Previewing the MLB futures market

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I will be breaking down various MLB bets and futures during the baseball season. We are already just a month away from Opening Day and I’m just starting to shop around for futures. To start I dive into the AL MVP, NL Rookie of the Year, and talk about my favorite future for the WBC.

AL MVP

Shohei Ohtani is…..overvalued to win the AL MVP. There’s no way I could justify betting him at +240 before the MLB season even starts. Making money betting on futures isn’t as simple as just betting on the best player. The odds are important, and in this case, Ohtani is nowhere near the price I’d want to even consider betting on him.

Also, Ohtani is a potential trade deadline acquisition for another team, and if we assume that the Angels aren’t going to deal him to a team in their own division, and most likely would send him to the National League, there’s the additional risk that even if he has an elite MVP season and looks like he’s running away with the award, he could end up finishing the season in the National League and would likely not win either MVP award.  

Assuming Ohtani isn’t a lock to win MVP, let’s take a look at some of the other contenders. Starting with last year’s AL MVP, Aaron Judge.

The case for….

Aaron Judge – Last year’s winner. Hit 62 home runs. Plays in New York. Beat Ohtani last year. He’s going to be a popular pick to repeat, and if he continues to play like he did in 2022, he will probably repeat as MVP. But similar to Ohtani, I don’t think Judge is a great bet at 6/1

Mike Trout – Ohtani’s teammate. Is Trout the best player in baseball? Is he the best player on his own team? If he’s healthy, he’s always going to be a contender. But it’s still the Angels, and I’d just think that if the Angels do win 80 games, Ohtani will win the MVP. I have a hard time betting on Trout under 10/1 right now, but I am excited to see him in the WBC.

Julio Rodriguez – Obviously a big fan. But 12/1? Can’t do it. Mike Trout didn’t win his first MVP until his third full MLB season.

Yordan Alvarez – Yes. If he can stay healthy, and that’s a big question mark, Alvarez is a serious contender and checks all the boxes. He is the best power hitter on the defending World Series Champion Astros. When healthy, I would argue he’s the best power hitter in baseball. Better than Aaron Judge. If Alvarez plays 145 games, he’s a top-three MVP contender, and he’s a bet for me at 15/1 at Circa.

Jose Ramirez – No. He hasn’t won yet, and in a crowded field, it’s hard to see what he’s going to do to beat Trout, Vlad Jr., Judge and Ohtani. He’s a contender when we are looking at WAR and advanced metrics, but I don’t think he’s going to win, and I don’t think he’s a good bet at 15/1.

Vlad Guerrero Jr. –  Also, yes. I like Vlad Jr at 16/1 more than Judge at 6/1. It’s kind of a ‘what have you done for me lately’ situation. How quickly Vlad Jr.’s 2021 season has been forgotten. It’s not impossible the Blue Jays win the AL East over the Yankees and Vlad Jr. returns to top-tier MVP candidacy.

Kyle Tucker/Rafael Devers – I think Tucker is a future MVP winner but not in 2023 and not at 25/1. Devers has the misfortune of playing in the same division as Vlad Jr. and Judge, so unless the Red Sox plan on winning the division, I don’t think this is Devers’ year either.

Carlos Correa/Corey Seager/Jeremy Pena/Wander Franco – No, probably not, definitely not, you have my attention.

Correa is fine, but not getting any money from me at 40/1. Corey Seager could be a contender if he hits 50 home runs and the Rangers win the AL West, but I don’t think 40/1 is enough for Seager, and he would win MVP off hitting home runs, so I’m more likely to bet Seager to lead MLB in home runs over MVP. Jeremy Pena is incredibly overvalued, and while he was the World Series MVP and has good numbers, he’s nowhere near good enough or consistent enough to be a 40/1 MVP, let alone have better odds than Alex Bregman (another guy who’s not going to win), or even Jose Abreu (former MVP winner). After Wander Franco’s breakout 2021 season where he finished third in Rookie of the Year voting despite only playing 70 games, he took a step back in 2022 playing only 83 games due to various injuries, with a .277/.328/.417 slash line and only six home runs in 314 at bats.

Byron Buxton – I know there are a lot of Buxton fans who get drawn in every year to this being the year for Buxton to stay healthy. History isn’t on Buxton’s side. Last year, in his 28-year-old season, he played 92 games, the second-highest of his eight-year MLB career. If Buxton was 100/1, I’d take a flier on him. But Circa has him 30/1.

