Presenting the 9 tiers of contenders for 2024

March 23rd, 2024

There are 30 teams in Major League baseball, all with their own strategies, hopes, and expectations. But it doesn’t mean that all 30 are on 30 different trajectories, either, because you can look at them and come up with groups. You can place them in tiers, as we’ve done in the past.

To that end, we’ve split them into nine different tiers, attempting to group together teams in similar situations for 2024. These aren’t strictly based on playoff odds or projected records, though of course there’s a lot of that in here; it’s hard to do a ranking like this without considering team quality, so these tiers are roughly – though not exactly –“best-to-worst.”

But it’s mostly about expectations, about feelings, about where exactly each team is – and where they’re going this season. These are the nine tiers of contenders in 2024.

Tier 1: The Big Two

  • Braves
  • Dodgers

The Braves and Dodgers certainly aren’t the only two teams going into the season with hopes of winning the World Series, but they might be the only two with expectations so high that any outcome that doesn’t end with a ring will be a disappointing one – and since they can’t both come out of the National League, at least one of them is guaranteed to find unfulfilled dreams.

Yet while the expectations may be similar, the way they got here is not. The Dodgers made a seemingly endless number of big, loud moves this winter, the kind you surely remember. (We'll remind you anyway: Aside from Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto, they imported James Paxton and Teoscar Hernández, plus brought back Clayton Kershaw, Jason Heyward, Ryan Brasier and Joe Kelly.) That was all necessary given how much talent they’d lost from a 100-win team that somehow couldn’t staff enough starters for three NLDS games against Arizona, but it also makes the expectations wildly high – perhaps unattainably so, especially with the unexpected need to move Mookie Betts to shortstop.

Meanwhile, the Braves made a somewhat complicated series of moves that ended up with them taking on money yet not clearly improving, depending on how you feel about A) the spring struggles of Jarred Kelenic and B) how likely it is that Chris Sale, who has looked strong in camp, stays healthy. That said, it hardly matters; this is a team coming off back-to-back 100-win seasons, and you could argue that their best hitter and their best pitcher might both be even better this year, as we outlined for Ronald Acuña Jr. Put it this way: Atlanta is so good that the Dodgers can’t even claim to be clearly the best team.

Tier 2: World Series or bust

  • Astros
  • Orioles
  • Phillies
  • Rangers

The defending champs and three 90-plus win teams make up the second group, comprising the teams that aren’t quite the Braves and Dodgers, but absolutely have their sights set on making it to the World Series – as three of these four have done in the past two seasons.

This, we should note, is where we’re diverging from the projections somewhat, because FanGraphs views the Rangers as somewhat middle-of-the-pack, and lesser than the other three. That’s perhaps not unfair given the injuries to the rotation that leave them more than a little thin until several recovering veterans return this summer, but we’re so impressed by the lineup and what the rookie duo of Evan Carter and Wyatt Langford might do that we can’t possibly put this team any lower.

The Astros and Phillies met in the 2022 World Series, and all they did last year was A) Houston made its seventh consecutive ALCS and B) the Phillies played at a 100-win pace for the final four months after Bryce Harper returned and they fixed their defense, then beat Atlanta in the playoffs. There’s no reason to think they both won’t be strong again in 2024. The Phillies bring back much of the same core, though we’ll note there’s a little more uncertainty than usual with Houston, given first-time manager Joe Espada and the impact of several spring pitching injuries. They’ll still be good, though it feels at least a little like 2024 might be near the end of this run.

As for the Orioles, it’s a little different, given how long it took them to return to relevance after years of struggle, but they also won 101 games last year, traded for a truly elite ace in Corbin Burnes, and still have more prospects than they know what to do with. It’s not just the hitters, either; as’s Jim Callis detailed recently, there’s plenty of pitching talent nearly ready, too.

Tier 3: Making the postseason is the minimum bar to clear

  • Blue Jays
  • D-backs
  • Mariners
  • Rays
  • Twins

We have the defending National League champs, a 99-win team, and also the defending AL Central champs here. As you’d expect, these clubs all have good-to-strong postseason chances, somewhere in the 45-60% range, and while you could rightfully argue that isn’t meaningfully different from some of our Tier 2 clubs, remember that this isn’t a strict recounting of projections.

We’ve kept this group separate because while they should all be competitive or better, we think they either have more questions or lower expectations than the group above.

For example, consider the Blue Jays and Twins, who each lost some star-level players (Matt Chapman, Sonny Gray) without doing a whole lot to replace them, and each now has to deal with injuries to multiple pitchers, including their closers. They’ll still be good, because they both have some top-level talent, especially if Vladimir Guerrero Jr. rebounds and if the Twins' young trio of bats (Edouard Julien, Royce Lewis, Matt Wallner) prove they can do it over a full season. There’s just more uncertainty here than you’d like.

