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The world’s only MLB preview that does not mention Shohei Ohtani

Yes, the Dodgers cornered the market on $700 million players and the Yankees got Juan Soto, but are they really the best teams in MLB? And where do the Rays fit in?
 
Yes, Shohei Ohtani and the Dodgers will dominate news cycles this MLB season, but here's a season preview that lasts 2,500 words without ever mentioning the Japanese superstar. Starting ... now!
Yes, Shohei Ohtani and the Dodgers will dominate news cycles this MLB season, but here's a season preview that lasts 2,500 words without ever mentioning the Japanese superstar. Starting ... now! [ UNCREDITED | AP ]
Published March 25

ST. PETERSBURG — And now there are five.

With Texas winning the World Series last October, only five of the 30 MLB franchises are without a ring. The Rangers — who began life as the second version of the Washington Senators in 1961 — had been the oldest franchise to have never won the final game of a season.

Now, that ignominious honor falls on the Padres and Brewers (1969), followed by the Mariners (1977), Rockies (1993) and Rays (1998). Colorado will need to wait a little longer, and the Padres and Brewers aren’t likely to end the streak this year, either. The Mariners and Rays are long-shots, but at least they have hope.

With that in mind, here’s a totally random, occasionally snarky, and mostly reliable look at the fortunes of all 30 teams in reverse order for 2024.

30. Colorado Rockies

The Rockies' Ryan McMahon (24) reacts to striking out in front of Giants catcher Patrick Bailey during a spring training game earlier this month.
The Rockies' Ryan McMahon (24) reacts to striking out in front of Giants catcher Patrick Bailey during a spring training game earlier this month. [ ROSS D. FRANKLIN | AP ]

In 2018, the Rockies were a playoff team with DJ LeMahieu, Trevor Story and Nolan Arenado in the lineup. That’s three All-Stars in their 20s with Gold Glove ability and .900 OPS seasons behind them. All in the infield. And yet Colorado has not had a winning season since then. They won 58 games last year, and may be even worse in 2024. If you’re a Rockies fan, now might be a good time to find an Australian rugby team to follow this summer.

29. Washington Nationals

The Nationals' Dylan Crews watches his solo home run during a spring training game against the Marlins earlier this month.
The Nationals' Dylan Crews watches his solo home run during a spring training game against the Marlins earlier this month. [ JEFF ROBERSON | AP ]

The perfect example of the question: What are you willing to pay for a ring? The Nationals went all-in with a top-10 payroll in 2019 and came away with the franchise’s first World Series title. Since then, they’ve had some bad luck with injuries, traded away most of their stars and have had a .397 winning percentage across four seasons. Was it worth it? Um, yeah. And now the next generation of stars — James Wood and Dylan Crews — should be arriving soon.

28. Chicago White Sox

White Sox centerfielder Luis Robert Jr. catches a fly ball during a spring training game earlier this month.
White Sox centerfielder Luis Robert Jr. catches a fly ball during a spring training game earlier this month. [ CAROLYN KASTER | AP ]

When trading your ace in spring training looks like the highlight of the season, you know you’re in for a long summer. The White Sox are clearly in rebuilding mode so it made sense to deal Dylan Cease to the Padres for a decent haul of prospects. New general manager Chris Getz made it clear in November that Chicago would be building for the future when he told the Chicago Sun Times, “I don’t like our team.” Centerfielder Luis Robert Jr. better not get comfortable.

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27. Oakland Athletics

The Athletics' Brent Rooker hits against the Rockies during a spring  training game last month.
The Athletics' Brent Rooker hits against the Rockies during a spring training game last month. [ MATT YORK | AP ]

Just for giggles, I tried naming the lineups for the 1974 A’s and the 2024 A’s. I got eight out of nine from 1974 (forgot Ray Fosse) and one of nine from 2024 (yay, Brent Rooker). This says two things: No. 1, I am old as dirt. No. 2, the current A’s are in trouble. Yes, Oakland is in better shape than last season, but that ain’t saying much. The Athletics lost 112 games in 2023. Avoiding 100 losses while waiting for an eviction notice is not an ideal way to spend the summer.

