Rebuilding? Contending? Spring training is all about setting—and managing—expectations. And not every team is worth believing in
AS IT TURNS OUT, Vegas knows what it is doing. Last year, more than half of major league teams—16 of them—finished within five wins of the predicted total the town's bookies made for them six months earlier. Just five outperformed (Cubs, Rangers) or underperformed (Diamondbacks, Rays, Twins) their projections by 10 wins or more.
Now, there's an old Yugoslavian saying—allegedly—that "nine gamblers could not feed a single rooster." But spring training is up and running, and sports books, as monitored by OddsShark.com, have concurrently released this season's set of over/under win totals. You can't win half a baseball game (unless you are a 2002 All-Star), so you must choose a side. And we did, for all 30 teams. Our picks and rationales are below. Of course, you probably shouldn't act on any of them—particularly if you're an owner of peckish poultry.
2016 wins: 69 | 2017 O/U: 78.5
The only good part of a nightmare season like the one the D-Backs had in '16? You have to wake up eventually. Morning could arrive in the form of a healthy A.J. Pollock and a rebounding Zack Greinke, superstars as recently as 2015 who could account for 10 extra wins.
2016 wins: 68 | 2017 O/U: 71.5
The rebuilding Braves acquired several short-term veterans (Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey, Brandon Phillips) to help them avoid outright putridity in their new ballpark. The real reason they'll do it is a lineup that rapidly improved last season, from 30th—dead last—in runs before the All-Star Game to sixth after it.
2016 wins: 89 | 2017 O/U: 84.5
Maybe Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman can become co-aces, but the Orioles still have a rotation that will include Wade Miley (5.37 ERA in '16) and Ubaldo Jimenez (5.44). They'll hit a ton of homers, but it's hard to win 85 games with a staff like that.
BOSTON RED SOX
2016 wins: 93 | 2017 O/U: 91.5
David Ortiz is gone, but let's not overreact. This is a club that had an AL-best +184 run differential and added possibly the best starter in the league, Chris Sale. The Sox also get a full season from the game's No. 1 prospect, Andrew Benintendi. Doesn't sound as if they'll win less.
2016 wins: 103 | 2017 O/U: 96.5
Winning 97 games is hard. Over the past decade, just 1.7 clubs per year have done it. The champs are a lock to run away with the NL Central, but they'll rely on three starters in their 30s (Jake Arrieta, John Lackey and Jon Lester), any or all of whom could begin to regress.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
2016 wins: 78 | 2017 O/U: 71.5
Adam Eaton and Chris Sale have already been traded from the rebuilding South Siders. Jose Abreu, Melky Cabrera, Todd Frazier, Jose Quintana and David Robertson could soon join them. The future's bright, but for now things will get worse as the Sox wait for their newly acquired prospects to mature.
2016 wins: 68 | 2017 O/U: 73.5
There is little reason to expect much improvement here. Joey Votto can't get better—his league-dominating second-half OPS last season was 1.158—but he can't win by himself, and a bullpen that gave up a record-smashing 103 homers added only Drew Storen.
2016 wins: 94 | 2017 O/U: 93.5
They won the second-most games in the AL last season despite losing their best hitter (Michael Brantley) for nearly all of it and two of their best pitchers (Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar) by its end. Can they win as many with those three healthy and a new slugger in Edwin Encarnacion? Seems likely.
2016 wins: 75 | 2017 O/U: 80.5
The Rockies haven't surpassed 80 wins since 2010. The offense is as potent as ever, but it's a newly promising rotation fronted by Jon Gray—and supported by a deep bullpen that added Greg Holland and Mike Dunn—that could have them flirting with .500.
2016 wins: 86 | 2017 O/U: 84.5
The Tigers look like contenders, with a power-packed lineup and a rotation led by a rejuvenated Justin Verlander and Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer. But they have just one top 100 prospect. It's tough to predict that nothing will go wrong for an aging club, making the under the safe pick.
2016 wins: 84 | 2017 O/U: 87.5
The offense should be in the top five, but the front office's ability to add a top-end starter is what could push the club into the mid-90s. If it's not a trade for someone like Chris Archer, Sonny Gray or Jose Quintana, it'll be the promotion of fireballing prospect Francis Martes.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
2016 wins: 81 | 2017 O/U: 81.5
The unthinkable death of Yordano Ventura in a January car accident deprived a thin rotation of its ace. A slow start could snowball and force GM Dayton Moore to trade away key players before their free agency, including Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas.
LOS ANGELES ANGELS
2016 wins: 74 | 2017 O/U: 76.5
Mike Trout, with his annual 10 WAR, will never let the Angels be terrible. But two starters (Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano) lost to torn UCLs and a No. 1—Garrett Richards—trying to come back from one will mean an eighth straight season without a playoff win.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
2016 wins: 91 | 2017 O/U: 92.5
There's a reason Baseball Prospectus's and Fan Graphs's projection models have L.A. at, respectively, 98 and 94 wins. Despite having no starter top 176 innings in 2016 and losing Clayton Kershaw for more than two months, they still comfortably took the NL West crown. The Dodgers are loaded.
