Another slow winter on the free agent front has baseball’s hot stove league in a stalemate. What few moves that have taken place to cause ripples in the sports betting world have come in the National League, where four teams are beginning to separate themselves from the rest.
Currently running as The Big 4 in the Senior Circuit are the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres out in the West Division, plus the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets in the East. Whether or not any of those four teams can either pull well out in front or tighten the quartet up remains to be seen once some of the top free agents for this winter, like Trevor Bauer and others find new homes.
As we’ve seen the past few offseasons, some of the big moves might not come until after teams report to Spring Training, currently scheduled to happen in about a month. But online sportsbooks are presently in agreement with the Dodgers (4/1) and Padres (8/1) the top favorites from the NL to win the 2021 World Series, followed by the Braves (10/1) and Mets (12/1). And then there is the wild and wacky NL Central…
NL Central: Anyone but the Pirates
We might as well begin in the wide-open Central where another quartet of teams could provide the most exciting race in the NL. Granted, it could be a race between four squads each trying to reach the 85-win plateau, which might be enough to take the crown. Only the Pittsburgh Pirates, at 50/1 to win their first division title since 1992, are out of the hunt at this time.
The division produced half of the expanded 8-team playoffs during the shortened 2020 campaign. Assuming the postseason alignment goes back to normal, it would appear likely that only the NL Central winner goes in 2021. Topping the MLB odds as (+250) co-favorites are the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds. The Chicago Cubs, who won the 2020 NLC flag, sit just behind with the Milwaukee Brewers on (+300) prices.
Of the four, only the Cardinals would seem likely to make a big move to strengthen their club and emerge as the clear-cut favorite. The Cubs have dealt away Yu Darvish, and the Reds will be hard-pressed to replace Bauer at the top of their rotation. That might only leave the Brewers to battle St. Louis.
NL East: Can Phils, Fish & Nats Keep Pace with Braves & Mets?
Without the blockbuster trade made by the New York Mets to acquire Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco, there wouldn’t be much to talk about on the baseball front. That move did close the gap between the Mets, who are (+250) to win the NL East, and 3-time defending champion Braves (+120). Can one of the other three teams join the fun, or will Atlanta and New York run away with things?
Washington would appear to be the safest bet to make it a 3-team race, the Nationals presently priced at (+450 for division honors. The top of the rotation is solid with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, plus they’ve added Kyle Schwarber to a lineup that includes Juan Soto and Trea Turner.
Depending where you shop for futures, the Miami Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies flip-flop in the 4-5 slots of the NL East. We know the Marlins aren’t spending on big free agent contracts, while the Phillies may only splurge to re-sign JT Realmuto.
NL West: Friars Look to End LA’s 8-Year Dominance
MLB picks were focused on them to win it all last season, and the Dodgers are back as chalk to repeat in 2021. Los Angeles sits (-180) to win a 9th-straight NL West title after the Padres made it tough to win the eighth last season. San Diego appears poised to make it even tougher in 2021, and is a chic pick to win the franchise’s first World Series.
Los Angeles, with its deep pockets, remains a viable landing spot for just about every free agent left on the board. I’m not expecting any huge, multiyear deals; however, if Bauer is serious about signing 1-year contracts the rest of his career, the Dodgers could be his destination. The only pressing need is at third base with the departure of Justin Turner, and that might eventually be filled through a trade.
San Diego is locked and loaded after adding starting pitchers Blake Snell and Yu Darvish in separate trades. The bullpen could use another reliever or two to make up for the loss of free agent closer Kirby Yates, but that’s about it.
No other team in the division is likely to mount any serious challenge to the Dodgers and Padres. The Colorado Rockies (+2500) are third on mist baseball futures list in the division, with the Arizona Diamondbacks (+3000) and San Francisco Giants (+3000) even further back.