NEW YORK — The New York Yankees face plenty of questions as Major League Baseball’s spring training begins, and oddsmakers are among those awaiting answers.
The 27-time champions are conspicuously absent among the favorites to win the World Series this year, according to sports books in Las Vegas, and aren’t the oddsmakers’ pick to win a division title they’ve claimed 12 of the past 15 years.
Steve Mikkelson, who has set baseball betting lines since 1987 and is the sports book director for the Atlantis Casino Resort in Reno, Nevada, this week put the Yankees’ projected win total for this season at 86 1/2. The Yankees haven’t won fewer than 87 games in a full season since 1992, and have had 94 wins or more seven of the past eight years.
“I can never recall seeing the Yankees in this position,” said Mikkelson, who put up Nevada’s earliest win totals for MLB teams for the seventh straight year. “They’ve always been one of the top two or three teams, if not the top team, year in and year out for the last 20 years.”
The Yankees began workouts for pitchers and catchers Wednesday in Tampa, Fla., and have their first full-squad practice scheduled for Feb. 18. Their regular-season schedule begins April 1 against the Boston Red Sox.
With a projected win total of 86 1/2, bettors can place a season-long wager on whether the Yankees will have 87 wins or more, or if they’ll have 86 wins or fewer. A winning $115 wager would return a $100 profit. New York’s worst record during the past 17 years was an 87-74 mark in 2000, when it went on to win a third straight World Series title.
The Yankees head into spring training with 14-1 odds of winning this year’s World Series, tied for eighth among the league’s 30 teams at the Las Vegas Hotel’s Super Book. The Los Angeles Angels, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers, Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds, Toronto Blue Jays and defending champion San Francisco Giants currently have better odds.
“I can’t remember the last time they’ve been in this range to win the World Series at the start of the year,” Chris Bennett, who sets baseball lines for the LVH Super Book, said in a telephone interview. “I feel like they’ve always been less than 10-1, at least, coming into the season. People have a lot of questions about the Yankees.”
The Yankees hadn’t been lower than third favorites to win the World Series in the past five years, according to Las Vegas- based handicapping information website Pregame.com.
The Yankees have been uncharacteristically quiet this offseason, with their biggest additions including the signings of third baseman Kevin Youkilis as an injury replacement for Alex Rodriguez, and oft-injured slugger Travis Hafner.
With Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones signing elsewhere and Rodriguez set to miss at least the first three months of the season following offseason hip surgery, the Yankees will be without six of their top 10 home run hitters from last season.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he thinks his team can win 95 games this season, noting the importance of re-signing free agents Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Ichiro Suzuki and Hiroki Kuroda.
“Sometimes the people that we’ve signed, we overlook because they’ve been around here so much,” Girardi said. “I love the people we brought back because I know they’re tested and I know they know how to play in New York.”
The Blue Jays’ World Series odds moved to 10-1 from 50-1 after an active offseason that included the acquisitions of National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and fellow pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, along with All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes and outfielder Melky Cabrera.
While Toronto’s projected win total is the same as the Yankees’ at 86 1/2, the Blue Jays have slightly better odds to win the AL East. They’re currently listed at 8-5, followed by the Yankees at 9-5, the Tampa Bay Rays at 7-2, the Boston Red Sox at 7-1 and the Baltimore Orioles at 10-1.
“The Yankees can finish anywhere from first to last in that division and I wouldn’t be surprised,” Mikkelson said in a telephone interview. “I’ve never been able to say that at any time.”