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Undervalued now, hyped after the lockout? Get in on these 5 MLB teams

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Normally around this time we’d be taking stock of MLB’s top contenders, perusing team win totals and searching for that diamond in the rough that could turn longer odds into a World Series trophy. In 2022? Well, we’d all love to know how many games each team will play, much less win.

The lockout has frozen the hot stove, delayed spring training and now looks likely to push back opening day.

It has also left prognosticators and would-be bettors stuck with incomplete information. A litany of top talents will land in new places once the lockout is over, likely reshaping the picture we have now. That makes this an interesting moment: What odds are available right now are reflections both of each team’s current talent, but also of post-lockout expectations.

In that mix of projection and perception, there are opportunities to get in early on teams that may gain steam once the picture becomes clearer. Here are five to consider.

San Diego Padres

I know, I know. They may have hurt you in 2021. The apparent challengers to the Los Angeles Dodgers fell by the wayside, finishing a distant third as the San Francisco Giants rose up to win the NL West.

A lot of the talent that portended success in 2021 wound up on the shelf, but most of it is returning in 2022. Starter Mike Clevinger is expected to be ready for a full season to complement Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish and Blake Snell. Fernando Tatis Jr. headlines a group of hitters that aggressive executive A.J. Preller may still augment in free agency. The Padres also brought in respected skipper Bob Melvin to steer the ship.

They will undoubtedly be disadvantaged by their division again, but the Padres already rank as the third-most talented NL team by FanGraphs’ depth chart projections, and at Baseball Prospectus, their temporary mid-lockout playoff odds are roughly equal to the New York Mets.

Don’t worry about the NL West crown, but consider the splash a fully operational Padres team could make in October. They are +700 to win the NL pennant at BetMGM, and +1600 to win the World Series. A smaller way to express some confidence in the Padres? Take the +320 line on an NL West team to win the World Series. The division is getting longer odds than the AL East for now, but that may not last.

Likely to gain a new star teammate once the MLB lockout ends, Aaron Judge and the Yankees have to break through to a World Series eventually ... right?  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Likely to gain a new star teammate once the MLB lockout ends, Aaron Judge and the Yankees have to break through to a World Series eventually ... right? (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

New York Yankees

Look, it’s not fun to expect the Yankees to be good, but the Yankees will almost certainly be good. Despite a daunting division, they already rate as one of the league’s best teams and most likely playoff participants.

The black hole at shortstop gives Brian Cashman a major upgrade opportunity that will likely catapult the Yankees into the territory of the Houston Astros (+450 to win the AL, +900 to win the World Series) if Carlos Correa or Trevor Story lands in the Bronx. Jump on the Yankees now, while their odds at BetMGM are +550 to take the AL pennant and +1100 to win the World Series.

Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers are an interesting case. Buoyed by a stifling starting rotation, they cruised to a division title in 2021 and are favored to repeat that effort. BP’s projection system thinks they are the surest playoff team in MLB right now, while FanGraphs is lower on them but still has them as the class of the NL Central.

Especially if the Cincinnati Reds sell or tread water, the Brewers have a path encumbered only by the St. Louis Cardinals. They also have several clear openings for improvement, as just about any decent free agent hitter could bolster a lineup that lagged badly behind the pitching staff.

That makes their +100 odds to take the NL Central at BetMGM a solid get compared to other division favorites like the White Sox (-200) or Astros (-140). They also have the same +700 NL pennant odds as the Padres, a team far less likely to avoid a wild-card game.

Philadelphia Phillies

Now for a longer shot. The Phillies have made a habit of being mediocre despite employing amazing players. Bryce Harper’s MVP-winning bonanza did not help them break their postseason drought last year. But in the weird world of half-finished teams, a half-team that’s all stars shouldn’t be quite this discounted.

Right now, the Phillies have sub-Tigers, sub-Mariners expectations at BetMGM, with +4000 odds of winning the World Series and +1600 odds of even making it there. I wouldn’t go predicting the Phillies to make the World Series, but I would guess that the team helmed by Dave Dombrowski is going to make major moves to fill in this roster once the lockout is over.

They make a lot of sense for a prove-it player like Michael Conforto or an upside pitcher in the realm of Matthew Boyd. Solid additions at any outfield spot not currently occupied by Harper, or at shortstop, should be plenty to make this team a threat in the NL East, where they’re getting +450 odds. They’re not going to inspire the confidence of the Braves, and they won’t look as good as the Mets on paper — but when has that stopped anyone from beating the Mets?

Minnesota Twins

Everything that could go wrong for the 2021 Twins somehow went twice as wrong as you can imagine.

Some of that disastrous season will reverberate into this season — namely, Kenta Maeda will be sidelined due to injury. But the rest of this team is closer to its playoff-caliber 2019-2020 self than last year showed. There’s no good reason to favor the Twins in the AL Central or the wild-card race, but the current version of the roster stacks up similarly to the Boston Red Sox, for instance, and plays in a much softer division. So count me as interested in their +800 odds at BetMGM to win the AL Central (behind the spending but unproven Tigers) and maybe even their astronomical +3000 odds to win the AL pennant.

This lineup should be potent. Josh Donaldson leads a cavalcade of run producers behind the on-base ability of Luis Arraez and Jorge Polanco. There’s also the potential pyrotechnics of Byron Buxton, when healthy. The problem is pitching. Rookie Joe Ryan and the extremely tall Bailey Ober are both promising, but far from sure things. If Minnesota finds a reliable starter or two, either internally or on the post-lockout market, this is a team wholly capable of pouncing on a snakebitten favorite. And if anyone can tell you about the possibility of that coming to fruition, it’s the Twins.