When it comes to mapping out savvy futures bets for the 2020 American League pennant, the opportunity for value is plentiful–but only if you’re comfortable fading the league’s two heavyweight favorites.
At DraftKings Sportsbook, The New York Yankees are the favorite to claim the AL crown at +165, with the Houston Astros–embattled off the field this winter but still possessing a deep and talented roster–sliding in just behind them at +250. Of the two, the Astros look like the better bet. Their odds obviously offer a better return on investment. The question is, are the Yankees actually better than Houston or are the Astros being undervalued as a result of their tumultuous offseason?
If you believe the Astros were still circumventing the rules of the game as recently as last season, it’s understandable that you’d be wary of betting on their continued success, presumably without the benefit of sophisticated sign-stealing measures, in 2020. Still, it’s a bit surprising the Astros’ odds aren’t more closely aligned with New York’s. I actually like Houston’s chances to return to the World Series a bit more, with the Astros using a farcical but conceivably effective ‘us against the world’ mentality as fuel. The Astros still boast a tremendous roster; once their hitters remember how to hit without leaning on illegal sign-stealing technology, the talent in their lineup should shine through.
Don’t get me wrong, the Yankees lineup is stacked, too, particularly if the Bronx Bombers get Giancarlo Stanton back healthy for this season. And of course, their addition of Gerrit Cole to lead the starting rotation could be baseball’s most significant signing this offseason. But before spring training has even begun, the Yankees already received some concerning news regarding left-handed starter James Paxton, who could miss three to four months after back surgery. New York was already set to rely upon a healthy return to the rotation for Luis Severino after he missed the bulk of last season due to injuries; Paxton’s new injury puts more pressure on Severino and veteran J.A. Happ to help pick up the slack.
Goings on throughout spring training could bring news that shifts this dynamic in one way or the other, but as of now, the lack of value associated with the Yankees leaves me less than enthused by this bet. If you’re looking for a favorite, Houston feels like the stronger play.
Of course, why bet the favorite when you can aim for a diamond in the rough?
Minnesota Twins (+900)
At DraftKings, the drop-off from the Astros (+250) to the team with the third-best probability to win the AL is substantial. Checking in at number three is the Minnesota Twins at +900. When the dust finally settled on the Mookie Betts trade, the Twins received a boost to their rotation in Kenta Maeda from the Dodgers. But in Minnesota, the long ball holds the key.
The Twins made waves last season by leading MLB in home runs, so it’s clear that thump in the lineup is the primary force that drives them; their chief competition in the AL Central is probably the Indians (+1100). As talented as Minnesota proved to be in 2019, it’s difficult for me to imagine the Twins bombing their way to a pennant in October, understanding the way dominant pitching tends to win out in the postseason.
Tampa Bay Rays (+1000)
That’s exactly why I like the Tampa Bay Rays at +1000 to win the AL pennant. The Rays boast the fourth-best probability to win the AL according to DraftKings odds, but because the gap between the top two clubs and the rest of the field is so substantial, there’s tremendous value here if you find a reason to latch onto one of the outsiders. The possibility of a healthy Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow and Charlie Morton is reason enough for me.
The Rays have been one of the most adept organizations in MLB at doing more with less. This winter, we’ve seen former Tampa Bay front office executives Chaim Bloom and James Click hired away to run things in Boston and Houston, respectively. Tampa’s savvy roster-building and successful deployment of ‘openers’ instead of starting pitchers throughout the 2019 season landed the Rays with a wild card berth and eventual ALDS appearance against the Astros.
Still armed with saber-friendly inclinations, the Rays return the former AL Cy Young Award winner Snell and the ascending Glasnow this season. Charlie Morton (16-6, 3.05 ERA) is back, too, helping to form a strong top three in a more traditional-looking rotation. Intriguing arms are littered throughout the Rays bullpen, making last year’s aggressive deployment of relievers a potentially effective strategy once again in 2020.
Offensively, the Rays swapped out Tommy Pham for Hunter Renfroe, which isn’t necessarily an upgrade, but leaves their outfield depth as a strength of the club. The Rays don’t boast any real bona fide offensive superstars, but they have plenty of versatile players that can handle themselves at the plate to go along with a deep bench filled with quality reserve players.
If you’re into the modern-day Moneyball approach, the Rays certainly qualify for your attention in 2020. Tampa has the top-end starting pitching to compete in a long playoff series and an ensemble of position players capable of achieving beyond the limitations of their name recognition. It’s a combination that makes the Rays an intriguing value at +1000 to win the American League this season.