Top 5 value MLB futures plays

Top 5 value MLB futures plays

Top 5 value MLB futures plays
By DAVID JONES

With spring training games set to begin this week, it's a perfect time to find the 2009 version of the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays. While Tampa backers weren't able to cash in their long shot World Series tickets, savvy bettors were able to hedge their wagers and still turn a nice profit. Will history repeat itself this season? I've has singled out five teams that could be worth a strong look for a futures bet.

Arizona Diamondbacks (2008, 82-80) 20/1

I'll start in the shallow end of the pool with the D-Backs. This group of players got a taste of the postseason in 2007. Now, they could be ready to take the next step.

Ace hurler Brandon Webb is good enough to mirror last year's October run by Phillies' lefty Cole Hamels. The rest of the pitching staff has plenty of depth in the rotation and bullpen.

The offense is seeking to be more consistent with less strikeouts and more contact. The youthful lineup (all starters under 30) has some decent power. This group is poised to progress in 2009.

In a mediocre division, the road to the playoffs is open for the Diamondbacks. With a projection of 92 wins by Baseball Prospectus, Arizona is gaining some respect in some other circles as well.

Oakland A's (2008, 75-86) 25/1

The "Moneyball" approach has taken some knocks in the last couple of years. With the Angels adjusting to some key personnel losses, the 2009 A's could rebound all the way into the playoffs for the sixth time since the 2000 campaign.

With the return of former MVP Jason Giambi to the Bay Area and the acquisition of all-star OF Matt Holliday, the A's have added some thunder to a lineup that was punchless in 2008. If vets Eric Chavez and Bobby Crosby can avoid the injury bug, Oakland could really jump start its offense in 2009.

The no-name pitching staff is a work in progress beyond No. 1 starter Justin Duchscherer (2.54 E.R.A. in 2008). However, GM Billy Beane usually manages to stock enough promising arms to exceed most projections.

While a summer deal involving 2010 free agent Holiday is likely, Beane will get enough in return to keep the A's in the hunt as the Angels come back to the pack in the AL West.

San Francisco Giants (2008, 72-90) 30/1

Like Arizona in the NL West, the Giants appear to have the proper supply of starting arms to be a dangerous spoiler in the postseason. Unfortunately, the bats may not be able to do enough to get San Francisco there.

Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum leads a trio of power arms at the top of the rotation. Despite his age (45), new addition Randy Johnson should have some gas left in the tank as he chases his 300th win. If Barry Zito could somehow regain his stuff, the arms could really do some damage.

Only the Padres scored fewer runs than the Giants in MLB last year. The new-look infield that features three rookies and veteran SS Edgar Renteria will be counted on to produce a little spark. A lack of a power bat may doom this team again in 2009.

Manager Bruce Bochy is used to playing "small ball" from his days in San Diego. If the Giants can pull out enough 3-2 type of games, Lincecum could be unleashed in the postseason. A scary thought for potential playoff foes.

Milwaukee Brewers(2008, 90-72) 45/1

A nice price for a team coming off a postseason appearance. This squad could follow the Phillies' blueprint by going from an LDS loss one season to champions in the following year.

With the entire starting lineup intact from a year ago, the Brewers will be able to power their way into playoff contention in 2009. The farm system has produced six of the players who are all under 30 years of age. Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and company will do some more damage in this campaign.

There is no doubt that the rotation has taken a hit with the departures of CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets. The good news is that young ace Yovani Gallardo made only four starts a year ago. There are enough adequate vets in the rotation and pen to at least give the Brewers a chance to win more often than not.

New manager Ken Macha guided some young Oakland teams to the playoffs in his previous managerial stint. Even if the Cubs win the NL Central for a third straight season, the Brew Crew will have another good look at a Wild Card spot in 2009.

Kansas City Royals (2008, 75-87) 100/1

The 2009 Royals do seem to have some parallels with the 2008 Rays. In a division where the favorite is projected to win less than 85 games, Kansas City could finally end its lengthy postseason drought.

Gil Meche and Zack Grienke form a solid tandem at the top of the rotation. There are some talented arms in spots 3-5 who will need to step up this year. Closer Joakim Soria (1.60 E.R.A., 42 saves in 2008) posted numbers that were hard to beat last year.

With some aid this winter from new hitting coach Kevin Seitzer, former MLB number one overall draft pick Alex Gordon could be ready to approach his vast potential in 2009. The addition of power hitting 1B Mike Jacobs (32 homers in 2008) will also provide some more life to the lineup.

Turning around a losing culture (one winning season since 1995) is never easy for the Royals or any other club. However, it should be noted that the Rays never won more than 70 games until a year ago. Perennial losers can become winners in the blink of an eye.

There is one final note to consider if you are looking at a repeat crown by the Phillies. Since 1923, the 1976 Cincinnati Reds are the only NL team to repeat as world champions. One more small reason to give these five teams a glance in this futures pool.

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