Many Houston Astros fans are still celebrating their team’s World Series victory it clinched less than two weeks ago. In large parts of the country, trees have already dumped their leaves for the winter.
It’s not exactly the time of year when most sports bettors are thinking about the 2023 World Series, but some mobile sportsbooks, including DraftKings, already have released their 2023 team futures. With the hot stove just starting to warm up, this is actually a pretty good time to try to find value as teams begin to think about reshaping their rosters heading into the winter meetings, which begin Dec. 4 in lovely downtown San Diego.
The beauty of jumping on these futures now is you can get better value than you will after a team makes a series of improvements. And the off-season action already has started, making this a good time to start reading tea leaves to determine which teams will make the best moves. You don’t get the excitement of just an entire season, you get the excitement of an entire season and most of an off-season.
Let’s take a look at some key movers in the sport and break down what we know about their winter plans as we search for value among these 2023 World Series odds (provided by DraftKings):
As is often the case, New York is at the fulcrum of the hot stove. Will the Yanks hold onto Aaron Judge or will he become the most impactful bat on the open market? DraftKings already named New York the favorite, pegging its odds at +165 to retain Judge, followed by a couple of West Coast teams, the San Francisco Giants (+300) and Los Angeles Dodgers (+450).
In many quarters of Yankee fandom, Tuesday’s news that the team had re-signed veteran first baseman Anthony Rizzo to a two-year, $40 million deal was viewed as a good sign the team could retain Judge.
It also elicited this comment from Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner, who spoke about Judge with reporters Tuesday: “I do believe he wants to be a Yankee. … People gravitate towards him. The young players gravitate towards him. He’s obviously important to our fans and very important to my family and the organization.”
While those words sound heartfelt, nothing really means much until the ink is dry on a new contract. The Yankees have shown reluctance to blow through the luxury tax threshold in recent seasons, and after signing Rizzo, they figure to be bumping up against it. They already have $176 million committed to the 2023 club, and that doesn’t include arbitration raises or any additions the club might need aside from Judge.
Even if the Yankees hold onto him, are their chances of winning it all better than 9.1%, which their +1000 odds imply? To get past Houston and some of the other heavyweights, the Yankees might need to find a way to make more contact when it counts. The Yankees struck out, on average, 11.4 times per game this postseason, lowest contact rate among any of the playoff teams.
Combined with the team’s prolonged struggles in August, the winter uncertainty makes this a tough bet.
The Dodgers have figured out everything except how to win their most important games.
Despite winning at least 104 games in four of the past six seasons, the Dodgers have just one ring to show for it, and that came after the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. For this team to be the kind of dynasty envisioned when it changed ownership in 2012, it’s going to have to land another title or two.
The 2023 season offers a lot of promise financially, as the team gets out from under some bad contracts and looks to have some wiggle room under the luxury tax threshold. It has about $200 million committed so far to 2023, including the one-year extension for franchise legend Clayton Kershaw.
The exercise here is to try to out-guess the market on whether the Dodgers will use 2023 to try to reset under the luxury tax threshold to avoid the stiffest penalties in the long term. If they do, they might not be as active as many in the industry expect. If they don’t, Judge, Trea Turner, Carlos Correa, Jacob deGrom, and just about any other big-name free agent you can imagine are candidates to play in Dodger blue.
The value here is that, even if the Dodgers do practically nothing, you know you’re getting a great team. Do they have a 15.4% chance of winning the World Series, as these odds imply? Seems about right, even before the team announces any off-season press conferences.
One year ago, the Astros were +700 to win the World Series. The people who jumped on those odds certainly are happy now, particularly Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, who won nearly $75 million as part of his Houston furniture promotion.
It’s hard to go wrong betting on a team that manages its roster this cleverly. The Astros came nowhere near the luxury tax threshold with a payroll in the $140 million range, and they’ll have plenty of room to maneuver this offseason as well.
Most people seem to expect them to come in at around $176 million entering 2023, which gives them more than $50 million to play with this winter. That’s the benefit of developing your own players. The fact that they have brilliant young players like Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker, and Framber Valdez on team-friendly deals is a two-fold benefit.
Young players are far more likely to improve season over season, and their suppressed salaries give a team room to fill other holes. Until proven otherwise, the Astros are never a bad bet this time of year.
Many of the same things can be said of the Braves, whose young core of Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley, Michael Harris II, Max Fried, and Spencer Strider is as good as anybody’s.
Fried is due a hefty raise via arbitration, but the Braves figure to have the financial flexibility to add players this offseason. Sportrac projects them to spend an additional $17 million or so above the current active-roster payroll of $162 million.
The worry here is the same as it is for the NL-champion Philadelphia Phillies (+1500) and the 101-win New York Mets (+1200): The NL East figures to be an absolute beast next season.
While the expanded playoffs will help, these teams won’t be able to rack up regular-season wins to the same degree as competitors in less impressive divisions. The Braves are always a candidate to go far, but it’s hard to give a team from this division an 11.1% chance of overcoming so much traffic.
Many casual baseball fans overvalue free agency as a means to build a better roster. As many teams have blown their chances with a bad off-season deal as have improved them with a bold move.
So, it’s worth considering some teams that figure to improve in 2023 with just a little better luck. Among those are the Chicago White Sox (+2000), who saw sub-par seasons from much of their core and can probably expect some regression to the mean. It also includes the San Diego Padres (+1400), who get Fernando Tatis Jr. back after he serves the remaining 32 games of his 80-game suspension for using a performance-enhancing substance.
The St. Louis Cardinals (+2200) seem like a good play here given their returning dynamic duo of Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, plus a farm system beginning to mature with top prospects Jordan Walker and Masyn Winn. Many observers also expect them to land one of the free-agent shortstops (Dansby Swanson, anyone?) in a deep class of them. The team already has said it plans on taking the extra revenue it made from Albert Pujols’ farewell tour and pour it into the payroll.
Photo: Kiyoshi Mio/USA TODAY