It hasn't even been a week since the Rangers won the 2023 World Series, but the 2024 season has already begun, in a manner of speaking. Signings have already happened, minor trades have been made, and the rosters that teams have right now already look different than they did just a few days ago. We're talking about free agents who are now unattached to any team; we're talking about how Shohei Ohtani isn't an Angel, Matt Chapman isn't a Blue Jay, Josh Hader isn't a Padre, and so on.
All of which means that when you look ahead to 2024, it really doesn't matter what last year's roster did. It matters what next year's roster looks like because, for example, the Cubs don't have the excellent Cody Bellinger in center. They have a pretty uncertain situation that may or may not include Pete Crow-Armstrong and Mike Tauchman.
For now, anyway, and that's the point. Thanks to our friends at FanGraphs, who have compiled 2024 depth charts and projections, we can look at every team's roster and needs as of Nov. 7. By now, all team and player options have been decided. The seven players who received qualifying offers are all but certain to decline them. Where does everyone stand, right now? Let's rank some clubs.
1) Braves (51.4 WAR)
Free agents: RHP Jesse Chavez, LHP Brad Hand, RHP Collin McHugh, OF Kevin Pillar, OF Eddie Rosario, RHP Kirby Yates
Biggest needs: Left field, starting pitching, bullpen
The Braves just had arguably the best offense in baseball history – they’re the only club ever to slug .500 in a season – and they’ll be returning essentially the entire starting lineup outside of left field, so it’s not hard to see why this roster looks to be baseball’s best again. They’ll need to do something about left, where Rosario and Pillar are off to free agency and there’s no obvious internal replacement, but that’s generally not a tough thing to find on the market. Maybe it’ll just be Adam Duvall yet again.
If there are needs here, they’re on the mound, where Kyle Wright is out for all of 2024, Charlie Morton will be 40 years old and Bryce Elder’s second half made his reliability for next year’s rotation somewhat unclear. A healthy Max Fried would certainly help, though he’s entering his final year before free agency, so if there’s a splash to be made here, it’s going to be for a high-level starting pitcher. In true Braves fashion, they jumped the market to quickly retain free agent relievers Joe Jiménez and Pierce Johnson before things even got going. These are not major issues. Baseball's best team in 2023 looks to be the best well ahead of 2024, too.
2) Astros (46.6 WAR)
Free agents: OF Michael Brantley, C Martín Maldonado, RHP Phil Maton, RHP Héctor Neris, RHP Ryne Stanek
Biggest needs: Bullpen (preferably left-handed), backup catcher, rotation depth
When you’ve won six consecutive full-season division titles, then yes, the talent on your roster will rate well. That doesn’t take into account the need to replace manager Dusty Baker, obviously, but whoever takes his role will inherit a group that really doesn’t have a lot of problems to solve. If anything, the larger questions fall to GM Dana Brown, still not yet a year into the job, who has to prioritize potential extensions with Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve (entering the final years of their contracts) along with Kyle Tucker (reaching free agency a year after that).
That means that the long-term moves might be more important than the short-term ones, though surely they’ll go out and add multiple relievers, given the trio of Maton, Neris and Stanek all becoming free agents, and long-time closer Ryan Pressly showing a bit of a decline as he heads into his age-35 season. A backup catcher for young Yainer Diaz seems a must, and sorting out the long-simmering center field question would be nice, too. But ultimately, yet again, as they are every year, the Astros are going to be really, really good.
3) Rays (45.9 WAR)
Free agents: RHP Chris Devenski, LHP Jake Diekman, RHP Robert Stephenson
Biggest needs: Catcher, starting pitcher, certainty at shortstop
It’s difficult to call a 99-win season disappointing, but that’s how it felt after the Rays were swept out of the playoffs by the Rangers.
Still, the Rays return the core of a very good team, and an addition behind the plate might be a good way to add depth and shake things up. Keep an eye on Tyler Glasnow and Manuel Margot, two veteran Rays who might find themselves on the trade market, and absolutely keep a close eye on which seemingly underwhelming veteran relievers they go after. That is, after all, how they turned Robert Stephenson from a Pirate with a 5.14 ERA into a free agent who is likely to get a sizable multi-year contract this winter.
4) Blue Jays (42.2 WAR)
Free agents: 1B Brandon Belt, 3B Matt Chapman, RHP Jordan Hicks, OF Kevin Kiermaier, 2B/OF Whit Merrifield, LHP Hyun Jin Ryu
Biggest needs: Power, third base, left field, extensions for young stars
This might feel like a lofty ranking for a team that went 89-73 before flaming out in the playoffs, and we'll admit we're a little surprised, too. What's happening here is that the Jays return intact one of the better pitching staffs in baseball, and they still have a collection of high-level stars in the lineup. They’ll need to figure out a Chapman replacement at third base, and they badly need a left fielder (assuming Daulton Varsho moves to center). A Belt replacement or reunion at DH is in order – yes, we’re already printing up the Joey Votto jerseys – and a depth starter would be a good idea given the uncertainty over Alek Manoah’s present and future.