You might say the same for the Rays, who traded Tyler Glasnow, currently have more pitching injuries than we can count, and use a pair of catchers you’ve never heard of. (No, really: René Pinto and Alex Jackson.) If the roster doesn’t stand out as being terribly impressive, that’s understandable. If the Rays have more than earned the benefit of the doubt that they’ll find a way to make it work regardless, that’s understandable, too. We look forward to a few months from now, when a 95-win Rays team is hailing the success of, let’s say, Tyler Alexander and Amed Rosario.

As for the D-backs and Mariners, Arizona followed a great year with a good offseason, notably adding starter Eduardo Rodriguez, though he’ll start the season on the IL. The D-backs should have an excellent defense, and the young talent in their lineup is impressive. We just worry a little about how Zac Gallen will bounce back after 243 innings, and for all the October success, they did only go 84-78 last year. Seattle is in somewhat of a similar place, without the postseason run – they were, and potentially are, the third-best team in their division, though a flurry of offseason moves did improve the team, and should put them squarely back in the Wild Card mix.

Tier 4: The Yankee Zone

  • Yankees

We give the Yankees their own recognition here because of our obvious New York bias, clearly, but mostly because they might be the most high-variance team in the sport right now. (For what it’s worth, that’s the phrase we used to describe the 2023 Texas Rangers, too, and that worked out pretty well.)

The projections mostly like them, and we tried to break down why that was in early February – for whatever adds they didn’t make this winter, remember that they did add Juan Soto, Trent Grisham, Alex Verdugo and Marcus Stroman. There was reason to think that Carlos Rodón, Nestor Cortes and Jose Trevino could all contribute more than they did last year, and Aaron Judge as well. Imagine a late-summer lineup that has both Jasson Dominguez and Spencer Jones in an outfield next to Judge? There’s plenty to dream on.

Of course, a lot has happened in the last six weeks. The irreplaceable Gerrit Cole is shut down until at least late May or early June with an elbow injury, and even when he returns, uncertainty will linger over every pitch. Judge has missed time with abdominal discomfort and “hopes” to be in the Opening Day lineup, while DJ LeMahieu, expected to be the starting third baseman, may not be ready for Opening Day after fouling a ball off his right foot. That might have opened up room for Oswald Peraza, except his shoulder injury will keep him out until May, meaning the Opening Day third baseman might be Oswaldo Cabrera, or perhaps one not even in the organization yet. The depth is already being tested, and that’s exactly what sunk them in 2023.

It’s hard to discount a lineup that could have Judge and Soto hitting back to back, because that’s a truly special duo. It’s hard to count on this team to stay whole, too.

Tier 5: Big winters, competitive summers

  • Cardinals
  • Cubs
  • Giants
  • Padres

Here we have four non-playoff National League teams who all made moves – in some cases, big moves – to add to their rosters this winter. They should all be competitive. They might even be good. But will they be great? That’s the real question for all four, who are each given playoff odds in the 40-50% range and projections in the 82-83-win range, all coming off seasons between 71-83 wins.

That aside, there’s just a lot that looks the same here. Three of the four added new managers, but San Francisco’s new manager was San Diego’s manager last year, and San Diego’s new manager was once St. Louis’ manager. The Cardinals now employ San Francisco’s franchise legend shortstop, and oh yes, the Giants just signed last year’s Padres ace. The Giants, Cubs and Padres all made major additions from Asia this winter, and when one of these teams made a big add, like Matt Chapman or Cody Bellinger, it often felt like one of the other teams here was rumored to be in the mix for them as well.

Ultimately, this group added something like 10 Major League starting pitchers, depending on how you define “starter,” and a number of high-priced bats. They all want to win now. They all want to be better. They’re all going to be extremely interesting, they’re all star-studded, yet they all have a number of questions to answer – and, ultimately, they might find themselves battling each other for a precious postseason spot.

Tier 6: Young and extremely interesting

  • Pirates
  • Reds
  • Royals
  • Tigers

It’s not at all difficult to group these four together, because one of these young Central teams -- none of which made the playoffs last year -- is going to be really good, and soon. The problem is that it’s hard to know which, and when. We know with almost absolute certainty that they’re going to be extremely watchable, and it’s likely all four will win more games than they did last year. (A low bar to clear for the Royals, who went 56-106.)

Consider this: This group of four has legitimate Cy Young contenders (Cole Ragans, Tarik Skubal). They have insanely talented young giants playing shortstop (Oneil Cruz, Elly De La Cruz). They have franchise legends who were around the last time their teams were winners (Andrew McCutchen, Salvador Perez). They have highly rated young prospects ready to debut either immediately or soon (Paul Skenes, Jared Jones, Colt Keith, Jackson Jobe). They have big talents coming back from injury with much to prove (Casey Mize, Vinnie Pasquantino).

They have young players trying to take that next step (Hunter Greene, Henry Davis, Riley Greene, Matt McLain, Christian Encarnacion-Strand), rebound veterans trying to prove they can still produce (Jack Flaherty, Frankie Montas), in-their-prime young stars (Ke’Bryan Hayes, Bryan Reynolds) and … we could go on forever.

