Finding Value in 2007 MLB Futures
by Trevor Whenham - 02/21/2007
Spring training is underway and that has me salivating over the prospect of another long, glorious summer of baseball action capped by a brilliant autumn of playoff action. The spring is an exciting time for a baseball fan because anyone can convince themselves that their team is going to win it all. In February every team is a potential World Series champ (except maybe Tampa Bay). If you're not a passionate fan of a particular team, though, then the real fun comes from looking at the futures to see where any value exists. Here are five bets that I think could make some people very happy by the time the future becomes the present. They won't all pay off, but they all seem to provide some relative value:
Milwaukee Brewers (13/2 to win the National League Central) - The Brewers are in a very tough conference. St. Louis is the defending champion, and they aren't significantly worse than last year when they ran away with the division (even though they collapsed late). The Cubs have stocked up and the addition of Lou Piniella makes them formidable.
Lost in the shuffle, however, is the fact that the Brewers are quietly stacked with potential. Their rotation, with Ben Sheets, Chris Capuano and Jeff Suppan on top, and Dave Bush and Claudio Vargas backing them up, is exciting and could be very good. The bullpen is decent, Prince Fielder was a very good rookie bat and should get better, and Corey Koskie is back from a serious concussion. The addition of Johnny Estrada at catcher adds a potent bat and a very good manager of pitchers, and could be the addition that matters.
All it would have taken is 84 wins to win this division last year and Milwaukee at least has the potential to blow past that mark this year. It could be risky because, after all, they are the Brewers, but the price is high enough that it might be worth a look.
New York Mets (7/2 to win National League Pennant) - This isn't a very good price, but it is the best you could expect if you are a determined Mets fan. They are 1/3 to win the NL East, so only an idiot would seriously consider that bet at this point in the season, especially given their recent performance down the stretch and in the playoffs. Compared to that price the 7/2 is a significant overlay and is worth a look.
On paper there is no team in the National League that should be able to touch the Mets. As the cliché goes, the games aren't played on paper, but the Mets are still the clear pre-season favorites. Look at it this way - 7/2 might not be very good, but if they play like they should then it's a heck of a lot better than what you will be able to get in September.
Philadelphia Phillies (4/1 to win National League East) - If you aren't buying into the Mets' hype then you have to like the Phillies. The addition of Freddy Garcia to join Brett Myers and Cole Hamels gives them three starting pitchers with as much potential as almost any first three in the league. Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley are both back and happy, and Ryan Howard is, well, Ryan Howard. Catcher is a serious question spot, but this team certainly has the potential to cause some havoc.
The Mets are the clear favorites in the division, and deservedly so, but 4/1 is by far the highest price available on the board for the second choice in a division. At least you can rest reasonably comfortably in the fact that no team other than the Mets is likely to challenge the Phillies for the top spot.
Seattle Mariners (11/1 to win the American League West) - I'm not saying for a second that the Mariners are a lock to win the division. Far from it. I do think, though, that they present good value at this price in a wide-open division. The Angels and the Athletics are the top two teams by a wide margin, but both teams have serious faults that could cause big problems down the stretch.
The Mariners aren't nearly as bad as this price indicates, or as they were last year. The starting rotation has a lot of question marks, but it could be decent. If Felix Hernandez finally breaks out the rotation could be much better than that. The starters don't have to be perfect, though - the bullpen is excellent, and the team is as impressive defensively as any squad. The offense is there too, even if it hasn't realized its potential completely yet. Jose Guillen and Jose Vidro join the likes of Ichiro, Adrian Beltre, Richie Sexson, Raul Ibanez and Jose Lopez to make up a roster that should be able to score some runs. The Mariners are outsiders this year, but it wouldn't be the most surprising thing in the world if they won the division.
Cincinnati Reds (11/1 to win National League Central) - Every year a team seems to come from almost nowhere to surprise everyone. You need to look no further than the Tigers last year to see what I mean. Even though the Reds weren't that bad last year, and indeed they contended until deep into the season, they still count as an outsider, especially because of their price.
The rotation isn't brilliant, and it isn't really improved from last year, but at least in Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang they know they have two pitchers that are durable enough to last all season. Eric Milton is back from surgery and could be ready to contribute significantly. Kyle Lohse may be wildly inconsistent, but he is nasty when he is on. The fifth starter certainly won't be a household name, but the Reds have lots of decent young talent that will have a chance to shine, including stud prospect Homer Bailey.
They are helped by the addition of shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who will shore up the defense and keep runners off base. There are a couple of interesting things about this team. First, they have new pitching and batting coaches, and that fresh blood could revitalize the talent they have. The other intriguing element is Josh Hamilton. Hamilton was the first overall draft pick in 1999, and the outfielder is sickeningly talented. After signing with Tampa Bay, though, Hamilton burnt out on drugs and was booted from the league for three years. The Reds took a chance on him in the Rule 5 draft, which means he has to be on the major league roster all year. The team thought he was worth the risk, so he obviously still has some tools in the box. He's just the kind of story that a miracle run could be built around. The Reds are far from favorites, but if you're a gambler then you might want to roll the dice.