But really, it’s a good roster, and everything here revolves around the famous sons of famous players, as it has for years. That’s true in both the short term (can Vladimir Guerrero Jr. rebound from one of the most frustrating 26-homer seasons of all-time?) and long term (both Guerrero and Bo Bichette are now two years from free agency). Neither has even reached their 26th birthday yet. A decision on which, neither, or both to extend looms larger every day.
5) Dodgers (41.5 WAR)
Free agents: UTIL Kiké Hernández, OF Jason Heyward, RHP Daniel Hudson, RHP Joe Kelly, LHP Clayton Kershaw, RHP Lance Lynn, OF Jake Marisnick, DH J.D. Martinez, RHP Shelby Miller, RHP Jimmy Nelson, OF David Peralta, RHP Alex Reyes, SS Amed Rosario, LHP Julio Urías, 2B Kolten Wong
Biggest needs: Starting pitching, shortstop, corner outfield and/or DH
Despite its postseason exit against Arizona, this team did manage to turn a year that seemed like a step back into 100 wins – the Dodgers are, it should go without saying, “still pretty good.” While the obvious focus of the winter will be on if they manage to sign Shohei Ohtani, he’s not going to pitch in 2024. With Clayton Kershaw out until at least midseason after shoulder surgery (if he returns at all) and Urías’ career in Los Angeles all but certainly finished, this team desperately needs to find two or three starters to support Bobby Miller and Walker Buehler, even if it does get Ohtani. It’s easy to see a big free-agent signing and a trade, for, say, Tyler Glasnow or Dylan Cease.
Beyond that, there are a lot of infield questions here. Does Gavin Lux get his job back after a year lost to knee surgery? How much can they count on him given his career 94 OPS+, anyway? Does Mookie Betts still figure into the second base picture, and if so, do they then need another corner outfielder? Does Miguel Vargas, who gained and lost the second-base job early in 2023, get another shot? Can Max Muncy, who just signed an extension, still handle third base defensively? There won’t be a sentence uttered about the Dodgers this winter that doesn’t include the name “Ohtani,” yet there are so many issues they need to resolve that he can’t alone fix. They will still be heavily favored to win the NL West either way.
6) Twins (41.3 WAR)
Free agents: 1B/OF Joey Gallo, RHP Sonny Gray, LHP Dallas Keuchel, RHP Kenta Maeda, RHP Tyler Mahle, RHP Emilio Pagán, IF Donovan Solano, OF Michael A. Taylor
Biggest needs: First base, center field, starting pitcher
The most immediate question is how the Twins will retain or replace free agent Sonny Gray, who was a huge part of one of the best Minnesota starting rotations in decades. While there’s a decent amount of depth yet to pick from here – especially if Chris Paddack and Louie Varland return to starting duty – Gray’s top-end skill is not replaceable internally.
The other question, however, is how to approach two extremely different problems at first base and center field. Byron Buxton didn’t play a single inning in the field in 2023, and Taylor, who performed well as his insurance policy in center, is a free agent. Alex Kirilloff, who overcame years of wrist and elbow injuries to show some promise with the bat, saw his season end early with a shoulder injury that required surgery. Given the ascension of rookies Royce Lewis, Edouard Julien and Matt Wallner, a trade of a corner outfielder for a solution elsewhere may be in the cards. Minnesota made a lot of progress in 2023; they can’t stop now.
7) Yankees (40.8 WAR)
Free agents: UTIL Isiah Kiner-Falefa, RHP Domingo Germán, RHP Keynan Middleton, RHP Frankie Montas, LHP Wandy Peralta, RHP Luis Severino, RHP Luke Weaver
Biggest needs: Power bats, two outfielders, pitching depth, better health and athleticism
After one of the most disappointing seasons in decades, the Yankees have to reload, though to some extent, there’s only so much you can do when the defending AL MVP misses half the season due to a freak injury. For all the talk about pitching -- which they do need; expect them to be very interested in Japan's Yoshinobu Yamamoto – the bigger issue here is the offense, which scored the sixth-fewest runs (673). That’s somewhat due to injuries to Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo, but also because rookie Anthony Volpe was underwhelming (.209/.283/.383), and because Giancarlo Stanton and DJ LeMahieu both underperformed.