26. Kansas City Royals

The Royals' Bobby Witt Jr. signs autographs for fans before a spring training game.
The Royals' Bobby Witt Jr. signs autographs for fans before a spring training game. [ LINDSEY WASSON | AP ]

Yes, the Royals have a potential superstar in Bobby Witt Jr. Yes, the Royals will fall drastically short of contention in 2024. But here’s what really fascinates me: Hunter Renfroe is now in Kansas City. Since 2018, Renfroe has averaged 34 home runs every 162 games with a .776 OPS. And yet he’s been traded by the Padres, Red Sox and Brewers, waived by the Angels, released by the Reds and non-tendered by the Rays. What’s a dude got to do to get some love?

25. Detroit Tigers

The Tigers' Javier Baez is seen during a game against the Athletics last September.
The Tigers' Javier Baez is seen during a game against the Athletics last September. [ JEFF CHIU | AP ]

Barry Bonds walked 232 times at age 39. Javy Baez walked 182 times from age 21 to 29. I’m not trying to blame Detroit’s entire 2022-23 malaise on the six-year, $140 million free-agent contract the Tigers gave Baez, but it does seem emblematic of why they’ve been stuck in limbo for as long as they have. They’ve rushed prospects, misfired on free agents and suffered through the most expensive farewell in history while waiting for Miguel Cabrera’s contract to run out.

24. Miami Marlins

Marlins president of baseball operations Peter Bendix is seen during a spring training workout last month.
Marlins president of baseball operations Peter Bendix is seen during a spring training workout last month. [ JEFF ROBERSON | AP ]

Former Rays general manager Peter Bendix deserved a job running his own front office. He also deserved an owner better than Bruce Sherman. In consecutive years, Derek Jeter and Kim Ng voluntarily left the Marlins, presumably because they were unhappy with Sherman’s vision of the future. Now, it’s up to Bendix to keep the Marlins trending in the right direction, using a lot of the same philosophies that worked in Tampa Bay.

23. Los Angeles Angels

The Angels' Mike Trout connects for a base hit against the Rockies during a spring training game.
The Angels' Mike Trout connects for a base hit against the Rockies during a spring training game. [ MATT YORK | AP ]

Let the debate begin. Is Mike Trout the greatest hitter to never play in a World Series? Obviously, Trout is only 32 and still has time remaining but the odds are not in his favor if he doesn’t get out of Anaheim soon. No hitter has a higher career WAR (85.2) than Trout without a World Series appearance on his resume. The next closest are Ken Griffey Jr. (83.8) and Rod Carew (81.2). The Angels made a solid move hiring Ron Washington as manager, but the organization is still a mess.

22. Pittsburgh Pirates

Pirates shortstop Oneil Cruz runs the bases after hitting a home run during a spring training game.
Pirates shortstop Oneil Cruz runs the bases after hitting a home run during a spring training game. [ CHARLIE NEIBERGALL | AP ]

The Pirates have pieces. Outfielder Bryan Reynolds is Randy Arozarena without the swag. Shortstop Oneil Cruz is a star waiting to bust out. Henry Davis and Paul Skenes are both former No. 1 picks with bright futures. And yet Pittsburgh is again a candidate to finish in last place. Why? Because there never seems to be a commitment by ownership to take the next step, whether that’s through payroll or even a level of expectation

21. Cincinnati Reds

The Reds' Elly De La Cruz steals third base during a spring training game.
The Reds' Elly De La Cruz steals third base during a spring training game. [ CAROLYN KASTER | AP ]

For about a month last year, Elly De La Cruz was all anyone could talk about. A shortstop/third baseman switch-hitter with a blow-your-mind combo of power and speed, he hit .307 with a .523 slugging percentage and nine stolen bases his first month in the majors at age 21. But after we turned our heads, he hit .213 with a .377 slugging percentage the rest of the year. If he figures out how to be more consistent from the right side of the plate, the Reds could contend.