What they might not have is enough depth, or defense, or pitching, at least not all at once – though the soft divisions they play in open the door for at least one to go on a run to the playoffs. It’s not really about 2024 as an end goal, anyway; for Kansas City in particular, just getting back to .500 would be a massive achievement. It’s about taking the next step back to relevance, and it’s about a whole lot of interesting, exciting baseball, which is not necessarily how you’d have described these clubs over most of the past decade.

Tier 7: Competitive, probably

  • Brewers
  • Guardians
  • Marlins
  • Mets

We should make it clear that being in this lower tier doesn’t mean there are no hopes of playoff participation, because the Brewers are the defending NL Central champions, and the Marlins took a Wild Card slot last year. FanGraphs gives them all similar postseason odds of something in the 25% range, and while they’re not the only ones in that range, the feeling here is definitely a little different than potential up-and-comers like the Tigers and Reds.

So yes, it could work, especially for the two Central clubs given the weaker divisions in which they play. But this group is, well, grouped, because the focus this winter has been more on what’s not there than what is. Milwaukee traded Corbin Burnes and lost Brandon Woodruff (all year) and Devin Williams (much of the year) to injury, and for a club that had for years (especially when Josh Hader was there) relied on elite pitching to overcome indifferent hitting, the pitching staff just doesn’t quite seem so fearful. Still, we’re extremely interested to watch Jackson Chourio. It’s somewhat similar in Cleveland, without Terry Francona in the manager seat for the first time since 2012, and with little done to reinforce an offense that’s been unable to support usually solid pitching.

It’s not exactly the same in the NL East. The Mets should be better than last year’s disaster, though it’s clear they’re regrouping for a year before a bigger push in 2025. The Marlins did make the playoffs last year, but they were also outscored by more than any playoff team ever, then lost their biggest power bat (Jorge Soler) and best starter (Sandy Alcantara to injury) over the winter, then had to deal with a spring where their biggest strength, starting pitching, was besieged by injuries. With a weak offense and a poorly projected infield defense, it’s going to take a lot to get back to where they were last year. FanGraphs has these two projected for an equal 80 wins.

Tier 8: Direction unclear

  • Angels
  • Red Sox

For most teams, even if they’re not expected to be successful this year, you can at least see the direction things are headed. Maybe that’s “win the World Series,” or just “get back to .500,” or even “see what our young players are even if we lose a lot of games.” But every year, there’s a team or two where it’s not entirely clear what the present or future hold. This year, that’s Boston and Los Angeles, two veteran clubs that had somewhat indifferent offseasons and are projected to be under .500 again. They won’t be bad, necessarily, because there are too many good players and well-respected managers for that. We just might not have more answers in six months than we do now.

The Angels, famously, no longer employ Shohei Ohtani, and of course never made the playoffs even when they had him; their hopes rest mainly on the wealth of knowledge possessed by new manager Ron Washington, and the hopes of one more healthy peak-level Mike Trout season. Those are pretty appealing dreams to have, of course; it’s just been eight consecutive losing seasons and counting. Boston hired a new front office boss in Craig Breslow and should have a better defensive unit after last season’s poor group, but they’ve already lost new addition Lucas Giolito to season-ending elbow surgery, meaning the staff will look a lot like the 4.52 ERA group from last season.

Tier 9: Looking to the future

  • A’s
  • Nationals
  • Rockies
  • White Sox

You’ve got three 100-loss clubs from last year in this group, and while the Nationals at least avoided that, they did finish in last place for the fourth consecutive season. The cumulative postseason odds for these four – that means all of them combined – is 4%. It’s difficult to consider a version of the near-term future that ends in October glory for any of them, and it is obvious that the focus here is more on the long-term future.

That said, for a group of teams likely to finish fifth in their divisions in 2024, there’s a surprising amount of interesting baseball to be had. Consider the White Sox, who turned their worst-in-baseball defense into one that is projected not just to be better, but possibly good, while also giving fans a look at the potential core of their next good pitching staff in Drew Thorpe, Jairo Iriarte, Nick Nastrini, and Jordan Leasure, among others, all acquired in trades for veterans. (We’re also extremely interested to see what Erick Fedde looks like following an award-winning sojourn to Korea.)

You’ve seen what Washington prospect James Wood has done so far this spring, right, with last year’s No. 2 overall pick Dylan Crews not far behind him? Even the A’s, coming off their worst season since 1919, have Mason Miller and Joe Boyle as must-watch arms – and they did pare down a dreadful 7.72 April ERA to a more manageable 4.54 ERA in September.

The Rockies don’t have that, but they do have one of our favorite subplots of the season, which is this: With a pitching staff that is projected to not miss any bats at all and a defense that looks like it could be excellent – especially center fielder Brenton Doyle and shortstop Ezequiel Tovar – could a Rockies fielder threaten some modern defensive metric records, simply because of how many balls they’ll get the chance to track down at massive Coors Field?