2016 wins: 79 | 2017 O/U: 76.5
The September boating death of Jose Fernandez was devastating in so many ways, the least of which is to the Marlins' on-field fortunes. They still have one of the NL's best outfields, but a rotation topped by Wei-Yin Chen and Edinson Volquez won't be enough.
2016 wins: 73 | 2017 O/U: 71.5
As owner Mark Attanasio told MLB.com in January, "It is essential that we do this rebuild correctly, and I think if we get too hung up on wins and losses, we're maybe not doing it [right]." In other words, while Milwaukee's farm system is excellent, its major league roster is lacking.
2016 wins: 59 | 2017 O/U: 70.5
They dropped 24 wins from 2015 to '16, so they only have to pick up half of those to hit the over. There's simply too much young talent in Minnesota—including Jose Berrios, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano—for them to continue to be this bad.
NEW YORK METS
2016 wins: 87 | 2017 O/U: 90.5
Bartolo Colon is gone—!—but the Mets made the playoffs in 2016 despite a ridiculous run of injuries: Only one regular, Curtis Granderson, played more than 142 games, and they eventually lost 80% of their projected rotation. Even average health should translate into at least 95 wins.
NEW YORK YANKEES
2016 wins: 84 | 2017 O/U: 83.5
GM Brian Cashman's 2016 trade-deadline maneuverings mean the Yankees of 2019 will be a force. But what about in the interim? Avoiding the club's first losing season since 1992 seems a reasonable goal. A suspect rotation behind Masahiro Tanaka suggests if they achieve it, it won't be by much.
2016 wins: 69 | 2017 O/U: 66.5
The A's are stuck in a purgatory between contending and rebuilding. But will they have their worst season in two decades? Unless Billy Beane goes into full teardown mode, a healthy Sonny Gray and a decent bullpen (buoyed by Santiago Casilla) makes that improbable.
2016 wins: 71 | 2017 O/U: 72.5
The Phillies lucked into their 71 wins last year: Their majors-worst --186 run differential suggests they should have won only 62 games. After a modest off-season (additions included Clay Buchholz, Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders), improvement for the future-focused club is unlikely.
2016 wins: 78 | 2017 O/U: 85.5
A 20-game drop from 2015 hinged on two factors: Ace Gerrit Cole got hurt, and their best hitter, Andrew McCutchen, declined dramatically. Cole's elbow might hold up, but McCutchen is no lock to return to his MVP days. An eight-win bounce appears too high.
SAN DIEGO PADRES
2016 wins: 68 | 2017 O/U: 64.5
They've got one star-level hitter left, Wil Myers, and their new veteran rotation leader, Jered Weaver, can no longer throw even 88 miles per hour. The farm system is fertile, but it won't mature in time to keep the Padres from becoming the majors' only 100-game losers.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
2016 wins: 87 | 2017 O/U: 87.5
The Giants have won 88, 84 and 87 games over the last three years. They have virtually all of last year's key pieces and seem a lock to finish in that range again. A full season of Matt Moore and a solid new closer in Mark Melancon should be worth an extra win over last year.
2016 wins: 86 | 2017 O/U: 85.5
GM Jerry Dipoto's hyperactive winter brought 26 new faces to Seattle's spring camp. The nucleus, though, remains the same—and it's a good one, as the club ranked sixth in runs scored and eighth in ERA in 2016. Dipoto's fiddling should, at worst, ensure a repeat performance.
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
2016 wins: 86 | 2017 O/U: 88.5
A rotation that had a middling 4.33 ERA last year was supposed to be bolstered by the flamethrowing Alex Reyes, Baseball America's No. 4 overall prospect. But the 22-year-old tore his UCL in February, banishing any thought that St. Louis might challenge the Cubs.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
2016 wins: 68 | 2017 O/U: 75.5
The Rays are perennially underfunded. In 2016 they were unlucky, too. Normal fortune, plus one of the AL's best rotations and a couple of advanced pitching prospects (Jose De Leon and Brent Honeywell) make them the most attractive "over" pick on this list.
2016 wins: 95 | 2017 O/U: 85.5
Yes, the Rangers played over their heads last year; they only had a +8 run differential. But a 10-win decline seems too precipitous for an offense loaded with talent young (Nomar Mazara, Rougned Odor) and old (Adrian Beltre, Mike Napoli) and a rotation topped by Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
2016 wins: 89 | 2017 O/U: 85.5
Will Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce adequately replace Edwin Encarnacion, the departed AL RBI king? Probably not. Otherwise, this is now an aging club, with 15 members of its likely 25-man roster older than 31. It's not a formula for getting better.
2016 wins: 95 | 2016 O/U: 90.5
For half a decade the Nationals have alternated 95+ win seasons with seasons of 86 wins or fewer. This is supposed to be the latter, but new import Adam Eaton, electric young shortstop Trea Turner and the return after a down year of a 10-WAR Bryce Harper will stop the oscillating.