Thursday, April 18, 2024
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A reason for optimism in 2024 for all 30 MLB teams: Young stars, open divisions, new faces and more

Being a baseball fan for any real length of time means developing an appreciation for the seasons and for what each is about. Summer is for the daily grind of the regular season; fall is for the playoffs; winter is for the inevitable attempts at collusion (we kid, sort of); and spring? It’s arguably the best season of them all, for that’s when fans are entitled to possessing an unchecked, unfiltered, and unrivaled amount of optimism. 

We here at CBS Sports aren’t immune to spring’s charms, either. In fact, below we’ve highlighted at least one reason why every MLB team and fan base should be optimistic during these early days of the exhibition season. In some cases, the reasons might be trifling, or short-lived; in others, they could encapsulate the entire year.

Wherever your team falls on that spectrum, join us as we celebrate the happiest time of the baseball year.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Pennant winners got better

The Diamondbacks were tied for the Marlins for the fewest wins among playoff teams last fall. That didn’t stop Arizona from marching its way to the World Series. The D-backs wisely added reinforcements this offseason, signing Eduardo Rodriguez and Joc Pederson and trading for Eugenio Suárez. Arizona now looks like the clear No. 2 team in the National League West, putting them in position to make a repeat postseason appearance for just the second time in franchise history (2001-02).

Atlanta Braves: Still the best? 

There’s a case to be made that the Braves are still the best team in the National League — it just hinges on feeling more confident in the health of Atlanta’s pitchers, including new addition Chris Sale, than the Dodgers‘. Whether or not you buy into that thinking — and player health being the great unknown that it is makes it tough to know what’s “right” —  you have to admit this much: the Braves should threaten the 100-win mark for a third year in a row. The Braves have completed the 100-plus win hat trick just once before, from 1997-99. Any time a Braves team can place their names next to those ’90s squads you know they’re doing something right.

Baltimore Orioles: All the pieces fit

The Orioles began the offseason with an outstanding young core in place. They’ve added a legitimate ace to their rotation in Corbin Burnes. They’ll soon add the best prospect in the minors in Jackson Holliday. And not only does top executive Mike Elias still have a stocked farm system to promote and trade from, he might soon be able to leverage greater financial resources if and when David Rubenstein completes his purchase of the club. It’s a very, very good time to be an Orioles fan.

Boston Red Sox: Promising young lineup

Boston’s playoff chances will hinge on a rotation that could, frankly, be a mess. They can feel more confident about a lineup that projects to have seven starters who are in their age-28 seasons or younger, including three players younger than 25: second baseman Vaughn Grissom, first baseman Triston Casas, and outfielder Wilyer Abreu. Younger isn’t always better, and the Red Sox’s group is certain to endure some growing pains. But at least parts of that unit could inspire hope for a better tomorrow. 

Chicago Cubs: The division is wide open

We keep waiting for the Cubs to make one more notable addition to their lineup. As it is, they seem good enough to compete in the National League Central following a winter that saw them make several unheralded additions, including Michael Busch and Shota Imanaga. The Cubs have a few other internal cards to play this summer, like introducing Pete Crow-Armstrong, Matt Shaw, and Cade Horton to the big-league roster on a permanent basis. They may not run away with the division as desired, but there’s enough here to envision them being in the thick of it until the end.

Chicago White Sox: Improved farm system should help

 The White Sox had a solid deadline last summer, adding several players who could help this year, including pitchers Jake Eder and Nick Nastrini and catcher Edgar Quero. Factor in shortstop Colson Montgomery and third baseman Bryan Ramos, and this season could represent a youth movement of sorts for the White Sox. That doesn’t mean this summer is likely to result in a pennant race or anything close. It does mean the White Sox’s farm system is in better health than it has been in quite a while.

Cincinnati Reds: It’s go time

Other front offices identified the Reds as a sleeper pick to make a splash over the winter. The thinking was that they had prospects to spare and good reason to spare them after just missing out on the playoffs. The Reds didn’t quite rise to the occasion, but they remain a team on the rise thanks to a quality collection of youngsters, ranging from Noelvi Marte and Elly De La Cruz to Andrew Abbott and Hunter Greene. If this group can play up to its potential, we think the Reds will eventually make good on what those other front offices were predicting — just over the summer instead of the winter. 

Cleveland Guardians: The AL Central

You can argue that the Guardians’ first-ever No. 1 draft pick should be their reason for optimism. (We recently ranked the top 30 prospects in this year’s class.) We disagree, if only because we think the Guardians have a legitimate chance at returning to the postseason by winning the American League Central. The defending champion Twins had a quiet winter and to our eyes the Guardians are still better than the other teams attempting to chase them down. Might the Guardians pull off the rare feat of winning the division and making the No. 1 pick in the same year? We’ll find out. 

Colorado Rockies: Like father like son?

