Stuckey: Three MLB Longshots That Are Worth an Investment

Credit:

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer

  • The second-half of the MLB season begins on Thursday night.
  • Stuckey breaks down each division race and analyzes which teams are worth making an investment in the futures market.

We seem destined for either a Dodgers vs. Yankees major market blockbuster World Series or a rematch of the 2017 matchup between the Dodgers and Astros. Those three teams have the best futures odds to win the 2019 Fall Classic and should all be in the dance come October.

That said, we’ve seen plenty of October curveballs over the years.  From 2002 to 2004, three consecutive wild-card teams won the World Series and two more won earlier this decade (2011 Cardinals, 2014 Giants). In 2002 and 2014 both teams in the Fall Classic qualified via the wild card.

In such a high-variance sport, I generally want no part of any team under 10-1 to win the World Series. And those three favorites I mentioned are all under 5-1.

Having three teams with such short odds could potentially create value in the market for other contenders, which is where my attention is heading into the stretch.

Keep in mind that teams could look different after the July 31 trade deadline and September call-ups — although reduced roster sizes this year will lessen the impact of the latter.

Since you’ll find drastically different prices depending on your book, I’ll also provide minimum price targets for each team. Let’s start with the more wide-open National League.

National League

We can eliminate the Marlins, Mets and Giants — even though San Francisco is amazingly only 5.5 games out of the Wild Card. Fans of those teams can start prepping for football. (Speaking of, here is a shameless plug for our podcast.)

If the season ended today, these would be the NL postseason matchups:

  • Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Wild Card Winner
  • Chicago Cubs vs. Atlanta Braves

The Dodgers essentially have the NL West wrapped up with a staggering 13.5-game lead. The Braves have the next biggest division lead at six games, while the NL Central is completely wide-open.

As it currently stands, the Nationals would host the Phillies in the Wild Card. However, that could change daily with seven other teams within 4.5 games of the second wild-card spot.

NL West

I already mentioned wanting no part of the price on the Dodgers, who are clearly the class of the National League. I also have no interest in the trailing NL West teams — who can best hope for a one-game wild card shot.

Maybe the Rockies can get hot, but I don’t trust their pitching nearly as much as last year when Kyle Freeland was a Cy Young candidate. He’s still not even pitching in the majors after getting sent down to Triple-A — where he’s 0-4 with an 8.80 ERA. It’s Albuquerque but those numbers are extremely worrisome.

Colorado’s pen also has major questions. This is not the same club that I bought at 85-1 last season at the break. They were just two games out of first last year at this time compared to their current 14-game deficit.

The Diamondbacks were a pleasant surprise in the first half and much better than I had anticipated after losing some key pieces. They have two reliable starters at the top of their rotation in Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray in addition to some talented young arms in Merrill Kelly and Alex Young.

That said, the rest of the staff leaves a lot to be desired. There’s some pop throughout the lineup but this isn’t a playoff-caliber team in my eyes. I also ultimately think Arizona will be deadline sellers as it has a number of highly-coveted veterans in Greinke, Ray and David Peralta.

Unlike the Rockies and Snakes, the Padres have a solid backend of the bullpen, led by closer Kirby Yates. San Diego also has a plethora of young offensive potential. However, the starting pitching and middle relief are not solid enough just yet. The Padres are still at least a year away — and might sell at the deadline with that in mind.

NL Central

This should be the most-entertaining division race. Since nobody could create separation in the first-half of the year, the last place Reds sit only 4.5 games out of first.

I think the NL Central ultimately comes down to which team makes the biggest splash at the deadline. The Brewers could really use starting pitching help — and maybe even in the bullpen as well. I still think the Cubs need another elite reliever (Will Smith?) to pair with Craig Kimbrel. And another bat (Peralta?) also wouldn’t hurt. If Chicago can add one or two high-impact players, it has the offense and the southpaw starters to give the Dodgers a run.

The Pirates and Reds are fun stories — but, let’s be honest, neither roster is in the same class as Chicago or Milwaukee. Cincinnati excites me a little more than Pittsburgh as a potential long shot but I can’t make a serious case in such a tough division at anything under 200-1.

One of the problems with such a competitive division is these teams will potentially cannibalize themselves over the final few months. That could ultimately cost the NL Central a wild-card spot, which has to be considered when shopping for futures.

To me, the most intriguing team is the St. Louis Cardinals. The loss of closer Jordan Hicks hurts but this offense should break out in the second half when Matt Carpenter and Paul Goldschmidt inevitably get hot.

I also believe the Redbirds will add a key piece or two in the next few weeks, so this is a good opportunity to buy low on a winning organization. However, considering the difficult division factor, I’d only invest at 50-1 or better

NL East

Atlanta’s offense is scary good and very deep. The Braves are never out of a game.

However, it hasn’t been all about the offense this season. The Braves boast baseball’s third-best bullpen ERA — and the lowest overall since May 1. Atlanta also strengthened its rotation with the addition of former Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel.

Despite the impressive numbers, I’m not a believer in the bullpen. Adding Josh Tomlin and Anthony Swarzak has worked out so far but I’m certain it will eventually backfire. Serious regression looms.

The starting rotation could also fall apart later in the summer as Atlanta is relying on two kids in Mike Soroka and Max Fried. They’ve both had excellent seasons to date but neither has ever thrown more than 35 innings in a season at this level.

