Bettors are going crazy over the Chicago Cubs' 2015 MLB futures odds at sportsbooks in the wake of the team hiring former Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon. Should you jump on the betting bandwagon? Let's analyze.
Manager Make That Much Difference?
It was unthinkable even a few weeks ago that Maddon wouldn't be managing in Tampa Bay, but he had a clause in his contract with the Rays -- unknown to even Maddon but wisely inserted by his agent -- that allowed Maddon to opt out of the deal if highly regarded general manager Andrew Friedman left the franchise. Friedman was hired as president of the Los Angeles Dodgers last month so Maddon did invoke the clause. Most everyone assumed Friedman would hire Maddon to replace Don Mattingly after L.A. flopped in the playoff again. However, Friedman said Mattingly was his guy. You heard similar pronouncements from teams like Boston, Philadelphia, Toronto and the New York Mets (as an aside, why the Mets would keep Terry Collins over hiring Maddon is baffling).
Still, at least 10 teams reached out to Maddon's agent, but the Cubs were the presumed favorites from the get go. Sure, they said after the 2014 season that first-year manager Rick Renteria would return. But he did just a so-so job and really didn't get the fans all that enthused about the team. Cubs fans are very loyal but tired of all the losing. So president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer went after the charismatic Maddon right away and signed him to a five-year, $25 million deal on Monday -- one of the richest deals for a manager in big-league history.
The betting reaction has been extraordinary. Bovada's MLB odds had the Cubs at +5000 after the World Series. With that hiring, it almost immediately dropped to +2000 and now it's +1600! That's shorter odds than the American League champion Royals (+1800 on MLB odds), Yankees and Red Sox (+2000 each) and Athletics (+2000).
Here's what Bovada sportsbook manager Kevin Bradley had to say about it: "The movement of the Cubs World Series odds based on the hiring of a manager is unprecedented. We feel like the impact of manager or head coach is felt the least in Major League Baseball. There are a few coaches in sports that would move the needle in terms of odds, such as [New England Patriots coach] Bill Belichick or [San Antonio Spurs coach] Gregg Popovich, but rarely are the best coaches free agents and they tend to stay with a franchise where they have a great relationship with the owner.
"The Cubs are already a huge liability," Bradley said. "They have taken four times more money than any other team."
Cubs' Offseason Shopping List
Maddon is a great manager, winning AL Manager of the Year twice and turning the small-market Rays into a power. But what's a good really manager worth? Most would agree maybe 5-6 wins. The Cubs were 73-89 last season so doesn't all this action at sportsbooks seem silly?
Yes and no.
For one, the Cubs have the greatest collection of hitting prospects in baseball. Second baseman Javier Baez and outfielder Jorge Soler finished last season in the majors. Ditto outfielder Arismendy Alcantara (not quite as touted as rest on this list). Third baseman Kris Bryant, the No. 1 overall prospect in MLB and Minor League Player of the Year, will be up early next season, although probably not Opening Day purely for future financial reasons. Shortstop Addison Russell, outfielder Albert Almora and catcher Kyle Schwarber are in the pipeline and all three could be up sometime late next season.
And don't forget the Cubs' two current big-league All-Stars: shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Both had big bounce-back 2014 seasons, with Castro hitting .292 with 14 homers and 65 RBIs, and Rizzo batting .286 with 32 homers (No. 2 in the NL) and 78 RBIs. Castro is 24 and Rizzo 25 and both signed to team-friendly long term deals. Rizzo isn't going anywhere, but Castro could be traded for pitching with Russell poised to replace him (Baez also plays short).
It's pitching where the Cubs will really focus this offseason. They appear to have a very good starter in Jake Arrieta and potential rising star Kyle Hendricks, who was 7-2 with a 2.46 ERA as a late-season call-up in 2014. After that? Major questions in the rotation. Travis Wood regressed this past season, and Edwin Jackson may have been the majors' worst starter. So Chicago has been linked to Jon Lester and James Shields. Of course Epstein had Lester in Boston and Maddon had Shields in Tampa Bay. The Cubs aren't going to get both but will likely make offers to each. Detroit's Max Scherzer is likely too expensive. And as mentioned above, Castro could be dealt for a young pitcher (Mets are deep in young arms) or as part of a package for an established starter (Philly's Cole Hamels?).
When making your MLB picks keep in mind that the Cubs will add a position player or two as well as they have plenty of money to spend. A left-handed hitting power outfielder is on the list and reports are the Cubs will heavily target Pirates catcher Russell Martin. At Sportsbook.ag's MLB odds, the Cubs are fifth favorites to win the NL pennant at +1000.
MLB free picks: It's nice the optimism is back on the North Side of Chicago, but the playoffs are a pipe dream this soon -- that's even with Lester or Shields and Martin. The Cubs should finish at least .500 for the first time since 2009, however. Watch out in 2016.