It hasn't been the best of weeks for Red Sox fans, thanks to Jon Lester's decision to sign with the Cubs. The Sox have made a few moves since to shore up the rotation, but if Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, and Justin Masterson are decent additions to a pitching corps that was in serious need of help...well, they're not Lester. It's no surprise, then, that morale has fallen a bit.
The good news, if you buy into this sort of thing: Las Vegas likes Boston's chances even without their ace. While they're not the favorites--the Dodger and Nationals are currently tied for that honor at 15/2--the odds (via Bovada.lv) have the Red Sox as the class of the American League at 9/1, ahead of the Tigers and Angels at 12/1 a piece. Here's the top six (to account for ties), along with the AL East competition:
Los Angeles Dodgers -- 15/2
Washington Nationals -- 15/2
Boston Red Sox -- 9/1
Chicago Cubs -- 12/1
Detroit Tigers -- 12/1
Los Angeles Angels -- 12/1
Baltimore Orioles -- 18/1
Toronto Blue Jays -- 18/1
New York Yankees -- 25/1
Tampa Bay Rays -- 66/1
So why the optimistic odds? Some of it might have to do with what's expected of a high-payroll team that's already invested heavily this offseason in the lineup, adding Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, to say nothing of the $72.5 million spent on Rusney Castillo as the 2014 season came to a close. While the Red Sox could call it a day and head into the season with Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly, and Justin Masterson, there's every expectation that they've still got a big move in store to put another name at the top, pushing either Masterson or Kelly into a swingman role.
On the other hand...well, the Red Sox are simply a lot better off now than they were a few months back. Those same moves that have many expecting the team to be priced into a move for an ace also just happen to have left them a good team. There's been a lot of attention paid to their lack of an ace of late, but no team is perfect. The Tigers won the AL Central despite surrendering 705 runs thanks to one of the worst defenses in baseball. The Royals came within a game of winning the World Series despite featuring an anemic offense.
Appropriately enough, the Red Sox will need some gambles to pay off to make good on these odds. But, as with 2013, those gambles are on players who, if they pay off, should do so in spades. Much as Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli were key to the 2013 World Series victory, the likes of Justin Masterson and Wade Miley haven't just been decent in the past, but quite good. Likewise, the upside on Rusney Castillo, Mookie Betts, and Xander Bogaerts is quite high. They've also got plenty of depth to back those risks up, with a well-stocked bench and a Triple-A rotation featuring Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Brian Johnson.
Basically, it's 2013 all over again, even if the Red Sox don't add a big-name pitcher in the next couple of months. If the rotation looks like a giant question mark, well, Jon Lester and John Lackey hardly looked like an impressive 1-2 punch headed into 2013. Clay Buchholz was, as you might recall, something of a wreck. And the Red Sox were gambling on players at a low point in their career bouncing back to turn their last place team into a contender.
So yes, Lester is gone, and the rotation is not the sure thing we wish it was. But go ask fans of the other 14 American League teams how they're feeling about the upcoming season, and they'll all have concerns. At least those that have any expectation of contending at all. There's still work that Ben Cherington and co. can do, but the Sox are in good position as it stands, and the odds show it.