20. Chicago Cubs

The Cubs' Cody Bellinger reacts to an inside pitch during a spring training game.
The Cubs' Cody Bellinger reacts to an inside pitch during a spring training game. [ ROSS D. FRANKLIN | AP ]

A good deal of Chicago’s hopes rest on whether Cody Bellinger can repeat his bounce-back performance of last season. And the metrics are doubtful. Bellinger had a .525 slugging percentage with a hard-hit percentage of 31.4. Those numbers do not match up. Manuel Margot, for instance, had a hard-hit rate of 38% but his slugging percentage was .376. There was something funky about Bellinger’s season, and the Cubs had better hope it wasn’t a fluke.

19. Boston Red Sox

Red Sox starter Brayan Bello pitches during a game at Fenway Park last September.
Red Sox starter Brayan Bello pitches during a game at Fenway Park last September. [ CHARLES KRUPA | AP ]

If you haven’t been paying attention, Red Sox fans are cranky. And justifiably so. Since winning the World Series in 2018, Boston is 356-352. Former Rays exec Chaim Bloom overhauled the organization, lowered payroll, rebuilt the farm system and was rewarded by being fired. BoSox execs promised they would operate “full throttle” this offseason and then did very little spending. What’s the over/under on how many times we hear “full throttle” at Fenway in 2024?

18. New York Mets

The Mets' Pete Alonso fouls off a pitch a spring training game earlier this month.
The Mets' Pete Alonso fouls off a pitch a spring training game earlier this month. [ JEFF ROBERSON | AP ]

So Pete Alonso is 88 plate appearances shy of 3,000 for his career and he has 192 home runs. Do you know who hit more home runs in their first 3,000 plate appearances? Not Barry Bonds. Or Henry Aaron or Babe Ruth or Willie Mays or Ken Griffey Jr. That doesn’t mean Alonso will be the all-time home run king — based on age and size, he may struggle to reach 500 — but we are getting to witness a pretty awesome power hitter in his prime. And, oh yeah, he’s six months away from free agency.

17. Milwaukee Brewers

Brewers starting pitcher Brandon Woodruff delivers during a game against the Pirates last September.
Brewers starting pitcher Brandon Woodruff delivers during a game against the Pirates last September. [ GENE J. PUSKAR | AP ]

Cover your eyes, Rays fans. This is the nightmare scenario you do not want to entertain. The Brewers have made the playoffs five of the last six years with smallish payrolls and forward thinking but may finally be heading toward a reckoning. They lost manager Craig Counsell to the Cubs, they traded ace Corbin Burnes to the Orioles, Brandon Woodruff is out for the year after shoulder surgery and Milwaukee is no longer looking like the nerds who outsmart the bullies for playground domination.

16. San Diego Padres

Padres president of baseball operations and general manager A.J. Preller watches a bullpen session during spring training workout.
Padres president of baseball operations and general manager A.J. Preller watches a bullpen session during spring training workout. [ LINDSEY WASSON | AP ]

A.J. Preller took over as GM before the 2015 season. Since then, the Padres have had five managers, three winning seasons, two playoff appearances and no pennants despite three seasons with a top-10 payroll. Erik Neander took over the Rays front office two years later. Since then, the Rays have had one manager, six winning seasons, five playoff appearance and one pennant despite no seasons in the top-10 payroll. Just saying.

15. San Francisco Giants

Giants starting pitcher Logan Webb throws against the Brewers during a spring training game.
Giants starting pitcher Logan Webb throws against the Brewers during a spring training game. [ MATT YORK | AP ]

On the list of pitchers with at least 550 innings and an ERA+ of 130 or more since 2021, you’ll find the usual suspects. There’s Sandy Alcantara, Gerrit Cole, Corbin Burnes and Zack Wheeler. You know who else is on the list? Logan Webb. The Giants right-hander isn’t flashy and doesn’t get a lot of strikeouts, but he consistently provides around 30 starts with an ERA just a smidge above 3.00. The Giants will flirt with 85-90 wins because of Webb.

14. Cleveland Guardians

Jose Ramirez celebrates a homer during a spring training game earlier this month.
Jose Ramirez celebrates a homer during a spring training game earlier this month. [ JOSHUA GUNTER | cleveland.com ]

Here’s one stat that reveals two very important truths: Jose Ramirez has led the majors in intentional walks in back-to-back seasons. That tells you Ramirez is one of the most underrated hitters in the game. It also tells you Cleveland’s lineup provides him no protection. The Guardians continue to take advantage of the lack of competition in the AL Central by fielding a team that occasionally wins 90 games but usually falls short in the postseason.

