Before Game 7 had even begun, two oddsmakers were already setting lines on the 2020 season. Both SportsBetting.ag and BetOnline reported that the Houston Astros were 5/1 favorites to win next season’s World Series with the Washington Nationals and New York Yankees next at 8/1.
The Orioles had the longest odds, 250/1. Of course, the Orioles aren’t going to win the World Series next year, but if you lay down $100, you can win $25,000 if Trey Mancini is holding the trophy a year from now.
It wasn’t that long ago that the odds of an Astros-Nationals World Series were high. From 2008-2013, Washington and Houston had the worst records in the majors in five of six years, and the No. 1 draft choice that goes with it.
Only two of the five top choices played in the World Series. There was Stephen Strasburg, who earned the World Series Most Valuable Player award, and Houston shortstop Carlos Correa.
The two other first-round Astros picks –pitchers Mark Appel and Brady Aiken — never played for Houston. However, because Aiken didn’t sign in 2014, the Astros were able to draft Alex Bregman with the second overall pick in 2015.
Besides Strasburg, who was chosen in 2009, the Nationals picked Bryce Harper in 2010. The top pick in 2011, the year after neither Washington nor Houston had the game’s worst record, was Gerrit Cole, who was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates and was also a key figure in this year’s Series.
When Harper left to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies during spring training, many Nationals fans were aghast, but because the Phillies didn’t meet his demands, some of that money went to free-agent pitcher Patrick Corbin, a key contributor to Washington’s winning season and its Game 7 victory.
The Nationals also had money to pick up a number of relief pitchers at the trading deadline, including Daniel Hudson, who was vital in shoring up the Nats’ bullpen.
Houston and Washington are instructive in how to build a club. Orioles general manager Mike Elias saw up close how the Astros built their teams, with top picks, trades and some free-agent signings.
The Nationals had some excellent picks. Besides Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman was the Nationals first pick in 2005, and Anthony Rendon was the sixth overall pick the year after Harper was selected.
While Strasburg and Harper were considered obvious choices, hitting on Rendon showed the talent acumen of Nationals GM Mike Rizzo.
Rizzo is a shrewd trader. He picked up shortstop Trea Turner as part of a complex trade in 2015 that also brought Joe Ross to the Nationals.
International scouting also brought in outfielders Juan Soto and Victor Robles. Both were signed out of the Dominican Republic as 16-year-olds and rocketed to the majors in four years. Soto, who turned 21 last Friday, is already considered one of the game’s best players.
Corbin and Max Scherzer were big-ticket free agents. Smaller trades and free-agent signings brought the Nationals their primary catchers, Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes.
Rizzo was a longtime scout, and talent evaluation has always been his strength. Washington uses analytics, but they also employ scouts. The Nationals had multiple advance scouts studying each of their potential playoff opponents.
While the Nationals and Astros piled up solid draft picks after poor records, that’s not the only way to build a winner.
The San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals, who combined to win four of this decade’s 10 World Series, have never had the overall first pick in the draft.
As Elias completes his first year as GM, it’s far too early to measure his success or assess whehter he’ll try to copy any of the winners’ models. It’s natural to think that he’ll try to pattern the Orioles after Houston, but the American League East is far more competitive with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees than the AL West.
Many old school baseball professionals are rejoicing that the Nationals won, thinking it’s a victory for scouting and player development and a slight turn against analytics.
Repeating as World Series champs has grown more difficult with the extra rounds of playoffs. There hasn’t been a repeat champ since the New York Yankees from 1998-2000.
It’s possible for outliers to win in this environment. In the first two decades of the 21st century, World Series have been won by Arizona (2001), Miami (2003), Chicago White Sox (2005) and Kansas City (2015). It’s just harder for those teams to sustain excellence.
The Nationals will face challenges with a possible opt-out by Strasburg, and a free-agent bonanza awaiting Rendon.
While the Nationals celebrate, the Orioles enter Year 2 of the rebuild, hoping that someday teams will try to copy their success.
Williams becomes free agent: Outfielder Mason Williams refused his outright assignment to Triple-A Norfolk and elected free agency. Williams, who batted .267 in 11 games, had his season truncated when he sustained knee and shoulder injuries when he hit the left-field wall in Baltimore.
Dustin Hughes, who was an Orioles bullpen catcher last season, has joined the Oakland Athletics in the same capacity.
Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB
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