After winning the National League East in 2019, the Braves added the best reliever on the market (Will Smith), replaced one good veteran starter (Dallas Keuchel) with another (Cole Hamels) and improved their catching tandem with Travis d’Arnaud. The betting markets responded by giving the Braves the second-best odds to win World Series in the NL behind the Dodgers, who essentially had stood pat. That didn’t change when the Braves replaced Josh Donaldson in the lineup with Marcell Ozuna, a good-but-lesser hitter.
Now the Dodgers made a trade that moved their odds in a big way. They agreed to a deal to acquire 2018 American League MVP Mookie Betts from the Red Sox on Tuesday. He joins a lineup that includes 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger and All-Star Max Muncy. The Dodgers scored 886 runs in 2019 despite coasting for much of the season after gaining a huge lead in the NL West. They might score more runs in 2020.
Before the trade, the Dodgers were 5-to-1 to win the World Series at the Westgate Superbook. Their odds dropped to 3 ½-to-1 as of Wednesday morning, just behind the Yankees (3-to-1) and ahead of the Astros (8-to-1). The Braves are 12-to-1 to win it all, ahead of St. Louis (14-to-1) and defending World Series champion Washington (16-to-1).
The Dodgers interrupted their quite offseason with a very loud message. They are serious about winning their first World Series since 1988. The Dodgers lost to the Astros in 2017 and the Red Sox in 2018 (MLB determined that the Astros cheated and now is investigating the Red Sox for the same). The Dodgers fell to the Nationals in a division series last season, another reminder that unexpected things can happen in a five-game series.
But as the World Series odds indicate, the addition of Betts decreases the chances the Dodgers will be upset again. Jay Jaffe of FanGraphs notes that the Dodgers now have three of MLB’s top 25 players in Wins Above Replacement from last season. Betts is a right-handed bat in a lineup that was heavy on lefties. He’s a very good outfielder joining a team that already had plenty of defense.
The Dodgers are making another bet that great hitting will overcome so-so pitching depth. That didn’t pay off in the 2020 postseason. Then All-Star starter Hyun-Jin Ryu signed as a free agent with the Blue Jays. The Dodgers sent No. 3 starter Ken Maeda to the Twins as part of the Betts trade.
But the Dodgers still have two All-Star starters, Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw. They also got David Price as part of the Betts trade (he was still effective last season at age 33). Dodgers pitchers will be supported by a lineup that’s even better than 2019. The Dodgers sent a good hitter, outfielder Joc Pederson, to the Angels, but should hardly miss him because of Betts and expected improvement from young hitters.
The Dodgers’ payroll is now projected to be $204 million for 2020. It’s not true that they just spend their way to success. The Dodgers have a strong farm system. They’ve made smart trades and shrewd free-agent signings. The Dodgers have shed most of the payroll mistakes that they once overcame by spending even more.
The Dodgers are a smart organization. They generate massive revenue from a TV deal worth $330 million per year and record attendance at Dodger Stadium. That’s a hard combination to beat. The Nationals did it in 2019. The odds say that, among NL teams, the Braves are the best bet to do it in 2020. I see them winning the East again, but their postseason path will be harder now that Betts is in Dodger blue.
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