13. St. Louis Cardinals

Cardinals pitcher Kyle Gibson throws during the first inning of a spring training game.
Cardinals pitcher Kyle Gibson throws during the first inning of a spring training game. [ JEFF ROBERSON | AP ]

The Cardinals finished in last place in 2023, their first trip to the cellar since 1990. In between, they collected 17 postseason appearances, four pennants and two World Series titles. That may explain why they did not sit on their hands in the offseason. St. Louis went pitcher shopping and came up with starters Kyle Gibson, Sonny Gray and Lance Lynn. They’re all in their 30s but they eat innings, And they may make St. Louis the team to beat in the Central.

12. Arizona Diamondbacks

Diamondbacks catcher Gabriel Moreno tries to make a play on a outfield throwing error during a spring training baseball game.
Diamondbacks catcher Gabriel Moreno tries to make a play on a outfield throwing error during a spring training baseball game. [ ROSS D. FRANKLIN | AP ]

You may be tempted to write off Arizona as a decent team that got hot/lucky in October. And there is some truth to that. But it would be a mistake to dismiss the Diamondbacks as a flash in the pan. Start with a Cy Young candidate (Zac Gallen) in the rotation, an MVP candidate (Corbin Carroll) in rightfield and a Gold Glove catcher (Gabriel Moreno) and you’ve got a team worth watching. They probably won’t win another pennant, but don’t write them off.

11. Minnesota Twins

Twins starting pitcher Pablo Lopez delivers during a spring training game.
Twins starting pitcher Pablo Lopez delivers during a spring training game. [ GERALD HERBERT | AP ]

The Twins had the sixth-lowest ERA in the majors last season. Pretty impressive, no? But if you factor in that included 39 games and a 3.08 ERA against AL Central foes Chicago, Cleveland and Kansas City, while their ERA against the rest of the league was 4.12, it doesn’t seem like quite the same accomplishment. Still, even with Sonny Gray jetting off to St. Louis, the Twins should be okay with Pablo Lopez, Bailey Ober and Joe Ryan in the rotation.

10. Seattle Mariners

The Mariners' Julio Rodríguez leaves a spring training game earlier this month.
The Mariners' Julio Rodríguez leaves a spring training game earlier this month. [ LINDSEY WASSON | AP ]

Lots and lots of hype about the Blue Jays in recent years, and that’s understandable. You bring up Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette around the same time and people are going to notice. But the Mariners have won almost as many games (268) as the Blue Jays (272) in the regular season and swept Toronto in the 2022 Wild Card Series. Julio Rodriguez might be better than either Bichette or Guerrero, and Seattle has also assembled an enviable homegrown rotation.

9. Texas Rangers

Rangers manager Bruce Bochy walks by a 2023 World Series champions banner before a spring training workout.
Rangers manager Bruce Bochy walks by a 2023 World Series champions banner before a spring training workout. [ LINDSEY WASSON | AP ]

There are only six managers in baseball history with four or more World Series titles. Of those six, only one guided two different franchises to the crown. And, yes, that would be Bruce Bochy. He came out of retirement last season to take the Rangers to their first World Series championship, upsetting the Rays along the way. Bochy also moved into the top 10 for all-time managerial victories, and cemented his future enshrinement in Cooperstown.

8. New York Yankees

The Yankees' Juan Soto watches a pitch during a spring training game earlier this month.
The Yankees' Juan Soto watches a pitch during a spring training game earlier this month. [ CHARLIE NEIBERGALL | AP ]

Of all the amazing stats to come out of a baseball season, this one boggles my mind: The Yankees had two hitters (Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres) with an OPS+ above 100 in 2023. If you’re not aware, 100 is league average. That means New York, with its gazillion-dollar payroll had two above-average hitters. Just for context, the Rays had nine. Maybe Juan Soto changes all of that. Maybe the pitching staff overcomes it. Maybe GM Brian Cashman is in trouble.