Maybe Mike Foltynewicz can regain his form as a starter, but I don’t have much confidence as others might have in this rotation holding up. Barring injuries, the Braves will always hit — but they’re vulnerable enough in the pitching department to give up that six-game division lead.

I just don’t anticipate the magic continuing for a Braves squad that is 17-10 in one-run games and 7-3 in extras. Plus, this is also the worst possible time to buy the Braves, who have better than 10/1 odds in some markets. Buy low, sell high!

Some of you may know that I’m a Phillies fan, but I really don’t trust the pitching outside of the scorching Aaron Nola. Injuries have also really crushed them this year.

The team I’m targeting is the Nationals — who will play the Braves 14 more times this season. They will also get to potentially beat up on the Mets and Marlins — a luxury teams in the other NL divisions don’t have, which could be the deciding factor in a wild card spot if Washington doesn’t win the division.

We all know Washington has the offensive firepower, especially now with Ryan Zimmerman back in the fold. They also have as good of a top-3 starting rotation as you’ll find with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin. That’s enormous if they actually do make the dance.

Now, the problem has been the bullpen, which has been a complete dumpster fire to date. In fact, Washington sports the worst bullpen ERA in baseball at 6.08. (Having the third-best record in the NL is even more impressive when you consider their bullpen ERA is north of six.)

The pen can’t get much worse and the front office did recently add some help — although relying on Fernando Rodney does scare me. If their relievers can pitch just be a little better overall in the second-half, the Nats have a good enough offense and top of the rotation to win the NL East and have a shot in the playoffs.

Washington is also very healthy. I’d throw some change on anything 30-1 or better.

American League

The American League isn’t as wide-open as the National League; we can realistically eliminate six teams from contention: Orioles, Blue Jays, White Sox, Mariners, Royals and Tigers.

If the season ended today, this is what the AL playoffs would look like:

  • New York Yankees vs. Wild Card Winner
  • Houston Astros vs. Minnesota Twins

All three division leaders (Twins, Yankees and Astros) hold at least a 5.5-game lead.

As it stands currently, the Rays would currently host the Indians in the Wild Card. The Athletics, Red Sox and Rangers are all within three games or fewer of the second wild-card spot.

AL East

It’s amazing how dominant the Yankees have been in spite of all of the injuries. When they get healthy, this team is going to get even scarier. (And who knows who they will add at the deadline?)

The Rays certainly have the pitching to compete with the top teams as evidenced by their MLB-leading 3.32 ERA. They seemingly have an endless supply of elite arms, but I just don’t trust that offense enough.

Elsewhere, the Red Sox have the offense and starting pitching (which has underperformed but should be fine) on paper to compete with the Yankees and Astros. But the bullpen has many holes and something just seems off with the defending champs this year. The Boston front office has also stated they won’t be making any major deadline acquisitions.

Ultimately, I don’t think either Tampa or Boston can win the division, so I want no part of either future. Getting through a do-or-die one-game scenario before likely facing the Yankees and then Astros just to get to the World Series? Hard pass at their current prices.

AL West

You have to feel for some of these teams who may not sniff a division title for quite some time with what the Astros have going.

The Angels and Rangers just don’t have the pitching to warrant serious consideration, even if they somehow sneak into the Wild Card Game. Oakland is the most well-rounded of the bunch, but I still don’t see the Athletics catching the Astros.

And similar to the AL East, I want no part of a wild card in the loaded American League postseason. We could also see a cannibalization effect in this division as well.

AL Central

This is the division I focused on from a futures perspective, since I think the Twins are clearly the most vulnerable division leader in the American League.

Minnesota’s offense is legit but I have some questions about the bullpen — and even more about a staff I think will come crashing back down to Earth. I love Jose Berrios but I’m not really a fan of any other pitcher in their current rotation.

I think the Indians can catch the Twins — who also have a number of starting position players on the IL.

It’s amazing what manager Terry Francona has done with the Tribe this season, considering they’ve been without most of their rotation and have seen Jose Ramirez’s production drop off a cliff. After winning six straight before the break, Cleveland actually finished with a better first-half record than it had last season.

The deep farm system is one of the primary reasons the Indians have been able to sustain success in spite of the injuries. Guys like Oscar Mercado and Zach Plesac were invaluable over the first few months.

Now, not only can the Tribe make a move at the deadline (Joc Pederson would look good in The Land, wouldn’t he?), they also will get back a number of pitchers.

  • Mike Clevinger will return from injury this weekend to start the opener against Minnesota
  • Two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber started throwing from 60 feet this week
  • 2016 All-Star Danny Salazar has recently been sent to Double-A for game action
  • Even 2017 wins leader Carlos Carrasco could return this summer

Add some of those names to a rotation that already features Trevor Bauer, who is rounding into form of late, and 2019 All-Star MVP Shane Bieber could be the fifth starter of that rotation. Plus, Dan Otero and Jeffry Rodriguez should come off the 10-day IL shortly. That will only help the depth of a bullpen that boasts the league’s lowest ERA.

Even if the Indians trade one of their relievers or starters (Bauer has been rumored), they still have the absurd depth and farm system to win the AL Central. They are the only AL team with good enough all-around pitching to at least give the Yankees or Astros a run for their money.

And imagine if Jose Ramirez can give them even a little bit more in the second half of the season. Cleveland, which could be just 2.5 games out of first place by the end of the weekend,  is worth a shot at 30-1 or better.


2019 MLB Futures Targets

  • Cardinals at 50-1 or better
  • Nationals at 30-1 or better
  • Indians at 30-1 or better

 

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