There’s no reason to sugarcoat it. This is going to be another unpleasant season for the Rockies. The bright side, if there is one, is that they could be so bad as to win the draft lottery come the winter. That, in turn, would put them in position to select Ethan Holliday, Matt’s other son, with the No. 1 pick in 2025. That would make for a cool full circle moment for Matt, who began his career with six seasons in Colorado. It would also give the Rockies a potential foundational piece of their future core if things go well.

Detroit Tigers: The AL Central

Hey, give the Tigers credit for trying to upgrade their roster during the winter. We don’t think they’re going to win the Central, but they have a better chance than they would’ve without adding Kenta Maeda, Jack Flaherty, Mark Canha, and other veterans. The Tigers locked up young infielder Colt Keith with a pre-debut extension, suggesting he should be part of their Opening Day lineup as well. As an added bonus, the Tigers also added Jason Benetti, arguably the best announcer in the sport.

Houston Astros: One more time

The Astros have made appearances in seven consecutive American League Championship Series. Is an eighth on the table? We think it’s possible. This could end up being a pivotal season for the Astros in other respects, too. Alex Bregman and Justin Verlander are slated for free agency come the winter, with Kyle Tucker and Framber Valdez following not too far behind them. Factor in Dusty Baker’s retirement from managing, and the Astros as we’ve known them are coming to an end.

Kansas City Royals: The AL Central

As with the Tigers, the Royals clearly attacked the winter with an eye on jumping the standings. While they didn’t do enough to position themselves as the favorites or anything, they have a non-zero chance at winning the division. That’s better than you would have expected at the end of last year, when they won just 56 games. An alternative answer here: the ink is dry on the Bobby Witt contract, meaning Royals fans can celebrate getting to watch their homegrown star for the foreseeable future without worrying about if and when he’s leaving town for greener pastures.

Los Angeles Angels: Better health (almost) guaranteed

The bad news for the Angels is that Shohei Ohtani is now with the other Los Angeles-based team. The good news is that the remaining Angels should enjoy a healthier season. Last year, they led the majors with 2,500 days missed due to injury. As a general rule of thumb, teams with either extremely good or bad health the previous season can usually count on their “luck” in that area balancing out over time. The Angels, then, should have a healthier, if not necessarily better, roster in 2024.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Star-studded winter

The Dodgers reacted to a relatively “down” season by their standards — 100 wins and a division-round exit — by adding Shohei Ohtani, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Tyler Glasnow, and Teoscar Hernández (among others) to the roster. How’s that for reloading? Health will determine if this Dodgers team is the last one standing come October, but it’s fair to write at this point in time that Los Angeles is again MLB‘s most intriguing team.

Miami Marlins: New management 

The Marlins raised eyebrows when they moved on from Kim Ng following an unexpected playoff berth. The move wasn’t a total shock inside the game, where Ng had faced criticism for overseeing an antiquated front office. The Marlins then embraced modernity by hiring Peter Bendix from the Rays. Bendix didn’t do much to the on-field roster in his first winter, but he did add a number of well-regarded individuals to his front office, including Vinesh Kanthan, Sara Goodrum, and Sam Mondry-Cohen. The installation of new minds and new ideas could (should?) bode well for Miami’s long-term outlook.

Milwaukee Brewers: Chourio time

This offseason for the Brewers was defined by loss. Braintrust members David Stearns and Craig Counsell are gone. Workhorse ace Corbin Burnes is, too. Even Brandon Woodruff, having recently returned on a two-year pact after being non-tendered following surgery, seems unlikely to factor into the first half of the season. The Brewers are in dire need of a new identity. That’s just what they might get in the form of promising young outfielder Jackson Chourio. Milwaukee believes in his superstar potential enough to hand him an historic extension before his big-league debut. We’ll find out soon enough if the Brewers’ faith in Chourio is validated.   

Minnesota Twins: The AL Central

May as well run this bit into the ground. But seriously, the Twins had a largely boring offseason that was marked by the addition of veteran first baseman Carlos Santana, starter Anthony Desclafani, and a collection of viable, if unheralded, relievers. There’s still a good enough team here to be viewed as the favorites in the Central. Alas, that may say more about the division itself than the Twins.

New York Mets: A plan in place

The Mets have been chasing stability at the top of their baseball operations department throughout Steven Cohen’s ownership tenure. David Stearns, a long-term target of Cohen’s, is now firmly in place. That should mean the Mets are now able to stick to a singular vision rather than swaying back and forth with the breeze. Giving the deft Stearns large-market resources could eventually turn the Mets into the Dodgers East if that’s his goal.

New York Yankees: Judge and Soto

The forecast models we tend to consult with have the Yankees atop the American League East. Credit that to one of the most imposing one-two punches in organized ball: Aaron Judge and Juan Soto. No matter what order or position manager Aaron Boone places those in, they have a chance to combine for some silly numbers. Might they join Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris as the only teammates to each homer 50-plus times in a season? Probably not, but it should be fun watching them try. 

