MLB Futures: Long Odds Teams With a Shot to Win the World Series
Tampa Bay Rays +1800
The Yankees are such gigantic favorites in the American League after adding Gerrit Cole (NYY) that one of the next best teams in the league can be bet with an 18:1 payout. Similarly to the Yankees, the Rays’ rotation starts with an impressive 1-2-3, although the health of Tyler Glasnow (TB) will be extremely important for their success. The Yankees will get Domingo German (NYY) back after an 80-game suspension so there is a bit more depth to their rotation than that of the Rays. However, Brendan McKay (TB), the team’s number two prospect in what is widely considered the best minor league system in baseball, now has plenty of time to recover from shoulder stiffness in his quest to improve as an MLB player in year two. Prior to 2019, McKay had never posted a BB rate of a 7.0-plus percent at any professional level and yet he posted a 7.4-percent BB rate and a career-low 18.5-percent K-BB rate in 49.0 Major League innings. In other words, he has the ability to hone in his control and prove to be a necessary asset by the end of the season, though his improvement is no sure thing. The Rays’ lineup is quite deep as well especially after the additions of Jose Martinez (TB) and Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (TB). Last season, the Rays ranked just 19th in the league in wOBA versus LHP, so the addition of a player with a career .414 wOBA and .329/.397/.600 slash line (Martinez) in the split is a massive development. As for Tsutsugo, he averaged nearly 35 home runs (HRs) per season over the course of his last four years in the Japanese League, so he will add some much-needed pop to a team that ranked just 20th in ISO. Combine all these factors and it is easy to see why the Rays are the logical alternative to the Yankees except at much longer odds. The value here is too great to pass on.
Oakland Athletics +2500
If you like to gamble then the Oakland Athletics are going to be your roller coaster ride of choice this year due to their high-upside, relatively young starting rotation. On paper, any team with Mike Fiers (OAK) beginning the year as their ace is a risky proposition, but Sean Manaea (OAK) and Frankie Montas (OAK) have displayed serious promise. Manaea returned from Tommy John surgery last year and went on to post a SIERA under 4.00 in five starts with what would have been a career-best K rate and swinging-strike rate. Montas added a splitter to his repertoire that led to him posting a 3.00 FIP, 3.47 xFIP and 26.1-percent K rate in 16 starts. Beyond those two, Jesus Luzardo (OAK) and A.J. Puk (OAK) are two of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball. In fact, Baseball America has deemed them two of the top 10 toolsiest prospects in the league, and while Puk is not expected to start the year in the rotation, that very possibly could change following an injury or simply when the team starts preparing for the playoffs. FanGraphs’ projection systems all expect Luzardo to produce an ERA under 4.00, almost all project him with a FIP under 4.00 (other than steamer) and, as if that were not enough, his projections range from a 9.19 K/9 to a 9.53 K/9 (so around a 24-26-percent K rate). Essentially, he is expected to blossom into one of the league’s best young pitchers, which is not surprising considering him impressive velocity (96.9mph average fastball in MLB last season) and ability to control the strike zone. Combine their pitching with a lineup that should have Ramon Laureano (OAK) and Khris Davis (OAK), who dealt with an oblique issue all year long, back and healthy. The Astros are the favorite in the AL West but a new manager and not being able to cheat are two major factors working against them. As a long shot, you certainly could do worse than a balanced squad with a high potential ceiling like this Athletics team.
Chicago White Sox +3300
By this point, most recognize the White Sox lineup is about to be one of the best and deepest in the league after the acquisitions of Yasmani Grandal (CWS), Edwin Encarnacion (CWS) and Nomar Mazara (CWS). The knock on the White Sox has been their pitching is not strong enough to compete but the season getting delayed only helps their cause. If the year were to have started on the time, Lucas Giolito (CWS) would have anchored the rotation with Dallas Keuchel (CWS) as the only true reliable pitcher behind him. Gio Gonzalez (CWS) has been a fine starter for a while, and Dylan Cease (CWS) possesses some upside (but suffers from sporadic control issues), but neither is a reliable third starter come playoff time. The team was going to ease their star pitching prospect Michael Kopech (CWS) back, likely in a bullpen role on in Triple-A if the season started in April but the proposed new rules of constant double-headers likely mean most of his 2020 production will come at the Major League level. He could simply be used as the team’s sixth starter when needed in double-headers and then given extended rest (depending on how the roster rules end up working). The same goes for Carlos Rodon (CWS), also recovering from Tommy John surgery, as his expected return is around the beginning of July. At this point, it remains possible the season does not start until then, so Rodon will have the entire season to get right for the playoffs. If both Kopech and Rodon are ready to roll come playoff time, this team is a dangerous underdog, and deserve to be closer to 25:1 than 33.