The 2023 Major League Baseball season was one for the books, culminating with the veteran-laden Texas Rangers winning their first World Series over the underdog Arizona Diamondbacks. A new year brings a fresh start and the chance for some teams to improve their outcomes, while others will likely decline.
Knowns and Unknowns
The only certainty across the six-to-seven-month baseball season is uncertainty. Some certainties in 2024: the Rangers will host the All-Star Game in July, and several allstars will debut with new teams, from Juan Soto with the New York Yankees to Shohei Ohtani and Tyler Glasnow with the Los Angeles Dodgers. In the uncertain column, the Oakland Athletics may play their final season in Oakland, provided they clear all the hurdles impeding their future relocation to Las Vegas. Also, with Spring Training looming next month, multiple well-known free agents remain unsigned. As a result, every team is still working to reinforce its roster in the lead-up to the season.
Four Teams Expected (or likely) to Improve
New York Yankees
The 27-time World Series winner New York Yankees had an uncharacteristically poor 2023 season. With an 82-80 record, they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2018. To correct course, the Bronx Bombers already addressed arguably their most pressing need.
Trade acquisition Juan Soto gives the Yankees a left-handed slugger to balance their lineup and boost the team’s offense, which struggled mightily last season, especially when team captain Aaron Judge got hurt. The Yankees are still targeting improvements for their starting rotation and bullpen to further their chances of competing in the rugged American League East division.
St. Louis Cardinals
The St. Louis Cardinals finished 2023 in last place with their first losing record (71-91) since 2007. The 11-time world champions hope their woeful pitching will not carry over after they signed free-agent pitchers Lance Lynn, Kyle Gibson, and Sonny Gray to plug leaky holes in their starting rotation.
With an offense led by superstars Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, and breakout candidate Jordan Walker, slightly improved pitching could return the team to contention in a wide-open National League (NL) Central division.
Sticking in the same division, the Cincinnati Reds are another team that looks set for an improved 2024. In the wake of a 100-loss 2022 season, the team tore down its roster as part of a rebuild. As a result, the younger, more athletic Reds’ squad fell just short of a wild card spot in 2023.
Rookie hitters Elly De La Cruz, Matt McLain, and Spencer Steer performed well, with Steer leading the team in home runs and De La Cruz quickly becoming one of the most exciting players in the league. On the mound, flamethrowing right-hander Hunter Greene continued developing as a pitcher, and rookie left-hander Andrew Abbot dominated in his first few MLB starts.
The club, which faded near the end of last season, has already spent over $100 million in free agency to strengthen the team. They re-signed reliever Buck Farmer and then signed free-agent starting pitchers Frankie Montas and Nick Martinez, reliever Emilio Pagan, and infielder Jeimer Candelario. These outside additions and continued development from the 16 players who debuted last year could lead to more wins and a trip to the playoffs.
It won’t be easy as division rivals St. Louis, Milwaukee Brewers, and Chicago Cubs will also pose a threat. With longtime franchise face Joey Votto leaving, the Reds are turning over a new leaf and will go as far as Greene and De La Cruz can take them.
San Francisco Giants
Coming off two average seasons since their 107-win campaign, the San Francisco Giants want to achieve more success in new manager Bob Melvin’s first season. The club missed its top targets for the second straight offseason as Ohtani and fellow Japanese star Yoshinobu Yamamoto chose the Dodgers instead of the Giants. Luckily, there are still many notable targets available who can boost the team’s lackluster offense and pitching.
The team’s lone star pitcher, Logan Webb, did not receive much run support last year. If the Giants can sign one or more of Matt Chapman, Cody Bellinger, or Blake Snell, pencil them in for more wins and a better chance at competing against Arizona and Los Angeles. If not, it may be time for a rebuild because their 2023 roster was average and bland, and it may take some time for Korean outfielder Jung Hoo Lee to adjust to MLB pitching.
Two Teams Likely to Decline
The Miami Marlins barely snuck into the 2023 playoffs as the last seed in their league before being promptly eliminated by the Philadelphia Phillies in the wildcard round. This offseason, they fired Kim Ng, the first woman general manager of an MLB team, replacing her with Tampa Bay Rays’ executive Peter Bendix.
2022 NL Cy Young Award winner Sandy Alcántara is out for the year recovering from Tommy John surgery, the team is shopping talented left-handed pitcher Jesús Luzardo on the trade block, and they have not signed a single established free agent yet this offseason. To make matters worse, the Marlins stand to lose free agent Jorge Soler, who hit 36 home runs to power Miami into the playoffs. Unless they make a trade or free-agent signing to improve their offense, their wealth of talented pitchers may be for naught.
Los Angeles Angels
Failing to make the playoffs in the six-year partnership of Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout, the Los Angeles Angels watched the Japanese two-way superstar agree to an unprecedented free-agent contract with their crosstown rival. The Angels still have franchise face Trout and highly-paid, oft-injured third baseman Anthony Rendon as they enter year one under esteemed coach Ron Washington.
The club will now have fewer eyes on it with Ohtani’s departure. Winners of only 73 games last season, they have only signed a couple of relief pitchers. Nevertheless, the Angels remain involved with well-known free agents such as Snell, J.D. Martinez, and Teoscar Hernández. They need to make a splash to stay relevant in LA and competitive in the American League West division, which features the two most recent MLB champions.
These are just a few teams that may improve or decline from last year’s performance. Clubs like the New York Yankees, New York Mets, and San Diego Padres failed to make the 2023 playoffs after investing heavily in free agency, while the Diamondbacks, Marlins, and Baltimore Orioles rode their homegrown core to playoff spots. That scenario could play out again this year. However, in baseball, anything can happen.
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