Bets: Vlad Jr. 15/1, Yordan Alvarez 16/1

This Year’s Julio Rodriguez

The St. Louis Cardinals have a 6-foot-5, 220-pound, 20-year-old 3B/OF/DH prospect Jordan Walker. A first-round pick in the 2020 MLB Draft, Walker is currently the fourth-ranked prospect in baseball, and his baseball cards routinely sell for thousands of dollars before his first major league at bat.

In his first spring training start this past weekend, Walker hit a 400+ foot home run off Johnny Cueto. Walker still isn’t guaranteed a spot on the Cardinals’ Opening Day roster. It is only because of potential service time considerations that Walker might spend 4-6 weeks in AAA before an eventual call up. While only 20 years old and having never played a game above the AA level, Walker has emerged as an early contender for NL Rookie of the Year with the only thing holding him back the lack of guaranteed at bats to start the season.

Much like Julio Rodriguez (who also skipped AAA) last season, Walker can force his way into the Cardinals’ Opening Day lineup with a strong Spring Training. In the last few seasons, we’ve seen rookies who play close to a full season are rewarded by voters over those who play partial seasons, with guys like Wander Franco and Adley Rutschman not getting serious consideration by ROY voters due to their abridged rookie seasons.

At 20 years old in 2021, Julio Rodriguez batted .362/.461/.546 with 63 hits, 35 runs, 7 home runs, 26 RBIs and 16 stolen bases in 46 games at AA Arkansas. He also struck out 37 times versus 29 walks over 174 at bats. In 2022, Walker played more than double the games at AA than Rodriguez did as a 20-year-old, with 461 at bats in 119 games, batting .306/.388/.510 with 141 hits, 100 runs, 19 home runs, 68 RBIs, and 22 stolen bases. He struck out 116 times with 58 walks, so the strikeouts are slightly concerning but not enough where I’d start him at AAA over MLB. He’s a 20-year-old power hitter in the mold of Giancarlo Stanton, and he will force his way into the Cardinals’ lineup sooner or later.

Anything over +750 right now for Jordan Walker to win the NL Rookie of the Year is a great bet. I expect that number to close under 4/1 if and when Walker makes the Cardinals’ Opening Day Roster. While he will face stiff competition for the ROY Award from Corbin Carroll and other rookies in the National League, it is clear that Walker has the right combination of power and speed to fill up the stat sheet with home runs and stolen bases and get an early leg up on the competition while playing for a likely playoff team should give Walker the inside track at the NL ROY Award. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him close as the favorite before Spring Training ends. 
Bet: Jordan Walker NL Rookie of the Year +900 and +750

WBC Future

Bet: Team Japan 3/1

Japan headlines Pool B in Tokyo on March 9-13. Japan’s opponents in Pool B consist of South Korea, Australia, China and the Czech Republic.  Their only serious challenger to winning the pool is South Korea, and I don’t see any scenario where Japan/South Korea aren’t the two teams advancing out of this pool. If there were odds on Japan advancing out of Pool B, it would be correctly priced at -9999999.

The projected rotation for Team Japan is Ohtani vs. China, Yu Darvish vs. South Korea, Roki Sasaki vs. the Czech Republic and Yoshinobu Yamamoto vs. Australia. With Shohei Ohtani projected to start Japan’s WBC opener vs. China, he would line up to pitch in the quarterfinals for Team Japan on March 20th which would allow him enough time to get ready to start the season opener for the Angels on March 30th. That would likely leave Yu Darvish to start a potential semifinal, leaving both Roki Sasaki and Yoshinobu Yamato available for the finals. If you don’t know who Roki Sasaki is, he’s the next big thing coming to MLB.  At 20 years old, Sasaki pitched 129.1 innings in the NPB last year with a 2.02 era, 173 strikeouts, 23 walks and a 0.796 WHIP. He also struck out 19 batters while pitching a perfect game.

There are a few other reasons I like team Japan for tournament-style competitions, they have connections to Driveline, and they play more cohesively and care more about winning than, say, Team USA, which is filled with superstars but still had to really dig deep to assemble a pitching staff. The Japanese players take representing their country very seriously, and they benefit from home-field advantage for every round until the Championship. My goal is to get Japan into the championship game and decide what to bet on from there.