A healthy Judge should help that, but they can’t simply run the risk of giving hundreds of plate appearances to fill-ins like Billy McKinney and Jake Bauers again, or being the slowest team in the bigs again. With rookie sensation Jasson Domínguez out for much of the season due to Tommy John surgery, they definitely need one outfielder and probably two, with at least one being able to play center and at least one being able to hit lefty. (Hello, Kevin Kiermaier? Hello, Juan Soto?) It’s nice to start with a core of Judge and Gerrit Cole, and you have to imagine Carlos Rodón and Nestor Cortes offer more in 2024. Michael King’s late-season experiment as a starter went quite well, and the bullpen is solid. But the Yankees can’t afford to -- and won’t -- be quiet here.
8) Padres (40.1 WAR)
Free agents: 1B Ji-Man Choi, 1B Garrett Cooper, RHP Luis García, LHP Josh Hader, LHP Rich Hill, RHP Seth Lugo, RHP Nick Martinez, LHP Drew Pomeranz, OF Jurickson Profar, C Gary Sánchez, LHP Blake Snell, RHP Michael Wacha
Biggest needs: Plenty of pitching depth, catcher, first base, a manager
Where to even start? One of 2023’s most disappointing teams began its offseason by bidding farewell to skipper Bob Melvin, and now it faces the loss of its best starter, best reliever, top catcher and much of its rotation depth, as well as wondering how much Manny Machado’s elbow surgery will impact him in 2024. Oh, and the Padres will be dogged by the never-ending questions about whether they’ll trade or extend Juan Soto. Another quiet winter by the Pacific, as usual.
Yet despite all that: There’s enough star power here that the core of this team rates eighth, because that’s how good Soto, Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr., Xander Bogaerts and Ha-Seong Kim can be. The question is really in how well A.J. Preller can reinforce the rotation, which right now consists of 37-year-old Yu Darvish and the ability of Joe Musgrove to rebound from an injury-shortened season that saw him throw just 97 1/3 innings. There’s also a need to add to the bullpen, replace Sánchez at catcher and find a way to add a first baseman in case Jake Cronenworth does not bounce back. Oh, and to hire a manager to run it all.
9) Rangers (39.8 WAR)
Free agents: LHP Aroldis Chapman, C Mitch Garver, OF Robbie Grossman, C Austin Hedges, OF Travis Jankowski, DH Brad Miller, LHP Jordan Montgomery, RHP Jake Odorizzi, LHP Martín Pérez, LHP Will Smith, RHP Chris Stratton
Biggest needs: Bullpen help, starting depth, backup catcher, then more bullpen help
That the newly crowned champions are ninth and not first shows you that winning a title guarantees nothing for the next year; that they are ninth and not 19th shows you that this is a talented roster that deserves a spot in the top third of the league. What hurts them here somewhat is the large number of players off to free agency who are no longer considered part of the roster, and that we already know Jacob deGrom will not appear until late in the 2024 season -- if at all. Of course, they’ll get a full season out of Evan Carter, too -- and 2023 No. 4 overall pick Wyatt Langford isn’t far off.
The largest issue is clear, and that’s in the bullpen, currently projected as 21st, where it was obvious that José Leclerc and Josh Sborz were the only arms Bruce Bochy really trusted. Expect multiple signings and trades to reinforce that group, with Josh Hader perhaps a target. They could also use a starter or two, not only because postseason hero Montgomery is a free agent, but because Max Scherzer is 39 and is regularly dealing with aches and pains. It’s not hard to see a trade from position player depth to add arms on the horizon.
10) Phillies (39.6 WAR)
Free agents: 1B Rhys Hoskins, RHP Craig Kimbrel, 2B Scott Kingery, RHP Michael Lorenzen, RHP Aaron Nola
Biggest needs: Starting pitcher, outfield, a Kimbrel replacement, a decision on Bryce Harper’s role
The Phillies we saw in October were very different than the ones we saw in an under-.500 May – they played at a 100-win pace for the final four months of the season – and so it will surprise no one this time around that they are expected to be quite good in 2024, as well. The biggest question is absolutely in the rotation, where Nola has reached free agency without an extension, and there’s no question larger than whether he returns – or how to replace him if not. They won’t go into next season with Ranger Suárez and Taijuan Walker as the Nos. 2 and 3 behind ace Zack Wheeler (who is himself entering his walk year).
That decision defines the entire offseason. A smaller, but still important one, concerns Harper, who played well at first base after his return from injury, a move that set off several other moves that allowed the entire defense to improve considerably. If Harper stays at first, then Hoskins’s time in Philadelphia is over. If he returns to right field, it might just end up with Nick Castellanos traded, which might happen anyway as the lineup attempts to cut down on a high chase rate. Throw in the question of whether Johan Rojas can hit enough to keep his outstanding glove in center, and there’s some intrigue in the Phillies lineup. But really, it comes down to Nola. This team won’t get underrated next year.
