? 264 ?
With an Aaron Judge homer, the Yankees tie the all-time single-season HR record.
The 1997 Mariners are the only other team to have a 264 HR season. pic.twitter.com/letopIc56B
— Sporting News (@sportingnews) September 29, 2018
They also had one of the best bullpens in baseball last season and they are currently second in line to the Red Sox at +600, according to MyBookie, to win the World Series.
These are two clubs that most would expect to be in the postseason in 2019, so why not have them meet in the World Series?
St. Louis Cardinals vs. Cleveland Indians
The Cardinals got the bulk of their work done at the Winter Meetings in December when they acquired slugging first baseman Paul Goldschmidt from the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Cardinals fell just short of the postseason on the final days of the 2018 season, and once again we are seeing another front office aggressively pursue improvement after a disappointing finish.
You just know the Cardinals are going to be competitive. They are every year. They also quietly sport one of the most productive rotations in the National League after finishing fifth with a 3.52 starters ERA a season ago.
*ERAs are as starters
*Missed the 2018 season with lat surgery
With Goldschmidt now anchoring the middle of that lineup, the Cardinals will also possess one of the deeper lineups in baseball after finishing in a 10th-place tie in the second half of 2018 with a team .324 wOBA.
Don’t talk to the Indians about pitching, because they sport arguably the best rotation in baseball, at least on paper. Cleveland finished third with a starters ERA of 3.39 last year, and they appear likely to bring back the same five-man rotation despite loads of trade rumors swirling around the likes of Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer all winter.
The Indians staff was simply lights out last year.
The concern with the Indians is the lineup after Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez at the top. Edwin Encarnacion and Yonder Alonso are gone from the middle of the order as Carlos Santana made his way back to Cleveland after an eventful offseason to try and recoup some of that lost power production.
Still, the Indians are projected to go with a three-man outfield of Jordan Luplow, Leonys Martin and Tyler Naquin, a far cry from the outfielders that reside among other AL contenders such as in Boston, New York, and Houston, to name a few.
The good news is that the AL Central is still Cleveland’s to lose. They have cake walked into the postseason in each of the last two years, and although they could face increased competition from the Twins and White Sox, especially if Chicago lands Manny Machado, their dominant rotation should be enough to get them to the top of the division again this season.
The Cardinals are in a tough Central in the NL, but they will be in that race as well as the Wild Card race. The same can be said for the Indians who should certainly be in the race for their fourth straight AL Central crown and at the very minimum compete for one of two Wild Card spots in the AL.
At these odds, I’m digging the value we are getting with a couple of competitive clubs.
Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Los Angeles Angels
A SoCal dream series, this one would be a dandy of a matchup.
Can the Dodgers appear in the Fall Classic for the third straight year? They signed free agent outfielder A.J. Pollock in roam center field, which will push Joc Pederson and Cody Bellinger into the corner outfield spots to form a very powerful outfield.
Once again, the Dodgers are rich with starting pitching both at the top and down the list.
*ERAs are as starters
**Didn’t make a 2018 MLB start while recovering from shoulder surgery
Los Angeles’ rotation that finished second in baseball with a 3.19 ERA last season remains largely intact and largely dominant. Keep in mind Kershaw made just 26 starts last season and the club could benefit from a regular workload from their ace.
Back on offense, the Dodgers will get their star shortstop Corey Seager back after missing most of last season with an elbow injury.
Over in Anaheim, the Angels were dealt a bad hand in terms of injuries last season as the pitching staff was brutalized with elbow injuries, something they just couldn’t recover from in a competitive division that included the Astros and upstart A’s.
The Angels added to their pitching staff with low-key additions of Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill to slide in behind Tyler Skaggs and Andrew Heaney. It could be a sneaky-good rotation if these arms can pitch at or close to their full potential.
Of course, Mike Trout will look for his first career playoff appearance alongside an offense that largely resembles last year’s group. Justin Upton, Ohtani (out for the first few weeks), Zack Cozart, Andrelton Simmons and Albert Pujols will look to provide their new-look rotation with some run support and will aim to be particularly better against left-handed pitching this season.
