Betting baseball futures is not a proposition for everyone.
First of all, the season starts in April and runs into the first week of October, so any wagers placed won’t be realized for more than half a year.
The most important strategy in betting baseball futures is to find value, while avoiding placing bets that would payout less than one would earn with a six month certificate of deposit.
In other words, don’t play the obvious favorites.
There are many types of baseball futures bets: season win total over/under’s, odds to win the division, odds to win the pennant or World Series and individual player statistical futures.
I avoid single player statistical bets because of the unpredictable nature of injuries. If a team’s best player goes down to injury, there’s someone to take his place. If you have a bet on a single player to lead the majors in home runs and he tears an ACL, you can kiss that bet goodbye.
I have identified six baseball future bets that I think are worth considering — four that have very decent value and two season win total over/under’s that I think are easy bets.
WHICH TEAM WILL WIN THE AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST DIVISION?
BET — LOS ANGELES ANGELS +350
This is the only division in baseball where I found a decent-enough value play.
The A.L. East and Central are two-team races (Blue Jays and Red Sox in the former, Royals and Indians in the latter). The West, in my opinion, is up for grabs. We’re taking the value at winning three-and-a-half times the original bet on the Angels.
In the National League, the Mets and the Nationals will battle for the East, the Cubs, Cardinals and Pirates all have poor returns (Chicago is -160, St. Louis is +280, and Pittsburgh is +300). In the N.L. West, it looks like it’ll either be the Dodgers or the Giants winning the division.
The Angels have good bats, they have solid starters at the top of their rotation, a solid-if-unspectacular bullpen and they won 85 games last year.
Mike Trout is the straw that stirs the drink and, if Albert Pujols could only re-emerge as a top-tier threat, this team could surprise everyone by fending off the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers.
WHICH TEAM WILL WIN THE NATIONAL LEAGUE PENNANT?
BET — ST. LOUIS CARDINALS +700
This is a gutsy bet, because there are plenty of good teams in the National League this year, but those good teams come with the requisite low odds. Again, we’re looking for value.
Over the last ten years, the Cardinals have been one of the better organizations in all of baseball, winning the World Series in 2006 and 2011.
Coming off an early exit in the 2015 playoffs after amassing another 100-win season, the Cardinals will live or die on the success of their starting pitching this season.
Having a strong bullpen, all the Cardinals starters really need to do is consistently give six strong innings before handing the ball off to a relief staff that only trailed the Royals and Pirates last year in terms of production.
Adam Wainwright is the ace, followed by Jaime Garcia and Michael Wacha. This top-three will be augmented by bottom-tier starters in newly-acquired Mike Leake and reliever-turned-starter Carlos Martinez.
Leake is the key.
If he can become a dependable fourth starter, the Cardinals pitching staff will be one of the toughest in the National League.
They could conceivably lose a dozen more games this season than last year and still make the playoffs.
At seven-to-one odds, you’re getting a team with a good shot to make the playoffs, and once they get there, it’s either a one-game wild card with ace Wainwright taking the hill, or the short five-game division series, where they only need their top three starters.
The Cardinals have the pitching to steal a short series and, if they get to the N.L.C.S., you can hedge some of your bet on their opponent.
WHICH TEAM WILL WIN THE AMERICAN LEAGUE PENNANT?
BET — CLEVELAND INDIANS +1100
Cleveland was barely over .500 last year with its 81-80 record. It has arguably one of the best starting rotations in the American League, highlighted by Carlos Carrasco and Corey Kluber.
The Indians added veteran bats this offseason by acquiring Mike Napoli, Rajai Davis and Juan Uribe.
Their bullpen is solid, with underrated Cody Allen poised to have a breakout year as the team’s closer.
Speaking of breakouts, franchise shortstop of the future Francisco Lindor will be playing in his first full season at age 22 and he will be counted upon to contribute heavily to the offense.