11) Orioles (39.1 WAR)
Free agents: RHP Jack Flaherty, 2B Adam Frazier, RHP Shintaro Fujinami, RHP Kyle Gibson, OF Aaron Hicks, RHP Austin Voth
Biggest needs: Pitching, and then more pitching, and trading infielders to get pitching
Last winter, the Orioles didn’t do all that much to add to their roster, got roasted for it, and then turned around and showed everyone what was what by winning 101 games as Mike Elias was named Executive of the Year. They won’t be underestimated in the same way this time around, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have work to do, particularly because all-world closer Félix Bautista is expected to miss the entire 2024 season after Tommy John surgery. Though young starters Kyle Bradish and Grayson Rodriguez each made considerable steps forward in 2024, and John Means should be healthy for the full season, it’s hard to envision the Orioles not making some kind of addition to reinforce their pitching staff.
Maybe that’s via free agency, where Maryland native Hader would be quite the interesting fit. But it’s far more likely they trade from their growing collection of young infielders, because if Jackson Holliday, Gunnar Henderson, and Jordan Westburg are all in the 2024 infield, then prospect infielders Coby Mayo (No. 4 Orioles prospect per MLB Pipeline), Joey Ortiz (No. 6) and/or Connor Norby (No. 7) may be best served as trade bait for high-level pitching.
12) Cardinals (38.3 WAR)
Free agents: RHP Drew VerHagen
Biggest needs: Bat-missing pitchers; at least three starters of any kind
Yes, we’re surprised by this one, too. St. Louis pitching just posted the second-lowest strikeout rate in the game in 2023, and while that isn’t the only reason they went 71-91, it’s the most obvious and pressing concern. Now that Adam Wainwright, Jordan Montgomery, and Jack Flaherty are all gone, the only starters under contract for 2024 are Miles Mikolas (who is 35 and had a 4.78 ERA) and Steven Matz, who spent much of last summer working out of the bullpen before a late-season return to starting.
While the Cardinals are currently projected to have the ninth-best position player group, they have the 22nd-best pitching, and it’s why this is basically the only conversation that matters this winter in St. Louis. Which doesn’t, of course, mean the lineup won't need help, because a lot rides on Paul Goldschmidt staying productive at 36, and it certainly feels like some kind of outfield shake-up is coming. Lars Nootbaar and Jordan Walker have earned spots, while Tyler O’Neill, Dylan Carlson, and Alec Burleson have not. The Cards will need to spend to add pitching, but they need so much of it that a bat-for-an-arm trade sure seems likely as well.
13) Mets (38 WAR)
Free agents: RHP Carlos Carrasco, RHP Adam Ottavino
Biggest needs: At least six new pitchers, corner outfield, second base
Thirteenth, between the Cardinals and Mariners, tells you where this roster is. Unlike the Padres or even the Yankees, they can’t just point to injuries or underperformance, because after their mid-season sell-off the lineup has holes and the pitching is decimated. Right now, Kodai Senga and maybe José Quintana are the only starting pitchers you can really rely upon, and the bullpen needs help, too – though the anticipated healthy return of Edwin Díaz will sure do a lot to help there.
The lineup has fewer questions, though it’s hardly set, because a power bat who can play an outfield corner is an absolute must, and they’ll almost certainly move on from Daniel Vogelbach at DH as well. It’s still not clear how much they can trust young bats Brett Baty, Mark Vientos, Ronny Mauricio, or even Francisco Alvarez. At some point, extremely soon, they’re going to need to figure out if they’re extending first baseman Pete Alonso or looking to move him via trade. Considering there’s a new president of baseball operations and a new manager in town, it’s hard to predict the path for 2024 other than that they’ll make a great deal of noise doing it.
14) Mariners (37.9 WAR)
Free agents: OF Teoscar Hernández, RHP Dominic Leone, C Tom Murphy
Biggest needs: Second base, first base, corner outfield, DH, power, bullpen
One of the few clubs that doesn’t enter this winter with a desperate need to find starting pitching – they may even get Robbie Ray back late in the 2024 season – the Mariners will shoot their shot in the Ohtani sweepstakes, but even if they get him, they’ll need to acquire another bat or three via the trade market, given the relatively thin free agent hitting class.
