Earlier this month, I took a trip to Vegas to do a book signing and some local media. While there, Will Carroll introduced me to the sportsbook manager at one of the Strip casinos. The guy was right out of central casting, from the look to the accent to the ability to tell a good story. While in his book, I noticed that he had team win totals for the 2005 baseball posted, with the ability to bet over or under the total.

Coming back, I’d intended to do a column on the notion, and just never got around to it. With hours to go before the season opens, however, and my predictions a matter of public record, I figured I’d see if there’s any value available in the wagering numbers.

I don’t have that sportsbook’s numbers in front of me any longer. I do have access to this Internet thingie, though, and there are a number of Web sites that offer similar information. They also apparently will accept wagers, a practice I understand to be of dubious legality here in the U.S.. So if you’re reading this from Nevada or, say, Northampshire, UK, feel free to use this column to make some money. Outside of there, just file this away and speculate on whether the odd patchwork of laws that allow or disallow gaming across this country will ever find themselves influenced by a logical consistency.

In doing this, I was surprised by how close my projections match the lines posted by Pinnacle Sports, my data source for this piece. One-third of the teams in baseball have a betting total within three games of the number of wins I have them projected for. The closest match is the Padres, whose number is 86.5 wins, and who I have coming in at 87-75.

The widest gaps between the betting number and my projections are as follows:

Team       Sheehan   Pinnacle   Diff      Wager

Yankees      87       100.5    -13.5      under
Devil Rays   58          69      -11      under
White Sox    71          82      -11      under
A's          92          82      +10       over
Dodgers      92          83      +10       over

My opinion of the Yankees’ winter is well-established, and it comes as no surprise that they’d be atop this list. Quite frankly, I’m so sure that the Yankees will finish under 100.5 wins that I’m cutting this column short and flying to Vegas just to bet my retirement money on it. (I kid. My retirement money wouldn’t cover the plane ticket.)

I also would be very confident in the A’s and Dodgers wagers. They aren’t .500 teams, and they list as such because of the media perception that they lost a lot of ground this winter. In the same way that successful trading is exploiting the gap between perceived value and actual value of your players, successful wagering is exploiting the gap between your knowledge and that of the rest of the betting public.

Were I picking the five best opportunities here, I’d go with the Yankees, A’s, Dodgers, Braves (me: 83, Pinnacle 88.5, under) and either the Mets (me: 91, Pinnacle: 84.5, over) or the Twins (me: 93, Pinnacle: 88, over). I think there’s money to be made here if you have a legal opportunity to do so, although the opportunity cost of leaving money on six-month bets cuts into that a bit. A six-month CD has a guaranteed return; wagering on J.D. Drew to stay healthy doesn’t.

Monday, I’ll be doing something between a live diary and a chat session, posting thoughts on the Opening Day games throughout the day on the site, as well as answering reader mail and passing on tidbits from other BP staffers. I hope you’ll check it out throughout the day‚Ķit’s something new, part of our continued coverage of the opening weekend.

With about five hours to go before the opener, I’m like a little kid trying to make it all the way through the dark night to Christmas morning. Let’s all hope for a great season, one that surprises us the way baseball does at its best.