Here's a Major League Baseball prop that would be interesting for the sportsbooks to release this spring: an over/under of how many teams repeat as division winners from 2013. Not since MLB went to six divisions has every winner repeated -- five did in 1999. Last season there were four new division victors: the Red Sox, Braves, Cardinals and Dodgers; the Tigers and A's repeated.
Winning one's division remains a big deal in MLB unlike the NHL or NBA (which may do away with them altogether). And getting the top seed in your league is vital because that means you get to face the wild-card winner, which will be on short rest and likely used its best pitcher to win the wild-card game.
Pitchers and catchers for the Dodgers and Diamondbacks already have reported and position players will this week for those two clubs. They are allowed to report early because the teams will face off for two regular-season games in Australia on March 22 & 23. Thus division odds should be out very soon at the sportsbooks, but let's take a look at which of last season's six winners are solid bets to repeat and which are vulnerable.
Upsets If They Don't Win Again
Certainly the biggest AL division favorite will be Detroit to win the Central for a fourth straight season, while the Dodgers will hold the NL's top favored designation to win the West for a second straight year. It so happens these are the two pennant favorites as well. The Tigers are 5/1 at Bet365's baseball odds to win the AL for the second time in the past three seasons. Los Angeles, as hard as it is to believe, hasn't won the Senior Circuit since the 1988 team of Orel Hershiser and Kirk Gibson stunned the heavily favored Oakland A's in the Fall Classic. It is 3/1 to win the NL.
MLB might like you to believe that small-market teams can compete, but they rarely win divisions. The Tigers and Dodgers will have by far the biggest payrolls in their respective divisions, so they get to keep their stars. Detroit already has locked up the AL's best pitcher in Justin Verlander long term and L.A. just did the same with the NL's best in Clayton Kershaw. It's likely no AL Central team will spend $100 million with the White Sox in cost-cutting mode. The Giants will be over $100 million in the NL West and Arizona could be, but they simply can't compete with the ultra-rich Dodgers, who are way over $200 million.
Challenge For World Series Clubs
The Red Sox won the AL East for the first time since 2007 and the Cardinals the NL Central for the first time since '09 last season and both No. 1 seeds reached the World Series, a rarity in the wild-card era.
It will be difficult for both teams to repeat because the AL East and NL Central are probably the two deepest divisions in MLB. The Sox, who are 11/2 on baseball odds to win the pennant, have to deal with the return of the "Evil Empire" as the Yankees broke out the checkbook this offseason and blew past their goal of staying under the $189 million luxury-tax threshold. The team's biggest addition might be by subtraction as the Yanks won't have to deal with the Alex Rodriguez circus in 2014 unless he shows up at spring training. The Rays have a terrific pitching staff and actually spent some money this offseason to bring back James Loney and David DeJesus while signing free-agent closer Grant Balfour. The Blue Jays had just about everything go wrong in 2013 but there was a reason they were spring AL East favorites.
The NL Central also sent the Pirates and Reds to the playoffs in 2013. Neither made big offseason splashes but both should again push St. Louis. Milwaukee will be improved with a full season of Ryan Braun and the addition of Matt Garza. The last team to repeat in the Central was the Cubs in 2007-08 and now they are easily the worst team among the five. St. Louis is 9/2 for sports bettors to win the pennant again.
Good Luck With That
Neither Oakland nor Atlanta was supposed to win the AL West or NL East, respectively, last season and neither will be favored this season. The A's and their small-market payroll have to fend off the big-spending Rangers and Angels. Texas fortified its lineup in the offseason -- but has pitching questions -- and the Halos did the same with their pitching staff. Then again, no one ever takes Oakland all that seriously and it thrives out of the spotlight. It is 8/1 to win the pennant on baseball odds.
The Braves also were quiet this offseason and lost catcher Brian McCann and pitcher Tim Hudson. Atlanta is choosing to save its money and pay its young players instead of free agents. Freddie Freeman just got a $135 million extension, the largest in Braves history. Jason Heyward also got a smaller deal. Washington made perhaps the best trade of the offseason in getting starting pitcher Doug Fister from Detroit for nothing that will hurt the Nats this season. Washington also has plenty of money to spend in order to make a big in-season trade acquisition and should win the East for the second time in three years. It is the second-favorite to win the NL pennant at 15/4 at sportsbooks.