Really, if you look at the lineup, only three spots are absolutely spoken for – catcher (Cal Raleigh), shortstop (J.P. Crawford, who took a large step forward in 2023), and center field (Julio Rodríguez, obviously). That’s absolutely not to say that Ty France or Eugenio Suárez or Jarred Kelenic or the rest won't contribute to the club next year, because some will. But outside of the main three, there’s nowhere that couldn’t be improved in some realistic way, after the 2023 team had baseball’s second-most strikeouts. Adding a thumper in the outfield to replace Hernández seems vital.
15) Guardians (36.9 WAR)
Free agents: OF Kole Calhoun, RHP Lucas Giolito, RHP Reynaldo López
Biggest needs: Power. Thump. Oomph. Bop. Wallop.
It’s something of the same story every year with Cleveland, in that a pitching-and-contact approach that prioritizes contact (they had the lowest strikeout rate in baseball) and all but ignores power (they had only 124 home runs, 27 fewer than 29th-place Washington) didn’t lead to enough runs crossing the plate (they scored 662, the fourth-fewest in the bigs). Their outfielders hit 18 homers, combined, all season.
But things are changing, not the least of which is the retirement of Terry Francona and arrival of Stephen Vogt. The front office seems open to the self-reflection required to consider why they’ve let hitting prospects like Nolan Jones, Will Benson, Yainer Diaz, and Junior Caminero go via trade, and they traded a pitcher for a ready-now bat just last summer when Aaron Civale went to Tampa Bay for Kyle Manzardo, who should be in the first-base/DH mix. The real question is whether there’s more along those lines to come – like, for example, if Shane Bieber is on the trade block.
16) Brewers (36.9 WAR)
Free agents: C Victor Caratini, LHP Andrew Chafin, 3B Josh Donaldson, LHP Wade Miley, DH Darin Ruf, 1B Carlos Santana, RHP Julio Teheran, LHP Justin Wilson, OF Jesse Winker
Biggest needs: Third base, first base, starting pitching, power
It’s the end of an era. For the first time since 2006, Craig Counsell is not a part of the Milwaukee organization in one way or another. Throw in the fact that David Stearns has officially departed, Brandon Woodruff is expected to miss the entire season after shoulder surgery – if he’s not non-tendered first – and that ace Corbin Burnes is entering the final year of his contract, making a winter trade at least plausible, and it’s been years since we’ve seen a winter with this much uncertainty in Wisconsin.
Oh, right: They won 92 games and the division, too, but no one’s going to think of that for a second above all the questions that must be answered now: 1) Assuming Burnes returns, who can reliably pitch behind him in 2024, other than Freddy Peralta? 2) Who is going to provide the additional pop this offense has needed for years? 3) Where are the Opening Day corner infielders going to come from? 4) Who is going to manage this team now? Given the strength of a talented young outfield – not just Sal Frelick, Garrett Mitchell, and Joey Wiemer, but also No. 2 overall prospect Jackson Chourio, all alongside Christian Yelich – a trade from this depth might be necessary in order to address needs elsewhere. The NL Central is still within reach. But what does this team look like by Opening Day?
17-tie) Red Sox (35.1 WAR)
Free agents: OF Adam Duvall, RHP Corey Kluber, SS Adalberto Mondesi, LHP James Paxton, LHP Joely Rodríguez, 1B/DH Justin Turner
Biggest needs: As much starting pitching as possible, second base, catcher
“Pitching, and specifically starting pitching, is an area of need in this organization,” said new GM Craig Breslow in his introductory press conference. It's hard to argue, because the rotation was a known issue headed into 2023 and continued to plague the club all year long, though the bullpen was productive. It’s not that there’s nothing to like about Brayan Bello, or Kutter Crawford, or even veteran Chris Sale, but at this point they don’t have a No. 1 or 2 starter, and they don’t have the depth behind them to cover for inevitable injuries, either.
While the defense was an absolute mess in 2023, some of that resolved itself late in the season once Trevor Story returned and Kiké Hernández was traded. Still, improvement from Triston Casas is a must, and Masataka Yoshida may be better served as a DH, especially with Turner now off to free agency. Three-quarters of the infield is set, though, and outfielder Jarren Duran took a step forward while young Wilyer Abreu made a nice late-season impression. Look for right fielder Alex Verdugo to be traded for pitching or the second baseman this lineup desperately needs.
17-tie) D-backs (35.1 WAR)
Free agents: OF Lourdes Gurriel Jr., 3B Evan Longoria, RHP Mark Melancon, OF Tommy Pham
Biggest needs: Starting pitching, third base, relief pitching, right-handed outfielder
Arizona’s shocking run to the World Series proved a few things about their roster. One, Corbin Carroll and Gabriel Moreno are true young stars who can play alongside established veterans such as Christian Walker and Ketel Marte. But two, if you’re using an opener in the Fall Classic, you do not have anywhere near enough starting pitching. While it’s indeed true that Brandon Pfaadt made some real, actionable in-season changes that make his future bright, it’s also worth pointing out that Merrill Kelly is 35 and Zac Gallen just threw over 240 innings. An 84-win team still has a lot of room to improve.
