It remains to be seen whether Juan Soto -- a free agent after 2024 -- will be Aaron Judge’s long-term bash brother in the Bronx. But for next season at least, both will be in the heart of the Yankees' lineup, and that’s an intimidating thought for opposing pitchers.
Now, two great hitters do not necessarily make a great lineup. Look no further than the Angels during the Mike Trout-Shohei Ohtani Era. And the Yankees still have plenty of question marks outside of their newly formed super-pair.
Still, having two hitters that good does go a long way.
So with the long-rumored Soto trade finally official, let’s take a snapshot look at the most dynamic lineup duos in the game heading into 2024, focusing only on offensive might and setting aside defense. (Speaking of Ohtani: Yes, his eventual signing could upend this list, so consider it subject to change.)
The next few duos on this list each could make a convincing argument for the top spot. (Of the top 10 players in 2024 offensive value according to FanGraphs’ Steamer projections, eight play for those four teams, and one is Ohtani.) But ultimately, it’s hard to pick against this brand new pairing. Judge put together one of the best offensive seasons in baseball history in 2022, and while a freak injury limited him to 106 games in ‘23, he was spectacular again when on the field. Then there’s Soto. While Yankee Stadium may not help him as much as you think, he also doesn’t need the help. He’s already on a path toward being one of the best hitters of all time. Only 44 hitters have even managed to collect 3,000-plus plate appearances through their age-24 season, and Soto’s 157 OPS+ ranks fifth in that group behind three inner-circle Hall of Famers (Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle and Jimmie Foxx) and Trout.
Last season, manager Dave Roberts stacked Betts and Freeman 1-2 in his lineup nearly every day and was rewarded with a combined .319/.409/.572 line in more than 1,400 plate appearances, to go along with 68 homers, 209 RBIs, 37 steals and 257 runs scored. Simply put, this was one of the most productive duos we’ve ever seen, especially at the top of a lineup. Now imagine if Ohtani were to join them …
If you’d prefer to flip these two with Betts and Freeman, we wouldn’t argue. You can’t go wrong either way after a season in which those four players made up the top four finishers in the NL MVP Award race. Acuña enjoyed one of the most dynamic seasons in baseball history, including his unprecedented combo of 41 homers and 73 steals, taking advantage of MLB’s new rules that aided the running game. And Olson finally won the home run title that he had long seemed destined for, launching a Braves-record 54 long balls.
It’s hard not to include Jose Altuve here given his 157 OPS+ over the past two seasons, but we’ll go with the young guys. Alvarez has put up ludicrous numbers at the plate early in his career, with bonus points for being an absolute monster in the postseason (including a .465/.510/.977 line with six homers and 15 RBis in 11 games in 2023). Calling Tucker underrated is probably a bit overstated at this point, but he has legitimately been one of the best players in MLB over his three full seasons. It’s also notable that while Alvarez and Tucker bat left-handed, both have been largely immune to the challenge of facing lefty pitching.
Two offseasons ago, Texas raised quite a few eyebrows across the sport when it committed $500 million to reel in two middle infielders via free agency, coming off a 102-loss season. Well, the plan all came together in 2023. Texas rode this duo -- along with a strong supporting cast, of course -- all the way to the first World Series title in franchise history. Seager put together one of the greatest offensive seasons ever by a shortstop, even while injuries limited him to 119 games. And while Semien’s stats are not quite so eye-popping, his incredible durability is an undervalued asset. Setting aside the shortened 2020 season, he’s played in 806 of a possible 810 games since 2018, including 323 of 324 for Texas.
It wasn’t necessarily an ideal 2023 for either of these guys, with Harper returning from Tommy John surgery rehab in May, and Turner opening his Phillies career with a slump that stretched through July. Both hit their stride, though. From Aug. 1 through the end of the regular season, Harper slashed .299/.425/.641 and Turner .317/.371/.629. With Harper installed at first base and more than a full year removed from surgery, and Turner settled into his new home in Philly, expect bigger and better things for this duo in 2024.
Baltimore is in the enviable position of having not just a great duo, but one that consists of players who will be just 26 (Rutschman) and 23 (Henderson) in 2024. They have successfully made the leap from top prospects to legitimate Major League stars, both reaching an .800 OPS, 125 OPS+, 20 homers and 80 RBIs this past season. Given their age and ability, it’s hard not to think that the best is yet to come, too.
This ranking is predicated at least in part on the idea that Guerrero can still offer more than he has over the past two seasons, when he has been good but far from the elite slugger he was in 2021. Vlad Jr. will only turn 25 in March, though, and it’s not difficult to imagine him coming through with another huge year in 2024. Bichette, by contrast, has been remarkably consistent, generating eerily similar slash lines in each of his three full MLB seasons, all resulting in an OPS+ between 121 and 128. He’s only a year older than Guerrero, too.
Will 2024 be the last hurrah for this duo? Alonso, who celebrated his 29th birthday on Thursday, is eligible for free agency after next season. For now, though, this remains an extremely productive pairing (with Brandon Nimmo a difficult third piece to omit). Alonso has hit 15 more home runs (192) than any other player since his debut season in 2019, including back-to-back campaigns with 40-plus, while Lindor remains one of the game’s top shortstops. From 2022-23, he posted a 122 OPS+ while averaging 28 homers, 102 RBIs, 103 runs and 24 steals.
It says something about the star power San Diego collected that the club could trade the likes of Soto and still make this list. Admittedly, 2023 was not a banner year for either of these players, nor the Padres in general. Machado endured a down season by his lofty standards, although he still popped 30 homers. (He was bothered by a right elbow issue that required offseason surgery.) Tatis, who lost all of 2022 to injuries and a PED suspension, began 2023 finishing out that suspension, then had an uneven performance upon his return, including just a .665 OPS in the second half. But given this duo’s ability and past performance, counting on a significant rebound in 2024 does not seem far-fetched.
It's tough to leave out a duo of this caliber, but both players fell off significantly from 2022 to ‘23 and they will be 36 and 33, respectively, next season.
They put their skills on full display during the 2023 postseason, and Carroll was a unanimous NL Rookie of the Year selection. The future looks very bright in the desert.