Baseball's busy Winter Meetings concluded in San Diego on Thursday so it's a good time to give an update on the top free-agent signings around MLB this offseason and how it has affected futures odds at sportsbooks. Here are the Top 5.
Jon Lester, Chicago Cubs
Depending on who you ask, either Lester or Detroit's Max Scherzer was the top pitcher on the market this season. Some teams preferred Lester because he's left-handed and doesn't rely as much on velocity as Scherzer so Lester might age better. The Chicago Cubs were always considered a potential landing spot because Lester is familiar with team president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer from their Boston days together. Still, it was a bit surprising to see Lester pick the Cubs, who have had five straight losing seasons, over offers from Boston, San Francisco and the L.A. Dodgers. Lester landed a six-year, $155 deal with an option for a seventh season. Reportedly the Giants offered a bit more than that, but apparently Epstein and new Cubs manager Joe Maddon sold Lester on the idea of bringing a World Series title to the South Side of Chicago. Do that, and you never buy a drink in Chicago again. Certainly the fact the Cubs have an incredible haul of young hitting prospects plus current All-Stars Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro also helped in his decision. The Cubs' World Series odds took a big jump when they hired Maddon and they jumped again with this signing (the team also brought back pitcher Jason Hammel). If you're considering them for your MLB picks, now the Cubs are down to 16/1 at sportsbooks to win the World Series.
Hanley Ramirez, Boston Red Sox
Ramirez never got an offer to return to the Los Angeles Dodgers, which should tell you something. The guy can rake, but he's not exactly beloved in the clubhouse. The Red Sox didn't care, inking him to a four-year, $88 million deal. Boston already has Xander Bogaerts, a highly-touted young player, at shortstop so Ramirez will play left field, a position he has never before played. The Sox can use him at DH once in a while as well to keep Ramirez healthy and if David Ortiz needs a day off. Ramirez has played more than 140 games just once in the past four seasons. He hit .283 with 13 homers and 71 RBIs in 128 games for the Dodgers in 2014. Because he will play outfield it gave the Sox a glut out there and allowed them to trade Yoenis Cespedes to the Tigers for pitcher Rick Porcello. Boston is 18/1 on MLB odds to win the World Series.
Pablo Sandoval, Boston Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox announced the signings of Ramirez and Sandoval on the same day. If not for bringing Kung Fu Panda aboard, Boston could have used Ramirez at third base, which is probably where he belongs. Sandoval got a five-year, $95 million deal. The only worry about him is whether he can stay in shape. Somehow Sandoval manages to gain weight during the season when all other players lose it. He hit .279 with 16 dingers and 73 RBIs last year for the Giants. Sandoval has been a playoff beast in his career with a career .344 average, six homers and 20 RBIs in 39 playoff games -- including one World Series MVP Award.
Brandon McCarthy, Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers traded away Dan Haren and risk losing Zack Greinke to free agency after the 2015 season so they went and grabbed the righty McCarthy, a guy the Yankees wanted to keep. The question is: Which McCarthy is Los Angeles getting for $48 million over four years? He made 18 starts with Arizona in the easier National League last year and was awful, going 3-10 with a 5.01 ERA. Then he was traded to the Yankees and shined, going 7-5 with a 2.89 ERA in 14 starts. It's generally harder to pitch in the AL dealing with the designated hitter. The Dodgers are 8/1 co-favorites with Washington at sportsbooks to win the World Series.
Russell Martin, Toronto Blue Jays
Martin reportedly was headed to the Cubs before Toronto swooped in at the last minute and got him for five years and $82 million. Martin is from Canada so that could have swayed his decision. He hit .290 with 11 homers and 67 RBIs last season and is one of the best offensive catchers in baseball. He's also considered a great pitch-framer and a good clubhouse guy, things you can't really quantify. The Jays have a young pitching staff so Martin should only help. Toronto is listed at 33/1 on MLB odds to win the World Series.