It’s the offseason. We made it. Bryce Harper is officially a Chicago Cub and the Cubs’ 2019 World Series banner has been stitched and raised. Great work, everybody. Really great stuff. I’m proud of us.
As far as I can tell, there’s no World Series banner sewing party, Harper is not a Cub (yet), and although it’s technically the offseason – thanks to the Red Sox win over the Dodgers last night – the Cubs can’t actually sign any non-Cub free agents for five days, including Harper.
But it’s not like we haven’t gotten the rumors, right? Just under a week ago, we learned that the bidding for Harper would start at 10 years and $350M (or, at least, that’s what someone wants us to think). A day later, we got something close to confirmation that the Cubs’ interest in Harper is, in fact, legitimate, credible, and perhaps even inevitable. And last night, Scott Boras dropped that crazy “it’s already a done deal” troll-job on us all.
And outside of the rumors connecting Harper to the Cubs, the gambling odds were heavily pointing to the Cubs. Specifically, back on October 5th, the Cubs were even money to sign Harper:
“WOW. Those odds make the Cubs a very, very strong favorite in the eyes of Bovada. For those among you who are not gamblers (I am not, myself, so I had to ask a friend), even means if you bet $100 on the Cubs signing Harper, you’d win $100 if they did. By contrast, the NEXT CLOSEST TEAM would net you $600 on that $100 bet! The odds are more or less saying the Cubs signing Harper is a coin flip right now. That’s insane.”
Behind them were the Dodgers (+500), Phillies (+550), Yankees (+600), Nationals (+700), Red Sox (+1,100), Angels (+1,200), and Giants (+1,600). Needless to say, the odds SCREAMED Chicago. But just over three weeks later and things have changed quite dramatically – and I have to say, I think some of these gamblers know what they’re doing:
Updated odds for what team Bryce Harper will be on for the first game of the 2019 regular season (@BovadaOfficial):
Red Sox +1500
— OddsShark (@OddsShark) October 29, 2018
So now, the Phillies are the odds-on favorites to sign Harper, which is a shift from our last check-in, which, again, had the Cubs on top. To be sure, the Phillies have always made plenty of sense given the recent upswing, the young, talented roster, and the hugely flexible, but mostly dormant payroll. I’ve long considered them to be an even bigger threat than the Nationals, in relation to the Cubs, and it appears the gambling public now feels similarly.
With that said, the Nationals, who are now considered the third most likely landing spot for Harper (+400), have taken a big leap forward, as have the Giants who went from 8th (+1,600) to 4th (+750). The Cubs, meanwhile, took a step back and are now second to the Phillies at +300.
Phillies at even money, eh? I’m not much of a gambling man (and I do respect the Phillies’ very real interest and ability to get/pay Harper) … but I’m thinking that’s not a bet worth taking.
Especially when you consider that the Phillies’ gaze might be split in two directions when things open up in five days:
Opening odds for which team Manny Machado will be on for the first game of the 2019 regular season (@BovadaOfficial):
— OddsShark (@OddsShark) October 29, 2018
Now, to be absolutely fair, the Phillies, like the Cubs, could use Manny Machado just as much as Harper – both guys are hugely talented, middle-of-the-order bats, available at a uniquely young age. But still, it’s fair to wonder if they don’t have their own version of Option 1A and 1B. And who knows which guy is which.
I suppose I must remind you that there is a rumor out there that the Phillies want to get both, but that seemed very, very unlikely at the time, and nothing has changed my opinion on that so far. Even if you can afford two contracts worth a half a billion dollars total, the chances you can actually land both superstars in the same offseason are slim.
Of course, however unlikely that may be, it’s not as though it was laughed off the stands as soon as it was printed, and that’s because it’s plausible. The Phillies are an extremely well-funded organization that has not spent much of their war chest in recent years, and appear to be turning a corner, right when the Nationals could be starting a downswing. Do not be surprised if they’re ultra aggressive this offseason.
And as for the Cubs absence from the list … I kinda can’t believe there aren’t in there somewhere.
Betting odds are necessarily skewed by the folks placing the bets and the sportsbooks thus trying to balance things back out, but the thing is, gamblers like to make money. In the aggregate, they don’t bet like foolhardy fans. Sometimes, the odds become a distillation of the market’s best understanding of available information.
Yet these odds have the Cubs nowhere in the picture for Machado, a guy to whom they have been connected credibly many times in the past, and for whom they pretty clearly could have an open spot on the roster. What’s up with that? Can I at least get them at 1000 to 1?
In fact, if Machado didn’t have a series of questionable decisions/actions this month (the hustle thing, and not one, but two unnecessary bits of contact at first base), I’d say “Honey, where’s the checkbook? We’re betting on the Cubs (again)!” I don’t know that the postseason incidents would squash the Cubs’ interest, mind you, but it does kinda temporarily put things up in the air a bit, especially against the backdrop of the Didi Gregorius surgery and the Yankees’ probable interest.
Still, while I don’t know that the Cubs are as high on Machado as they are on Harper, the fit might be at least as good (if not better, given the expected exodus of Addison Russell), he’ll probably cost less, and there have been rumors connecting them to Machado for an entire year. I wouldn’t put the Cubs ahead of the Yankees on that list, but somewhere behind them? Uh … yeah. That’s a no-brainer.
In any case, the Cubs are behind the Phillies for Harper and behind a lot more than that for Machado, at least according to the betting public. I still think it’s at least 50/50 they start 2019 with one of those two on the roster – slight edge to Harper – but we’ve got a long way to go before that. Hopefully, it’s exciting on the way.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.