Former catcher-turned-everyday-DH Carlos Santana will have to turn in a year more reminiscent of his first few MLB seasons, while starting catcher Yan Gomes will also be asked to return to top form, following a disappointing season.
Outfielder Michael Brantley needs to recover quickly from last season’s shoulder surgery.
The A.L. Central is up for grabs, with the reigning World Series champion Kansas City Royals the favorite (+120) to win the division.
The other teams in the A.L. Central don’t really project as division winners, particularly the Minnesota Twins and the Chicago White Sox. The Detroit Tigers (see below), have not convincingly addressed their bullpen woes, and do not look to improve on last year’s season.
If the Indians fall short behind the Royals for the division crown, they could still get into the playoffs thanks to the two-team wild card format.
Their starting pitching is strong enough to win a one-game wild card playoff or the five-game divisional series.
WHICH TEAM WILL WIN THE WORLD SERIES?
BET — CLEVELAND INDIANS +2800
The beauty about having the Indians to win the pennant and the World Series is that, if they win the A.L.C.S., you’ve already multiplied your wager by eleven times and can hedge by betting some of that on the National League World Series representative.
Do I realistically think the Indians are the team to win the 2016 World Series? Not exactly, but what we’re looking for here is value.
If they get into the playoffs, October becomes very interesting, with a chance to win a bucket of money should the Indians make a bid for the World Series.
HOW MANY WINS DURING THE REGULAR SEASON?
BET — MIAMI MARLINS OVER 80 1/2
I think the Miami Marlins will be the surprise story of the 2016 MLB season.
I project them to be an above-.500 team and to be in the N.L. East picture for a long stretch of the season.
Will they win the division? No.
Will they make the playoffs? Maybe.
The two-team wild card format helps their chances substantially.
Didn’t the Marlins finish 20 games under .500 last year? Yes… but they should be trending in the right direction with superstar Giancarlo Stanton completely healthy and ace Jose Fernandez looking to put together a full season in 2016.
Although their schedule starts out rough, playing the Nationals, Mets, Giants, and Dodgers in 17 of their first 24 games to start the season, the Marlins have relatively soft May and June schedules and, as long as they don’t get out to a 6-18 start, should be in the thick of the N.L. East picture into late July.
A .500 August would be a victory for this team, but when the calendar turns to September, the Marlins will get heavy doses of the Phillies and the Braves, two teams they should dominate.
I predict an 85- to 87-win season.
HOW MANY WINS DURING THE REGULAR SEASON?
BET — DETROIT TIGERS UNDER 85
Living about a mile from the Detroit City limits — and being a Tigers fan — I know that there is no way, no how they are winning 85 games this year.
First of all, the fact that Brad Ausmus is still the manager is surprising in and of itself. The “word on the street” that he was being fired practically came from the mouth of 2015 replacement General Manager Al Avila, who then had to set the record straight that Ausmus would, indeed, be coming back to “lead” the Tigers to start 2016.
I predict Ausmus will be looking for a new job before the All-Star break.
The Tigers won 74 games last year, and bettors who favor the “over” here are asking a team to improve by a dozen games without significantly improving its most glaring weakness — the bullpen.
They have new faces in the bullpen, settling on the shell of Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez as the closer, and adding a solid Mark Lowe to handle eighth-inning duties. Other than that, the back of the bullpen is suspect, which is way better than the long- and middle-relievers.
This bullpen is shaky at best.
This team is getting older and, although its starting pitching should help win a significant amount of games, the horrid bullpen will continue to turn wins into losses.
The addition of outfielder Justin Upton, and the return of former top-prospect Cameron Maybin (who is currently injured) will help improve the outfield and shortstop Jose Iglesias is now one year removed from missing the entire 2014 season.
Obviously Miguel Cabrera will do what he does — hit as well or better than anyone in the league, but the Tigers can’t rely on him to offset the runs the sieve of a bullpen will continue to surrender.