7. Tampa Bay Rays

Rays starting pitcher Aaron Civale in action against the Red Sox during their spring game in the Dominican Republic earlier this month.
Rays starting pitcher Aaron Civale in action against the Red Sox during their spring game in the Dominican Republic earlier this month. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

No Wander Franco? No problem. No Shane McClanahan. No worries. No Tyler Glasnow? No big deal. Some of the biggest names in the Rays clubhouse will not be available in 2024 for a variety of reasons, and yet the Rays are still expected to contend for a playoff spot, if not the AL East crown. Advanced metrics suggest the Rays can still be a 90-win team, but their margin for error is smaller than usual. An injury to Zach Eflin or Aaron Civale could be curtains.

6. Philadelphia Phillies

Phillies first baseman Bryce Harper catches a fly ball during a spring training game.
Phillies first baseman Bryce Harper catches a fly ball during a spring training game. [ CHARLIE NEIBERGALL | AP ]

This team is kind of old. And expensive. Their top three pitchers last season in terms of innings are now between 31 and 34. More than half the lineup is between 31 and 33. And they have more money currently committed to their 2027 payroll ($121 million) than the Rays have for their current payroll. But along with being old and expensive, the Phillies are also really, really good. Still, the clock is ticking. Anything less than a World Series appearance will be a letdown.

5. Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays' Bo Bichette watches his single during a spring training game earlier this month.
The Blue Jays' Bo Bichette watches his single during a spring training game earlier this month. [ CHARLIE NEIBERGALL | AP ]

Time is running short, and bills are running high. The Blue Jays have been a trendy World Series pick recently, but have lost seven consecutive postseason games since 2016. While Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette are homegrown stars, Toronto has devoted $340 million in contracts to acquire and sign Kevin Gausman, Chris Bassitt, Jose Berrios and Yusei Kikuchi for the rotation. Maybe now that expectations are starting to wane, the Blue Jays will finally come through.

4. Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles' Jackson Holliday swings at a pitch during a spring training game.
The Orioles' Jackson Holliday swings at a pitch during a spring training game. [ GERALD HERBERT | AP ]

So Adley Rutschman finished second in AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2022. And Gunnar Henderson won it in 2023. And Jackson Holliday is one of the leading contenders in 2024. And Baltimore just acquired Corbin Burnes, the 2021 NL Cy Young Award winner, from Milwaukee. So, yeah, not a bad time to be an Orioles fan. One warning sign? The Orioles had an 18-win improvement to 101 in 2023. That kind of dramatic uptick historically is followed by a backslide.

3. Houston Astros

The Astros' Kyle Tucker follows through on an RBI single during a  spring training game.
The Astros' Kyle Tucker follows through on an RBI single during a spring training game. [ JEFF ROBERSON | AP ]

Everybody’s favorite villain is back for more. Both Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus has the Astros as the top team in the American League. Houston has won 90 or more games in six consecutive (full) seasons, including four 100-win campaigns while mixing in four pennants and two World Series titles. Their sustained success makes the 2017 cheating scandal look even worse because it was so unnecessary for such a talented team.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers

Dodgers shortstop Mookie Betts makes a play during a spring training game.
Dodgers shortstop Mookie Betts makes a play during a spring training game. [ CHRISTIAN PETERSEN | Getty Images North America ]

First, a question: How do you spend more than $1 billion in the offseason and then get to spring training and realize somebody forgot to buy a shortstop? Realizing this flaw, the Dodgers have placed Mookie Betts at shortstop, which is a strange move for a player halfway through a Hall of Fame career. But, of course, it doesn’t matter. The Dodgers will win 100 games whether Betts wins a Gold Glove or whether LA needs to acquire a real shortstop in July.

1. Atlanta Braves

Braves starting pitcher Chris Sale throws during a spring training game.
Braves starting pitcher Chris Sale throws during a spring training game. [ CHARLIE NEIBERGALL | AP ]

This franchise once played in a ballpark known as the Launching Pad. One of the greatest hitters in history wore a Braves uniform for 21 years. Of the four MLB third basemen with more than 400 homers, two were longtime Braves. And yet, they’ve never had a better offense than 2023. Atlanta’s 947 runs were the third most in NL history in the expansion era. The Braves are bringing back that same lineup and added Chris Sale to the rotation. See ya in October.

• • •

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