Check out their lineup splits from last season.
In a division with the Astros, the Angels’ most likely path to the postseason will come via a Wild Card berth. We’ve seen before that all you need to do is just get in and go from there.
If the Angels do, they will likely be joined by Dodgers in the NL, possibly resulting in an all-L.A. World Series.
Cincinnati Reds vs. Houston Astros
Clearly, we are throwing a hail mary with the last-place Reds from 2018 to surprise their way to the postseason this year, but there’s a good chance that the Astros are in out of the AL West.
The Reds’ problems have never been on offense. They were quite respectable in some offensive categories a season ago.
They could use more power, something that they attempted to accomplish by acquiring lefty-mashing Matt Kemp and righty-mashing Yasiel Puig in a multi-player deal with the Dodgers.
More importantly, the Reds went out and acquired three experienced starting pitchers after boasting some of the world rotation depth in baseball in recent seasons. Reds starters combined for a 5.02 ERA in 2018, good for 25th league wide. On many nights, their starting pitching didn’t get them a chance to win.
The Reds made three savvy additions to the rotation this offseason:
- Tanner Roark (Nationals)
- Sonny Gray (Yankees)
- Alex Wood (Dodgers)
Luis Castillo has the makings of a top-of-the-rotation arm after he posted an elite 2.44 ERA across 66.1 post All-Star innings last season. At 26, the Reds have themselves a good one.
If the starting pitchers of both old and new can do a notably better job of keeping this team in games, don’t be surprised if the Reds find themselves in Wild Card contention, or better, later in the season.
There’s not a whole lot to say in regards to the Astros. It’s not going to be as easy this time around as their starting pitching took a few big hits in the offseason with Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton departing in free agency before Lance McCullers was lost for the season thanks to Tommy John surgery.
Still, they have Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole at the top of the rotation to go along with former starter Colin McHugh and the recently signed Wade Miley. Brad Peacock or Josh James could fill a fifth starters’ role, or the Astros could be waiting out the market for some starting pitching depth during Spring Training.
The lineup remains mostly intact, but with the addition of slugging outfielder Michael Brantley and veteran catcher Robinson Chirinos. The emergence of Tyler White helps and I fully expect a bounce back season from Carlos Correa.
The rotation and offense will be just fine in Houston and I fully expect them to be a playoff team once again this season. If the Reds can surprise their way to the postseason, we have some monumental value on our hands here.
Colorado Rockies vs. Chicago White Sox
If you believe in miracles, this is my favorite play of the so called ‘unrealistic’ matchups.
The Rockies were a postseason team in 2018 and even had a chance to win the division with a late lead in the final days of the season, eventually losing a tie-breaking game 163 to the NL Champion Dodgers.
The Rockies and Dodgers will once again do battle out west, but it’s a division that could very well turn into a two-team race in a hurry.
As it stands right now, the Giants and Padres are non-contenders while the Diamondbacks appear set for a step or two in the wrong direction after losing Goldschmidt, Pollock, Patrick Corbin, and Clay Buchholz to name a few.
Therefore, the Rockies will get every shot at competing for an NL West title or an NL Wild Card spot at the least. Given the strong Central and East divisions in the NL, their best route to the postseason could very well be by winning their division.
They’ve added right-handers Alex Colome and Kelvin Herrera to their bullpen and Ivan Nova to their rotation as well as veterans Jon Jay and Yonder Alonso to their lineup – moves that were made with a win-now mentality rather than for the future.
They will need much more from their rotation, however, which is their clear-cut burden in their quest for the postseason. If they can land Machado, their offense will be good enough to at least compete in the Wild Card race, or possibly given the Indians a scare in the AL Central.
Like the Rockies, the White Sox will have the benefit of playing in arguably baseball’s weakest division (by far the weakest last season).
That said, there is a bushel full of money to be made if both clubs can get into the postseason and march their way to an unlikely World Series matchup.