Many baseball fans lit up the internet on Thursday after news broke that former Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper was going to sign a 13-year, $330 million deal to join the Philadelphia Phillies.
But among bookmakers, the reaction was more muted.
The Phillies had been listed as +600 to win the National League before the Harper news broke and dropped to +500 after.
What’s interesting is that the news had almost no impact on any other odds.
The two-time defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers had recently been rumored as a possible landing spot for the left-handed slugger. But the Dodgers remained at +375, still the betting favorite in the NL.
The Phillies were considered a strong contender all along to sign the 2015 NL MVP, which perhaps helps explain why the odds didn’t move that much.
Of course, the long-range impact on odds is up in the air. There are operational sportsbooks now running in Pennsylvania, and at least there the preseason action on the Phillies should pick up. Bettors in Pennsylvania can’t place wagers in their state on spring training games after the Gaming Board took them down in concordance with an MLB request.
Nationally, action is very likely to pick up on the Phillies in the coming weeks so the odds are likely to move in the next few weeks before the regular season. Harper, just 25, will spend his peak seasons with the Phillies and is creating a lot of excitement already at the box office. He is one of the game’s top superstars and has yet to play a game in a Philadelphia uniform, so it would be foolish to discount the possibility of him wining a World Series title or two in the City of Brotherly Love.
But anyone predicting long-lasting postseason glory, never mind trying to get a barometer for betting in 2019, might be discouraged by a glance at recent history.
Going by MLB.com’s list of biggest free agent deals, the players involved filled up their wallets a whole lot more quickly than their teams filled up their trophy cases.
Of the 10 players listed (not including any who signed huge deals then got traded, like Giancarlo Stanton), only three have won a World Series with their new teams.
In fairness, a few of those players, like Max Scherzer and Zack Greinke, have only been with their new teams for a few seasons. And the man who topped the list, Manny Machado, has yet to play with the San Diego Padres.
The takeaway here should be that one player, no matter how great, does not guarantee a championship even over the course of a long contract. It’s also worth remembering that the target is not the NL pennant (right, Dodgers fans?) but the World Series. And the three favorites to win it all – the defending champion Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Houston Astros – all reside in the American League.
Bryce Harper or no Bryce Harper, the Phillies will have to prove their worth if they’re to move into position as the NL favorite among bettors.