It might still be the silly season around baseball with several big-name free agents still available, but that isn't stopping us from looking at MLB futures odds and how the NL East is shaping up for 2017.
Granted, it's difficult for most fans and bettors to really give baseball much thought this time of year with the NFL playoffs in full swing and conference action just starting to heat up in NCAA basketball. Pitchers and catchers will be reporting to spring training camps before you know it, however, and now's the time to strike before MLB futures odds begin to tighten up.
A few top-notch free agents out there have yet to sign, names like Jose Bautista, Jason Hammel and Mark Trumbo to name a few. When they do, wagering numbers will be affected. We cannot wait for them, so let's take at least an early look at how things are shaping up with a peek at the NL East.
Nats, Mets With Uncertainties At Closer
The division is a two-horse race between Washington and the Mets, as it was last year when the Nationals finished eight games ahead of New York for the title. It should be even tighter this time around and makes for a nice comparison to start with since both are expected to begin the 2017 campaign with payrolls around $149 million. Washington is going off at 4/1 to win the NL, second behind the champion Cubs, while New York is sitting at 8/1.
That doesn't mean there aren't any questions for both teams. Both sides do have potentially great starting rotations, though even those groups have some health concerns. That's especially true for the Mets, who have Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Steven Matz all returning from surgeries. Washington's Max Scherzer, last year's NL Cy Young winner, is dealing with a fractured knuckle on his right hand, and Stephen Strasburg has endured lingering elbow issues.
The Nats and Mets also have questions at the back end of their bullpens; the Nats head into the season expected to give their closer's job to Shawn Kelley, who has all of 11 career saves. The Mets are awaiting MLB's decision on how long Jeurys Familia will be suspended to begin 2017 after running afoul of the law this offseason. He's likely looking at minimum a 30-game suspension.
Of the two lineups, Washington has the better unit. The Nationals finished fourth in the NL last year in averaging 4.71 RPG, added outfielder Adam Eaton (trade from White Sox) to the fold and will have rookie sensation Trea Turner at his natural position of shortstop for a full season. New York did bring back Yoenis Cespedes who helped the Mets club 218 homers, second-most behind St. Louis, but that only translated to a 4.14 scoring average, tied for 12th.
Braves Could Surprise In '17
Miami sits among NL East teams next on the MLB odds with a 25/1 return to win the pennant, but the starting rotation tragically lost ace and perennial Cy Young candidate Jose Fernandez at the end of the 2016 season in a fatal boating accident. The Marlins are counting on arms like Wei-Yin Chen, Edinson Volquez and Adam Conley to lead the staff.
Philadelphia (60/1) and Atlanta (65/1) again seem destined to bring up the rear a year after losing 90+ games each. Of the two, the Braves are my pick to push the Marlins down a rung in the standings, and Atlanta could hang around in the playoff race longer than many expect as the team opens a new stadium in 2017.
The bad news, for those who want this first, is last year was on the lackluster side of things in terms of MLB picks with an overall 50-48 record on game picks; the good news is that while mediocre, we've gone from 2008 to now without a red bottom line on free baseball picks. I look for underdog and 'under' winners primarily with my plays, but in this case I'm going chalk and the Nationals to win another division flag.