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Zerillo: How the Astros’ Discipline Affects the 2020 MLB Betting Landscape

Zerillo: How the Astros’ Discipline Affects the 2020 MLB Betting Landscape article feature image

Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images.

Just after 2 p.m. ET on Monday, Major League Baseball finally announced the disciplinary measures taken after their investigation into the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal:

  • A $5 million fine
  • Loss of first and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021
  • Year-long suspensions for general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch

Within the hour, Astros owner Jim Crane fired both Luhnow and Hinch, and Crane announced that he would run the baseball operations department for the time being.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who was Houston’s bench coach in 2017, is expected to encounter a similarly harsh outcome.

By all accounts, Cora was the ring-leader in Houston’s cheating efforts – and he likely employed similar tactics with the Red Sox en route to Boston’s 2018 championship.

The court of public opinion has already passed its judgment: Cora should, and likely will lose his job too.

So where does that leave us, as bettors, heading into 2020 – with two star-studded World Series contenders and recent champions coming under entirely new leadership?

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Boston Red Sox

  • Listed Win Total: 90.5
  • Projected Win Total: 85
  • Projected Divisional Probability: 15%
  • Projected World Series Probability: 2%

Even before the Astros cheating scandal swallowed up Cora, 2020 looked to be a transition year for the Red Sox.

They brought in a new general manager, Chaim Bloom, from the Rays to help cut costs, and Bloom has no direct ties with or loyalty to Cora.

Bloom’s operations department has been extremely quiet this offseason – letting Rick Porcello, Chris Owings, Brock Holt, and other cogs leave via free agency while merely adding roster-filler types in Jose Peraza, Kevin Plawecki and Martin Perez.

They made no effort to pursue any top free agents, and appear to be treading water.

Furthermore, young, cheap reinforcements are not on the way – the Red Sox prospect group ranks at or near the bottom of the list for every outlet that ranks farm systems.

And their best player, 2018 AL MVP Mookie Betts, will be a free agent next offseason – while recently receiving a record-setting one-year, $27 million deal from Boston in arbitration – so you can imagine how much money and attention his services would garner on the open market.

It seems likely that Betts will depart for greener pastures – either with the Dodgers or elsewhere, by next offseason at the latest – but Boston will continue to shop him for maximum prospect value in-season.

The Red Sox are in a similar situation with center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. – who is also being shopped and seems more likely than Betts to get dealt by opening day.

Meanwhile, pitching depth remains their most significant issue – as neither Chris Sale nor David Price were able to finish the 2019 season.

Sale dealt with elbow inflammation and decreased velocity while pitching through the worst year of his career – while Price has missed time in two of the past three seasons, succumbing to wrist cysts in 2019.

And there’s no evidence to suggest that either or both are suddenly healthy heading into 2020, when they’ll make a combined $52 million, after a bit of extra offseason rest.

Boston also needs to pay number three starter Eduardo Rodriguez, a homegrown lefty who won 19 games in 2019.

If the Red Sox have to fire Cora, they might dial things back completely, flip Bradley, Betts and Rodriguez to rebuild their farm system and take their foot off the gas pedal behind the World Series favorite New York Yankees, and the team with the No. 1 farm system and deepest 40-man roster in baseball – the Tampa Bay Rays.

Even the Toronto Blue Jays are on the way up, with their generational pool of offensive prospects all hitting the majors as they begin to spend on pitching in free agency.

There’s a real chance that the Red Sox finish at or below .500, and in 4th place in the AL East this season – and with each day it seems a more likely possibility than them making the playoffs.

Fading the Red Sox has been my most significant futures investment this offseason – placing five units on Under 93.5 wins, and PointsBetting their under at 92.

At 90.5 wins, it’s still my favorite under bet for any win total, and negative news about Cora seems likely to drive their number down further.

I would continue to hammer Boston’s under down to 88 wins, and I would take a more extended look at the overs for both Tampa Bay and Toronto.

At +2000, the market implies that the Red Sox win the World Series 4.8% of the time.

Even before taking a walk down narrative street with Cora, I pegged their fair odds at +4900.

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Houston Astros

  • Listed Win Total: 98.5
  • Projected Win Total: 94
  • Projected Divisional Probability: 53.5%
  • Projected World Series Probability: 11.5%

The harshest part of Houston’s punishment is the loss of draft capital – which you can estimate between $28-30 million in terms of total net value loss over the next six or seven years.

But when you consider the cluster effect of losing that draft capital, on top of a now directionless front-office without both Jeff Luhnow – the mastermind of the Astros rebuild – and Brandon Taubman – the assistant general manager who was fired for misogynistic comments after the 2019 ALCS – in addition to the loss of the communication pipeline from the front office to the field with A.J. Hinch and Alex Cora – this is an entirely different organization than it was four months ago.

Nevermind the fact that the Astros will lose whatever in-game edges that they previously gained by using technology to steal signs.

Furthermore, Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke will be 37 and 36 respectively this season, and though you can technically quantify losing both Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton from their rotation in the past two offseasons – and the loss of their best reliever, Will Harris –  that’s yet another cluster-loss that this organization needs to overcome.

The rotation behind Verlander and Greinke could be young and exciting, or it could be shaky – and their success likely depends upon the health and development of starters like Lance McCullers and Forrest Whitley and swingmen like Jose Urquidy and Brad Peacock – but this is clearly the least imposing Astros squad, on paper, in several seasons.

Throughout the offseason, I’ve already been scooping up shares of the Athletics to win the AL West – as I give the A’s a 33.3% chance of winning the division, implied odds of +199.

William Hill is still offering Oakland at +400 to win the AL West, and I consider that number to be incredibly actionable, and even more so after this news.

Furthermore, I’m inclined to take a swing at the under on Houston’s win total, at 98 or higher. However, they do remain an incredibly talented squad with nearly unlimited resources, and I will certainly keep an eye out to see where their future odds end up by opening day.

I view Houston’s fair World Series odds at around +750, and I might look to make a play if they hit +1000 or higher.

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