Watch also for a move at third base, where the 38-year-old Longoria may not be back. The same is true at whichever outfield corner Carroll isn’t occupying, since Gurriel and Pham, two heroes of the playoff run, are free agents. It’s a fascinating young roster. They did just win the NL pennant. They still need a lot of help to do it again.
19) Cubs (33.9 WAR)
Free agents: OF Cody Bellinger, RHP Brad Boxberger, 3B Jeimer Candelario, RHP Michael Fulmer, LHP Drew Smyly, RHP Marcus Stroman
Biggest needs: First base, third base, bullpen, starting rotation
Surprised they’re this low? Just look at the quality of free agents an 83-win team has to retain or replace. It’s not a stretch to say that the entire Cubs offseason revolves around whether they can retain Bellinger, who turned a make-good one-year deal into a strong enough season that he’s all but certainly going to find himself receiving a nine-figure contract. His presence, or lack thereof, both on the roster and on the payroll defines just so much of what else they can or should do. (Yes, even with the stunning addition of Craig Counsell.)
But of course, they just had Bellinger, and they didn’t make the playoffs, so there’s much else to do. Stroman's somewhat surprising decision to decline his option leaves a hole in the rotation, and they absolutely have to sort out what to do at first base, which was one of the weakest units in the game in 2023. They need more from Jameson Taillon, and more from Seiya Suzuki, who was tremendous in the second half. With an improving farm system that’s finally producing home-grown pitchers for the first time in years, they might just be able to afford dealing prospects for ready-now help. If Bellinger returns, this group isn’t that far away. If he doesn’t, they better have another star lined up to replace him.
20-tie) Giants (32.7 WAR)
Free agents: LHP Scott Alexander, RHP John Brebbia, SS Brandon Crawford, RHP Jakob Junis, LHP Sean Manaea, OF Joc Pederson, C Roberto Pérez, LHP Alex Wood
Biggest needs: Outfield, shortstop, rotation, power, defense, star power, hype
New manager Bob Melvin inherits some of Gabe Kapler’s problems, which is to say that a somewhat faceless roster did a whole lot of things decently, but nothing excellently. Given their well-chronicled attempts to sign Aaron Judge and Carlos Correa last year, it’s easy to assume they’ll be in on Ohtani, and it’s already been reported they’re after pitcher Yamamoto and outfielder Jung Hoo Lee as well.
But with the likely departure of long-time shortstop Crawford to retirement or another organization, the transition from the championship years will be complete, and the 20th-place ranking here feels about right. There are definitely pieces to like here, but starter Logan Webb and reliever Camilo Doval are the only ones you can really say are building blocks – perhaps catcher Patrick Bailey, if you focus on his excellent defense and not his underwhelming bat. Otherwise? You’d probably rather be counting on Wilmer Flores, LaMonte Wade Jr., J.D. Davis and friends to be supporting pieces and not the core of the next good team.
20-tie) Marlins (32.7 WAR)
Free agents: RHP Matt Barnes, RHP Johnny Cueto, 1B Yuli Gurriel, LHP Matt Moore, RHP David Robertson, OF Jorge Soler, IF Joey Wendle
Biggest needs: Shortstop, catcher, bullpen, power, starting depth
Yes, the Marlins are coming off the team’s first full-season playoff run in two decades, but they also were outscored by 57 runs and now must face a 2024 without ace Sandy Alcantara, who underwent Tommy John surgery in October. While starters Jesús Luzardo, Braxton Garrett, and Eury Pérez each took encouraging steps up, it’s clear there’s just not enough rotation depth as things stand today.
But there’s more than that, isn’t there? No team got less offense from shortstop. Only one team got less from catcher. Now, with Jorge Soler and his 36 homers opting out without a qualifying offer extended, they have to replace their best power bat in a lineup that already had outscored only four other clubs. New president of baseball operations Peter Bendix has a lot of catching up to do in a short time if he wants Miami to follow up on 2023’s good feelings.
