This was brought to my attention by the inimitable @VegasWatch on Twitter, but Jeff Sherman – who evidently works at a major sports book in Vegas – has posted his initial over/under totals for the 2014 MLB season. You can find all of them posted here. Obviously, these lines are very early in the game – these were announced before it appeared that Ubaldo Jimenez would sign with the Orioles, for example, and other pieces like Kendrys Morales and Ervin Santana have yet to move. And, as I’m told, these early lines have a habit of moving around quite a bit before they get corrected by the marketplace.
Still – I find these fascinating. Here’s how these initial lines have the AL Central pegged for the coming season at the moment:
1. Detroit 89.5 wins
2. Cleveland 80 wins
3. Kansas City 79 wins
4. Chicago White Sox 77 wins
5. Minnesota Twins 71.5 wins.
First impressions…Well, I think that the Tigers are going to regress pretty hard this year, so that matches up about right. The Indians have some pretty significant question marks around their rotation – although they also have candidates for positive regression in Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, and Asdrubal Cabrera floating around on their pretty young 92-win club from last year. If I had to bet on any of these lines right now, I would probably bet the over on Cleveland. That quibble aside, I think that this is the most likely outcome as far as what order these teams will finish in.
As far as the White Sox go, if anyone asks me currently I have them pegged as a “true talent” team of somewhere between 75-80 wins with a ton of variance. If everything breaks right – let’s say Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez are serviceable at the plate and plus in the field, Adam Dunn has one last .800+ OPS year, Jose Abreu hits better than expected, Matt Davidson and Adam Eaton hit the ground running, Erik Johnson adjusts to the majors and becomes a legit #2 starter, etc. etc. etc. – Then this team could theoretically win 85+ games and challenge for a wild card spot. Naturally when you chain up all of those “ifs” the probability of that happening drops into the gutter, but it is one of the possibilities.
Most likely is a mixed bag of things. Maybe Eaton and Avisail Garcia make progress while Jose Quintana regresses and Matt Davidson struggles in AAA for most of the year. Maybe Tyler Flowers and Josh Phegley just are what they were last year and catcher is ghastly.
The result is that somewhere in the muddle of probabilities they shake out as a slightly-below-.500 team. And while that is a disappointment as a win total in a vacuum, coming off of last season it would be a huge improvement. A 14-game win improvement, while easier coming from rock bottom, would be tremendous. And it would be a lot more fun to watch a .500-ish team muddle through a year with a bunch of young position players instead of watching the funeral march of a bunch of non-prospects or over-the-hill guys.
If this Vegas line is accurate for 2014, then it means the White Sox will have made serious strides from last year with more growth to come, the added benefit of a huge draft bonus pool and the #3 overall pick, whomever they collect in trades selling off relievers and possibly guys like Alejandro de Aza and Gordon Beckham as the season wears on, and a ton of money to play with heading into 2015.
They’re hardly the Cardinals, but there is so much more hope than there was a year ago.