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Handicapping the AL East

Las Vegas odds indicate that the Red Sox are more than twice as likely to win the AL East than the Yankees.

Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

If you want an unbiased assessment of a sports team, Las Vegas is often the best place to look. The statistic majors and mathematicians who set lines and futures prices can’t afford to be influenced by rooting interests or passions. Their job is simply to create a line that attracts an equal amount of bets on both sides.

The odds listed to win the AL East provide an interesting commentary on the expectations for each team in 2015. The follow numbers represent the return you would received on a 100 dollar bet. For example, the Yankees are +400, meaning the bettor gets four to one odds on the Yankees to win the division. A winning 100 dollar bet on New York would return 400 dollars.

Tampa Bay +600

New York +400

Baltimore +350

Toronto +215

Boston +195

I am going to analyze each team to see where the best value is present relative to the given odds.

Tampa Bay Rays +600

It is not a surprise to see that Tampa Bay has the longest odds. Joe Maddon always seemed to squeeze the maximum number of wins out of his roster, but quirky manager has moved on the financially greener pastures of Wrigley Field. The Rays look to be in a full rebuild, trading away ace David Price at last year’s deadline and dealing former Rookie of the Year Wil Myers in the off season.

March has not been kind to first year manager Kevin Cash. Three of his top four starters (Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, and Drew Smyly) all could start the season on the DL. A six to one payout is not enough of an enticement to bet on a team that likely has little chance to win a division title.

New York Yankees +400

Spring training really couldn't have gone much better for the Yankees. Masahiro Tanaka looks healthy and is scheduled to start opening day. Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi have been dominant. If CC Sabathia finds his form one could argue that the Yankees start the season with the best rotation in the division.

The life in Alex Rodriguez's bat has been a pleasant spring surprise for the Bombers. A-Rod has posted a slash line of .324/.432/.595 with three home runs in 16 games. The man most expected to be nothing more than a 20 million dollar distraction, might actually turn into an asset.

The Yankees obviously need keep their veterans stay healthy, something that hasn't happened over the past two non-playoff qualifying seasons. If New York is blessed with good health, there is certainly enough talent on the roster to compete for a division title. The four to one payout makes that Yankees a very attractive bet.

Baltimore Orioles +350

Vegas seems to be a bit down on last year’s division winner, likely due to the losses of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis in free agency. Baltimore is optimistic that the return of young stars Manny Machado and Matt Wieters from injury will offset these defections.

The Orioles won 96 games last year and finished 12 games up on the second place Yankees. Even if Baltimore does regress some in a more balanced division, Buck Showalter will like have the Birds right in the thick of the race. A three and a half to one payout looks like nice value on Baltimore considering they ran away with the division in 2014.

Toronto Blue Jays +215

It is surprising that the Blue Jay have such significantly shorter odds than the Baltimore team who outpaced them by 13 games last season. Expectations are raised for Toronto in large part due to the acquisitions of Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin. Many were shocked this off season when Oakland traded Donaldson, their star third baseman north of the boarder. Veteran catcher and native Canadian Martin will be loved by the fans and in the clubhouse.

These positive additions have been somewhat negated by the crushing loss of talented young starter Marcus Stroman to ACL surgery. The Blue Jay rotation is counting heavily on Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey who are 36 and 40-years-old respectively. Toronto may be improved, but I don’t believe +215 represents enough value to bet them to win the division.

Boston Red Sox +195

The odds makers seem to be giving the Red Sox, who finished in last place with only 71 wins last year, a lot of credit for signing Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. The Kung Fu Panda was a terrifically clutch post season performer during his time with the Giants. His regular season statistics however aren't demonstrably better than those of Chase Headley, who the Yankees retained at over a 40 million dollar discount.

Ramirez is a dynamic hitter when healthy, but he has missed a total of 110 games over the past two seasons for the Dodgers. Boston is also is asking Hanley to learn completely new position, left field, at the age of 31.

It has been often said that the Red Sox have an entire starting rotation filled with number three starters. Rick Porcello, Clay Buchholz, Wade Miley, Justin Masterson, and Joe Kelly all have had their moments in the bigs, but none strike fear in the heart of an opposing lineup.

While the Sox should be much improved from 2014's cellar dwelling edition, I believe that Vegas is giving Boston too much credit by making them the favorites. There is no way I'd bet on Boston at +195 when the Yankees and Orioles present much better value.