22) Reds (32 WAR)
Free agents: OF Harrison Bader, C Curt Casali, RHP Buck Farmer, 1B Joey Votto
Biggest needs: Starting pitching, clearing an infield logjam, right-handed outfielder, bullpen
The Reds have too many interesting young infielders, which is a very nice problem to have. You’d like to say that all of Elly De La Cruz, Matt McLain, Jonathan India, Spencer Steer, Christian Encarnacion-Strand, Noelvi Marte, and Nick Senzel have spots to play. But they don’t, which makes it quite likely that one or more heads to the outfield or – perhaps more likely – other organizations, as Cincinnati desperately hunts for the reliable starting pitching that eluded it during a very entertaining playoff chase. (The Reds also need continued improvement from this group; De La Cruz, for example, had just an 89 OPS+ despite the hype.)
We do mean desperately, because the Reds had the third-highest rotation ERA (5.43). The current 2024 group isn’t without talent, not with Hunter Greene, Graham Ashcraft and Andrew Abbott around. They just so badly need a quality, reliable veteran arm – or two, or three. Expect to see some trades here to make it happen.
23) Tigers (31.7 WAR)
Free agents: LHP Matthew Boyd, RHP José Cisnero, LHP Eduardo Rodriguez
Biggest needs: Power, second base, third base, starting pitching, bullpen
You might say the Tigers just finished in second place for the first time since 2016; you might also say that they finished with a losing record for the seventh consecutive season. That speaks to the weakness of the AL Central, but the more important point here is that 78 wins, as modest as it is, are the most they’ve had since that 2016 season. You can see the outlines of a promising future here, in that Spencer Torkelson (31 homers), Riley Greene (117 OPS+), Kerry Carpenter (120 OPS+) and Tarik Skubal (2.80 ERA) took huge steps forward, and none were older than 26.
You can see the weaknesses, too. Only three teams scored fewer runs, in part because Javier Báez has struggled terribly, and now a rotation that already needed help has to weather the potential loss of Rodriguez, who opted out. Adding Mark Canha should help, but it’ll be somewhat of a balancing act to add right-now help without blocking the paths of nearly-ready prospects like infielders Colt Keith and Jace Jung, and outfielder Justyn-Henry Malloy. A healthy return from 2018 No. 1 overall pick Casey Mize, who hasn’t pitched since injuring his elbow early in 2022, would certainly be nice. This isn’t the year. It might be the year before the year.
24) Angels (31.2 WAR)
Free agents: 1B C.J. Cron, 3B Eduardo Escobar, OF Randal Grichuk, LHP Aaron Loup, 3B Mike Moustakas, RHP/DH Shohei Ohtani, IF Gio Urshela
Biggest needs: Ohtani to realize how much he likes Anaheim, bullpen, corner outfield
It’s been eight consecutive seasons without a winning record for the Angels, and the entire near-term future of the franchise revolves around whether they can convince Ohtani that the comfort of the only Major League team he’s ever known is a better bet than the (likely) larger riches, fame, and success he may find elsewhere.
It’s too simplistic to say that’s the only thing that matters. It matters if Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon can finally be healthy, if they find some bats and and some arms, if young players like Nolan Schanuel and Zach Neto take the next steps. Ohtani’s return isn’t the only thing that matters for the 2024 Angels, but it’s the only thing that matters. If they haven’t won with the greatest player on Earth, what does it look like without him?
25) Pirates (30.1 WAR)
Free agents: LHP Jarlín García, DH Andrew McCutchen, UTIL Chris Owings, LHP Caleb Smith, RHP Vince Velasquez
Biggest needs: Starting pitching, right side of the infield
Mitch Keller and Johan Oviedo are essentially the only two starters the Pirates can rely upon for 2024, so it goes without saying that adding some rotation help will be a necessity. But more importantly, they need the first-half Keller (3.31 ERA), and not the second-half version (5.59 ERA).
Beyond that, the success of this rebuild largely comes down to the progression of the talented youngsters who made their debuts over the past year. Oneil Cruz authoring a healthy return from a broken ankle would be a start. So would Endy Rodriguez, Nick Gonzales, and Henry Davis showing a whole lot more bat than they did in their 2023 cameos, Jack Suwinski and Jared Triolo building on promising starts, and 2023 No. 1 overall pick Paul Skenes delivering on his promise. It’s a lot of ifs. It defines this entire Pirates generation. They really, really need to support that group with starting pitching from outside the organization, and perhaps a first baseman, too.
26) Royals (28.9 WAR)
Free agents: RHP Zack Greinke, RHP Brad Keller, 3B Matt Duffy
Biggest needs: Starting pitching, outfield bat
There are more bright spots than you’d think for a team that just went 56-106, especially if first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino can return healthy from the shoulder injury that limited him to 61 games. That’s because shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. blossomed into a true two-way star in his second season, third baseman Maikel Garcia turned into one of the better defensive third basemen in the game, and you did see how well Cole Ragans pitched after they extracted him from Texas for Aroldis Chapman, right? One-hundred-and-six-loss teams aren’t supposed to be this interesting.
