Offseason? Surely you jest.
The Anheuser-Busch products spilled during the Texas Rangers’ World Series celebration might still be festering in the Chase Field visitors clubhouse by the time the industry converges again on the Phoenix area for Major League Baseball’s general managers’ meetings, which begin Nov. 7.
Yep, next season begins now.
With that, USA TODAY Sports takes a stab at stacking up the way-too-early contenders for the 2024 World Series – or at least, those who might stack 100 wins only to see it all go down in a punishing sequence of October events.
How we see it:
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Atlanta Braves: They proved that health and playing well going into the postseason sometimes matters. Yet 104 wins can’t be erased by their playoff Kryptonite: Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. Ronald Acuña Jr. will still be just 26 years old when he begins defense of a near-certain NL MVP award.
Texas Rangers: Run it back? Don’t doubt ’em.
It will be interesting to see what Max Scherzer can offer them in a full season during which he turns 40. Evan Carter will be the center fielder for the entire season. Marcus Semien and Corey Seager are back for Year 3 of their administration. Will Jose Leclerc and Josh Sborz form a shutdown back end of the pen over 162 games as they did in 17 playoff matches?
The first championship in franchise history only piqued the curiosity for what’s possible in 2024.
Houston Astros: Like the Rangers, the Astros will have their 40-something mercenary, Justin Verlander, back for a full season. Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman will be entering their contract years, while Kyle Tucker aims to lock down his first big payday.
Yet the ALCS constants are facing more questions, particularly with Jose Abreu turning 37 and an unsettled rotation with Luis Garcia still returning from Tommy John surgery and Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier not as steady as they were a year ago. Still, doubt ’em at your risk.
Still a threat
Philadelphia Phillies: Perhaps they just wasted their best chance ever by losing to an inferior Diamondbacks team. How far will they go to retain No. 2 starter Aaron Nola? Can they avoid first-half offensive doldrums that make locking down a playoff spot an adventure?
The offensive firepower isn’t going anywhere. Yet it’s hard to imagine 2024 being the year they give the Braves a hearty challenge for the East title – leaving a rocky path to success through the wild card round once again.
Los Angeles Dodgers: They’re the morning-line favorites to sign Shohei Ohtani, yet even if they land the global superstar, he still can’t pitch in 2024.
Shortstop Gavin Lux will return from an ACL tear, a loss from which the club never really recovered. But Clayton Kershaw may retire or move on, and the performance of their young pitchers leaves just enough doubt to consider them volatile, at best. But any offense pairing Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman will always resemble a machine.
Toronto Blue Jays: The grim exit at Minnesota shows this club is still capable of getting in its own way.
Still, everyone knows time is running short on the Vlad Guerrero-Bo Bichette pairing and Toronto is one of the few clubs that can trot out an actual pitching rotation – a pretty good one, too.
Seattle Mariners: Should be ready to fly another We Enhanced Our Playoff Odds banner, but will that get them back in the actual postseason ball?
Baltimore Orioles: The young core is so for real, and Jackson Holliday will arrive in 2024.
Yet this is, in fact, the winter they oughta pony up and spend a few dollars beyond their standard $10-ish million play for an innings-eating veteran pitcher. It’s the AL East, and inertia is practically begging a big-money rival to surpass you.
New York Mets: They won’t be the chic pick anymore, and we’re waiting on a new manager and exactly just how much hedge fund bro Steve Cohen might want to trim costs after this record-busting year of spending.
But lost in the ugliness of 2023 was a strong season by Francisco Lindor, a pretty great debut for starter Kodai Senga and a great finish from lefty Jose Quintana. Pete Alonso is in his walk year. It’s an interesting and talented stew and maybe muted expectations yields a greater outcome.