With their limited player-acquisition budget dominating the talking points thus far, the Cubs haven’t exactly been setting the offseason ablaze. And unless you’re one of Daniel Descalso‘s family members, you’re probably not too bullish on what few moves they’ve actually made. Compare the Cubs’ activity with that of their division rivals and the worry ratchets up another few notches.
But even without making splashes, the Cubs are still a good team. And since the folks in Vegas care little for public perception, their super early win-total projections offered a slightly more objective appraisal. Though the Cubs’ 89 projected wins would be their lowest total since 2014 (73), they stood second in the National League and tops in the Central yet again.
It’s only been a few days since those projections dropped, but the numbers have already begun to shift. Jeff Davis, director of trading for Caesars Entertainment, joined Joe Ostrowski‘s Early Odds show on 670 The Score Saturday morning to discuss the outlook for the Cubs and other teams.
“You know, [the projection of 89 wins is] less of coming down for the Cubs and more of we feel every team in the division got better or at least status quo,” Davis said. “The Cardinals clearly improved, adding (Paul) Goldschmidt and adding Andrew Miller, and they don’t have the shackles of Mike Matheny any more. So they figure to be dangerous.
“The Reds made a splash, adding a couple of power-hitting outfielders. Frankly, again, it’s more of a product of the teams around them.”
The Brewers weren’t initially a team that had done much to improve upon last year’s come-from-behind division title, at least not at the time the initial odds came out. But they’ve since added catcher Yasmani Grandal and are said to be in the hunt for another infielder. All of that has served to move them from 83.5 wins and out of the playoffs to 88.5 — a huge jump in such a short time — and right there in a virtual tie with the Cubs and Cards.
“That seems to be the one we were off the most on,” Davis admitted. “But I don’t know, there’s just a lot of regression candidates on the Brewers right now. And, you know, I totally understand that they won 90-some games last year, but is Christian Yelich gonna do what he did last year again? Do 90 wins and Jhoulys Chacin being your ace go together? I’m not sure.”
What’s even more interesting than the Brewers jumping up in the projections is that the Cubs weren’t hurt by the surge. In fact, their projection jumped higher as well.
“The Cubs have actually moved up too, they’ve taken some over money,” Davis said. “We’re sitting at 91.5 now on the Cubs. And it’s seems like the Reds were the team we might’ve been a little high on in that division. We opened them 77 and we’re down to 74.”
It’s important to note here since I didn’t previously that these numbers aren’t completely objective. While fans’ opinions might not matter to Davis and his colleagues, bettors’ money certainly does. So when he talks about getting “over money” on the Cubs, he’s indicating that enough people were betting on Joe Maddon‘s boys to exceed 89 wins that the line was forced up.
For those unfamiliar with oddsmaking, the idea is to set the line — whether it’s the spread of the final score or the over/under on win totals, etc. — so that you have an even amount of money on both sides. That way the book doesn’t take a beating either way. It’s also why you see so many fractional points. So the goal is to entice bets one way or the other, which comes from a combination of very informed conjecture and a wealth of experience.
None of this is static, either, as there are still many moves to be made in the month before pitchers and catchers report. Hell, there’ll probably be more free agents hanging around even after that if things continue at this pace. And once spring games start, various injuries and breakout performances could further impact the numbers.
But don’t take that to mean these projections are frivolous. You’re talking about projections that are essentially being crowdsourced by some of the smartest people around. Some of the dumbest too, but the aggregate wisdom is hard to argue with. All of which is to say that the Cubs are maybe in a decent spot after all. Yeah, they still need to do some serious work on the bullpen and keep everyone healthy, but what team doesn’t?
For more intel on MLB futures and the NFL playoffs, you can check out the full segment from Davis (starting at 10:40) and Ostrowski in the media player below. Early Odds airs every Saturday morning on 670 The Score prior to Inside the Clubhouse with Matt Spiegel and Bruce Levine, so you degenerate gamblers out there would do well to check it out, hangovers permitting.