But Ragans is only a dozen starts deep into his Kansas City career, and at the moment, he’s most likely joined in the rotation by Brady Singer (5.52 ERA) and Jordan Lyles (6.28 ERA). It’s not enough. Of course, no one expects the team to go from 106 losses to true contention in the span of one winter, but if there’s an Arizona/Texas style two-year turnaround in here, they’re going to need to find at least 15 or so extra wins before Opening Day. It’s a large ask for one winter.
27) A’s (25 WAR)
Free agents: 2B Tony Kemp, RHP Drew Rucinski
Biggest needs: Increasing talent base
After back-to-back 100-loss seasons, the real answer here is figuring out where they’ll be calling home over the next few seasons after 2024, assuming the move to Las Vegas gets finalized. But there’s a lot of baseball to be played before then, and it’s worth noting that the Oakland pitching staff did show improvement last season, going from a 6.05 ERA in the first half to a more reasonable 4.73 ERA in the second half – which is to say, about the same as Atlanta.
Really, what they need to do now is keep churning lottery balls until they hit on a few, in hopes of either building the next good core or trading them for the players who are on the next strong A’s team. They did a nice job of that in 2023, graduating Mason Miller and Zack Gelof and hitting on longshot pickups Brent Rooker and Ryan Noda.
28) Nationals (22.6 WAR)
Free agents: RHP Carl Edwards Jr.
Biggest needs: Time
At 71-91, the Nationals were considerably more competitive than was probably expected, and their improving farm system includes two of the top seven prospects in baseball, after their top Draft pick, Dylan Crews (No. 4), was added to a group that includes outfielder James Woods (No. 7), part of the Juan Soto return. Next season, then, is less about contention than it is about steps forward, about an official transition to the post-Strasburg era that really was already here.
If we’re talking about the 2024 roster, then it’s probably worth trading contact (no NL team struck out less) for slug (no NL team hit fewer homers). They’ll almost certainly need to find another starter to get through the year, and some bullpen help would be nice. But really, so much of that is likely to be in the form of “add a vet, flip him at the deadline” acquisitions, in the mold of Jeimer Candelario a year ago. What do they need? They need CJ Abrams, Keibert Ruiz, and MacKenzie Gore to keep progressing, to prove they’re part of the next good team. They need those prospects to take another step toward the Majors.
29) White Sox (21.6 WAR)
Free agents: SS Tim Anderson, 2B Elvis Andrus, RHP Mike Clevinger, C Yasmani Grandal, RHP Liam Hendriks, RHP Bryan Shaw
Biggest needs: Starting pitching, catching, middle infield, right field
It’s a time of transition on the South Side, as the once-promising core that won 91 games in 2021 collapsed to a 101-loss season that led to the largest front office turnover for this club in decades. As things stand, Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech are the only two viable starting pitchers, meaning new GM Chris Getz has to go out and find at least four more, in addition to replacing departing veterans at catcher and both middle-infield spots, at least until top prospect Colson Montgomery is ready. Declining Anderson’s option, while not unexpected, was a true sign of the page being turned.
The larger issue, perhaps, is understanding what they actually have. While center fielder Luis Robert Jr. is a certified superstar, there are considerable questions about what more we can see from the trio of Yoán Moncada, Andrew Vaughn and Eloy Jiménez, who combined to hit .263/.313/.432 with below-average defense, and whether Andrew Benintendi can bounce back from a disappointing 87 OPS+ in the first year of a five-year contract. Getz may be a different leader than his predecessors, but he has a lot of work ahead to solve their issues. Is this a reload? Or another rebuild?
30) Rockies (14.7 WAR)
Free agents: LHP Brent Suter
Biggest needs: More arms
That Suter is the only notable free agent here tells you a little about the youthful nature of this team, aside from Kris Bryant and Charlie Blackmon, who signed in September to return for a 14th season. The first 100-loss season in Colorado history wasn’t without some bright spots, notably the defense of Nolan Jones, Brenton Doyle, and Ryan McMahon, but strong fielding won’t overcome baseball’s weakest offense and third-weakest pitching.
Long-time ace Germán Márquez and rotation stalwart Antonio Senzatela will each miss much of 2024 after undergoing elbow surgery, and Kyle Freeland’s magical 2018 increasingly looks like a once-in-a-lifetime year after posting a 4.96 ERA in the five seasons since. There’s talent in the farm system coming, especially on the hitting side, but as the roster stands right now, the 2024 Rockies have a ton of work to do; each of the top four projected starters missed time to injury in 2023. A projection of 14 WAR is something like a 62-win season.