Oakland Athletics: Only 162 games

The Athletics’ front office continues to punt on what may be their final days in Oakland. If there’s a bright side to be found in Oakland, it’s that the season has a defined endpoint. The same isn’t — or, at least, shouldn’t be — true of the shame that owner John Fisher ought to feel for separating a proud fan base from its beloved franchise.

Philadelphia Phillies: The gang sticks around

The Phillies didn’t do a whole lot this winter after re-upping with starter Aaron Nola to begin the winter, but then, they didn’t have a whole lot to do anyway after making consecutive trips to the National League Championship Series. The Phillies seem to be open to extending Zack Wheeler ahead of his walk season, and there have been rumors about them checking into a possibly unnecessary extension with Bryce Harper, too. This core has been close to good enough so far. Might the third try be the charm?

Pittsburgh Pirates: Help is en route

The Pirates as constructed probably won’t be a real threat in the National League playoff picture. They should greatly improve their roster as the season burns on, with top pitching prospects Paul Skenes and Jared Jones all but certain to debut this season. When and how quickly those pitchers acclimate is to be determined. Still, the main takeaway here is that Pittsburgh is closer to being relevant than it has been in ages.

St. Louis Cardinals: Good rebound opportunity

The Cardinals had an uncharacteristically poor season last year, losing more than 90 games for the first time since 1990. We like their chances for a bounce back season. St. Louis didn’t make a bunch of flashy moves over the winter, but their birdy work included adding perpetually underrated pitchers like Sonny Gray and Andrew Kittredge to a staff that needs the help. They should benefit from young players like Jordan Walker and Nolan Gorman gaining experience, too. That combination could see the Cardinals return to their familiar perch atop the National League Central.

San Diego Padres: Top prospects coming soon

We can understand any Padres fan who feels down on their luck. Juan Soto and Josh Hader are gone; Bob Melvin is too; and so might San Diego’s time as a legitimate threat in the National League. There is some reason to be excited about this season, however, and that includes the imminent arrival of top prospects Jackson Merrill and Ethan Salas. Merrill is closer to the majors, but Salas has a real chance to become MLB’s first teenage backstop since Iván Rodríguez in 1991. 

San Francisco Giants: Melvin time

Before Bob Melvin’s short-lived stint in San Diego, he was regarded as an elite manager who excelled at getting the most from so-so rosters. That makes him the perfect skipper for a Giants team that, let’s face it, is the purest distillation of .500 baseball in the western hemisphere. It’ll be up to Melvin to help talented South Korean outfielder Jung Hoo Lee make a quick transition to MLB, as well as micromanage a rotation that will necessitate a steady diet of Tums. Given the magic Melvin worked in Oakland, he just might pull it off.

Seattle Mariners: Extra-innings luck should correct

No matter how you feel about Seattle’s offseason — and it’s reasonable to think that it left something to be desired — we can all agree to this much: free baseball should be enjoyable. It wasn’t last year, not in Seattle. The Mariners lost a majors-leading 14 extra-inning games last season. In other words, nearly 20% of their losses came outside of regulation. There’s no chance they repeat that performance again, making it OK for Mariners fans to get excited about the possibility of a 10th inning. 

Tampa Bay Rays: Neander and Cash remain

It used to feel like as long as the Rays had Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon they’d find a way to compete year in and year out. Those two are long gone, but they’ve been spiritually succeeded by Erik Neander and Kevin Cash, who each signed new extensions during the winter. The faces tend to change often, sometimes in rapid succession, around those two. But that might be OK so long as Neander and Cash remain in place.

Texas Rangers: Life itself

The Rangers won the World Series last fall. They look like a good team on paper again (albeit one with some health-related risks that could cost them). And, by the way, they have two of the top young outfielders in the game in Evan Carter and Wyatt Langford. Even if the Rangers fail to become MLB’s first repeat champions in more than two decades, you have to admit that life is pretty sweet these days for Texas and its fans. 

Toronto Blue Jays: They’re due, right?

This could in time fester into a reason for pessimism, but this Blue Jays team feels like it’s due for a big season after winning 89 or more games three years running. That’s not to say the Blue Jays make it easy to believe such a season is coming. They haven’t won a postseason game since 2016, and their biggest offseason additions were Justin Turner and Isiah Kiner-Falefa. This team still looks good on paper, in our estimation, and it would be a shame if they never reach loftier heights with this core in place.

Washington Nationals: Youth shall be served

The Nationals still seem to be a year away from being a year away, so far as their competitive aspirations go. That doesn’t mean all hope is lost for this season, which will serve as the five-year mark since their World Series win. Top prospects James Wood, Dylan Crews, and Brady House should each join the lineup during the summer. Once those three arrive, the Nationals’ fate could change in a hurry. 

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