Other Notes

– I am a big fan of Reds shortstop and potential future superstar Elly De La Cruz. I am not a fan of betting Elly De La Cruz to win the 2023 NL Rookie of the Year at 15/1 or even 20/1 odds. Elly De La Cruz had a breakout year at the high A/AA levels last year batting .304/.359/.586 with 87 runs, 28 home runs, 86 RBIs, and 47 stolen bases across both levels, but I was more impressed with what I saw out of him in his 24-game stint playing for the Tigres del Licey in the Dominican Winter League this past offseason where he batted .286/.396/.417 with 24 hits in 24 games, including 19 runs, 1 home run, 14 RBIs and 9 stolen bases. One thing to keep In mind is the Dominican Winter League is a home run-depressed league, and Elly joined a small group of players, becoming only the 12th in league history (going back to 1957) to hit a home run to dead center field at Estadio Quiseueya Juan Marichal, where the dead centerfield is 411 feet with a wall twice the height as the rest of the walls in the ball park. Elly joins a list including names like Frank Howard, Raul Mondesi Sr., and Juan Francisco (who did it three separate times), but most impressively De La Cruz did it as a 20-year-old who has yet to even reach AAA.

The major problem is that while his talent is undeniable, the Reds don’t look like the sort of team that would benefit from aggressively promoting Elly De La Cruz and having him skip AAA. Unlike Julio Rodriguez or Jordan Walker who hit for both power and have advanced plate discipline for their ages, De La Cruz is still very raw and would benefit from facing AAA-level pitching for a while, while the Reds delay starting his MLB service time. Injuries happen, situations change, but 15/1 right now is not a good price.

Michael Busch, Dodgers 2B/Utility. Injuries are terrible things, but they create opportunities for other players. With Gavin Lux missing the entire season for the Dodgers, it creates an opportunity for Michael Busch to potentially make the Dodgers roster or see an early call up. Busch is 25 years old and was a 2019 first-round pick out of the University of North Carolina. I’m not sure he’s going to be an MLB superstar like Jordan Walker, but he could see immediate and consistent playing time on the 2023 Dodgers. His main competition for at bats right now is Miguel Rojas, Chris Taylor and fellow rookie Miguel Vargas. I like Miguel Vargas a lot as a baseball player, but I’m not really interested in his Rookie of the Year odds below +750. I’d much rather take a shot on Busch at 45/1 in the event that he ends up in Los Angeles early in the season or potentially makes the roster out of Spring Training—still a long shot today, but less of a long shot than it was when before Gavin Lux tore his ACL.

Busch can play first base, second base or outfield. With Justin Turner gone and Lux out for the season, the fact that Busch can play multiple positions means he could potentially stick on the MLB roster as a super utility player. Busch played 111 games at AAA last year, with more than acceptable numbers across the board .266/.343/.480, with 118 hits, 87 runs, 21 home runs, and 79 RBIs. The only major concern is 131 strikeouts versus 50 walks, so strikeouts will most likely be an issue at the MLB level.

Fernando Tatis Jr. might have one of the worst numbers I’ve ever seen for a potential MVP. At both DraftKings and Circa, Tatis Jr. is 10/1 with the third lowest odds, trailing only Ronald Acuna and teammate Juan Soto.

I can’t understand how anyone could get Tatis Jr. 10/1 after he missed the entire 2022 season first while recovering from a fractured left wrist and then serving an 80-game suspension for a positive PED test. Tatis Jr. also had left shoulder surgery in the offseason to repair a torn labrum. While Tatis Jr. is finally fully healthy, he must first serve a 20-game suspension so the first day he will be eligible to play a Major League game is April 20th. Which is fine; he can still Max out around 130-140 games, provided he doesn’t need rest days (which he will).

You are telling me that I can bet on a shortstop moving to the outfield, who missed the entire 2022 season with a combination broken wrist from a motorcycle accident (which needed two surgeries) and PED suspension, who already averages more than a strikeout a game in his MLB career? And he’s going to need to beat his teammate Juan Soto potentially, who’s something like one of the top 3-5 players in all of baseball at worst? And he’s only going to play 130 or so games at best? And I’m going to need voters to reward him with MVP votes just months after serving an 80-game PED suspension? All of this, and I can bet on Tatis Jr. for the price of only 10/1? This should probably be 100/1.     

One of my major rules for MVP betting is that you have to be the best player on your own team, and with the Padres assembling a superteam around Juan Soto, Manny Machado, Tatis and Xander Boegarts there is no question that Tatis Jr. is, at best, the second-best player on the Padres, and most likely he’s behind Manny Machado. I’d book this north of 25/1 if I knew people wanted to bet into this market.