X-factors for 10 teams that missed playoffs in 2023

February 24th, 2024

Last season, exactly half of MLB’s 12 postseason teams didn't make it the previous year. Ditto for 2022. Point is, we’re likely to see a handful of new clubs reach the playoffs this season, including some that might not have seemed like strong contenders heading into the year.

The 10 teams below are reasonable candidates to make a turnaround in 2024, but it’s hard to imagine them doing so unless certain X-factors come through. Here are 10 players who need to deliver in a big way in order for their clubs to have a chance to return to the playoffs in 2024.

Cubs: , OF
Re-signing remains a possibility for the Cubs, but assuming he isn’t brought back, it’s going to take multiple players to replace his all-around contributions from 2023. That includes Crow-Armstrong (MLB Pipeline's No. 16 overall prospect), who is expected to take over for Bellinger in center field.

Crow-Armstrong is a top-notch defender, but it remains to be seen what he’ll provide on offense as a rookie. Lacking an elite pitching staff, Chicago will need to lean on its offense again in 2024, which means it can’t afford for the 21-year-old’s bat to be a non-factor.

Giants: , SS
It’s a given that the Giants need to hit on their free-agent additions -- , and -- to have a realistic chance at making a postseason run. But even that might not be enough in a division that also includes the star-studded Dodgers, the defending National League-champion D-backs and a Padres team that has more talent on paper than San Francisco.

Along with pitcher (MLB Pipeline’s No. 23 overall prospect), the Giants are counting on Luciano (No. 39 overall) to play a pivotal role in 2024. The 22-year-old is replacing as the Giants’ starting shortstop, and San Francisco doesn’t have a contingency plan lined up in case Luciano doesn’t pan out.

Guardians: , C
With a pitching staff that could rank among the best in the American League and a spot in baseball’s weakest division, it’s not unreasonable to think the Guardians could win the AL Central in 2024 -- but only if they find a way to generate more offense.

Of the nine hitters who amassed at least 300 plate appearances for Cleveland last season, only José Ramírez and (Bo’s older brother) recorded a wRC+ above 100. The Guardians ranked 27th in runs scored and hit 27 fewer homers than any other club. Bo Naylor, who produced 11 dingers and a 124 wRC+ over 230 PAs as a rookie, could be key to the Guardians’ playoff hopes as he takes on a starting role from the outset of 2024.

Mariners: , 2B
The Mariners narrowly missed the playoffs in part because their offense wasn’t quite good enough in 2023, ranking 12th in the Majors in runs scored with the second-most strikeouts of any team. Seattle’s lineup will have a number of new faces in 2024, but given the club’s struggles to find production at second base in recent years, perhaps none is more important than Polanco.

Only three teams have posted a lower wRC+ (80) at the position since the beginning of 2019, the Mariners’ first season after trading to the Mets. , , , , and are among the players Seattle has tried at second base in an effort to fill that void. Now, it’s Polanco’s turn.

Mets: , 3B
Given their myriad of rotation questions, the Mets’ offense is going to have to carry more of the load if the club is going to rebound from its disappointing season a year ago. Despite getting 46 homers from , a 30-30 campaign from and an .829 OPS from leadoff hitter , the Mets ranked just 20th in the Majors in runs scored.

Baty, a former top prospect who has slashed .210/.272/.325 over 431 plate appearances in the Majors, will be an important figure for the team in 2024. After prospect suffered a torn ACL in his right knee while playing in the Dominican Winter League, it’s Baty or bust at the hot corner.

Padres: , SP
If returning players such as , , and perform better than they did in 2023, the Padres’ offense might be able to get by without , who was traded to the Yankees. However, it remains to be seen if the team will have enough starting pitching to make up for the departures of reigning NL Cy Young Award winner , and .

Getting healthier seasons from and would help, but the Friars also need King -- one of the key players in the Soto return package -- to hit the ground running in his first season as a full-time starter. The 28-year-old showed promise by posting a 1.88 ERA with a 2.47 FIP and a 31.4% strikeout rate over eight starts down the stretch for the Yankees in 2023.

Reds: , SP
The Reds could have one of the NL's best offenses if youngsters , , and take a step forward, but it might not matter if the club’s pitching doesn’t improve.

While the Reds bolstered their staff with the additions of , , and , they need at least one of their homegrown arms to step up and give them the frontline starter they’re lacking. The best bet to do so is the flamethrowing Greene, who has shown flashes of brilliance amid battles with injuries and inconsistency since he debuted in 2022.

Red Sox: , SP
Replacing the injury-plagued with the ultra-durable could bring more stability to Boston’s rotation. But to emerge from baseball’s toughest division with a postseason spot, the Red Sox are going to need more from their other starters. While and made strides last season, arguably none of their returning arms has as high of a ceiling as Pivetta.

True, Pivetta is a 31-year-old with a lifetime 4.86 ERA, and he had more success as a reliever than as a starter in 2023. But the right-hander returned to Boston’s rotation for an encouraging stretch last September, posting a 2.37 ERA with a 2.73 FIP and a 33% strikeout rate over five starts. He also ranked fifth overall (minimum 140 innings pitched) in Stuff+, a metric that rates a pitcher’s repertoire based on the physical characteristics (velocity, spin rate, movement, etc.) of his pitches. There’s a potential breakout looming here, especially if Pivetta throws his sweeper more in 2024.

Tigers: , OF
Detroit’s pitching staff could be much improved this season if budding ace stays healthy and veteran additions such as and provide a boost. But like their division rivals, the Guardians, the Tigers likely aren’t going anywhere unless they can find a way to generate more offense, having ranked 28th in the Majors in runs scored (one run behind Cleveland) in 2023.

Greene and both made strides last season after struggling as rookies, but while Torkelson played 159 games and hit 31 homers, Greene dealt with multiple injuries. The outfielder missed 34 games with a left fibula stress fracture in the first half and underwent Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing elbow in September, finishing with a .288/.349/.447 slash and 11 homers over 99 games. Detroit needs the 23-year-old to be healthy and productive throughout 2024.

Yankees: , SP
Last season, the combination of , , , , and posted a 75 wRC+ across 1,195 outfield plate appearances for the Yankees. With more of those PAs going to Soto, and , and first baseman back from the concussion that wrecked his 2023 season, the Bronx Bombers’ offense is likely to be dramatically improved this year.

New York's rotation, though, is filled with question marks behind reigning AL Cy Young Award winner . The Yanks signed , but he has missed time due to injuries in each of the past two years and had an 8.29 ERA over his final 11 outings in 2023. He joins two other pitchers who battled injury problems last year, and Rodón. The Yankees’ trades for Soto and Verdugo cost them some valuable pitching depth, so it’s imperative that those three pitchers stay healthy. Considering the ceiling he showed across 2021-22 (2.67 ERA, 12.2 K/9), Rodón is the biggest X-factor for the Yankees' starting staff. If he can recapture that form, it will not only improve New York's postseason chances but also give it a chance to be the best team in the AL.