Monday, April 15, 2024

Ranking all 30 MLB teams by most pressure to win 2024 World Series: Do Dodgers have highest expectations ever?

The 2024 Major League Baseball regular season is almost a week old. Spring training games are fun in their own way, though the novelty wears off quickly and I think we were all ready for meaningful MLB baseball. Shohei Ohtani is in Los Angeles, Juan Soto is in New York, Matt Chapman and Blake Snell are in San Francisco … there are a lot of faces in new places this season.

As always, each MLB team will face a different amount of pressure in 2024. Pressure is unquantifiable but you know it when you see it, and you definitely know it when you feel it. Some teams feel pressure to win. Others feel pressure to simply make progress and get out of the rebuilding phase. And other teams feel a different kind of pressure entirely.

With the 2024 season underway, let’s rank the 30 MLB teams based on the amount of pressure they feel to win this year’s World Series. Come with me, won’t you?

No pressure at all

30. Chicago White Sox
29. Oakland Athletics
28. Washington Nationals
27. Colorado Rockies
26. Pittsburgh Pirates

No pressure to win the World Series, I should say. The A’s and owner John Fisher surely feel pressure to move the Las Vegas relocation plan along. It’s no closer to being a reality now than it was six months ago. The Nationals and Pirates should feel pressure to advance their rebuilds, and take steps toward contention. Are they expected to contend for the World Series? No. Are they expected to be more competitive than they have been the last few years? Absolutely.

What happened to you guys?

25. Los Angeles Angels
24. Boston Red Sox

For much of the last 25 years, the Angels and Red Sox were perennial contenders who rostered some of the very best players in the game. The Halos have not been to the postseason since 2014 or even won a postseason game since 2009, however, and now they don’t even have Shohei Ohtani. I mean seriously, how do you not post a single winning record in six years with Ohtani? The Red Sox were in the ALCS as recently as 2021, though they’ve finished in last place the last two years, and ownership seems disinterested (and that’s putting it nicely). These two teams should be expected to contend for a World Series title, but they’re not entering 2024.

Small markets, moderate dreams

23. Miami Marlins
22. Kansas City Royals
21. Cleveland Guardians

The Marlins won 84 games and snuck into the postseason last year, though they lost GM Kim Ng (to a power struggle), ace Sandy Alcantara (to Tommy John surgery), and 36-homer man Jorge Soler (to free agency) over the winter. The Royals committed more than $100 million to free agents this offseason. Good for them. They lost 106 games last year and don’t want to do that again. The Guardians are perpetually trying to remain competitive while being hamstrung by one the sport’s smallest payrolls. These three teams all want to contend in 2024. Whether their rosters are strong enough to do so remains to be seen. This is the first tier in which the organizations have honest-to-goodness intentions of winning this season.

Young teams ready to make noise

20. Detroit Tigers
19. Cincinnati Reds
18. Tampa Bay Rays
17. Minnesota Twins

The Rays don’t really fit the theme here because they’ve been very good and in contention for several years now. They don’t operate in the most high-pressure environment though. The other three clubs have very young rosters and are looking to establish themselves as bona fide contenders. Yes, the Twins won the AL Central and a postseason round last year. They also won 87 games and played in the sport’s weakest division. For them, 2023 should merely be a stepping stone to bigger and better things. This tier features teams looking to show they belong among the sport’s elite.

The Mets tier

16. New York Mets

It was difficult to place the Mets in these rankings. On one hand, their projected $324 million payroll is the largest in baseball, and running the sport’s largest payroll should come with the expectation of winning. On the other hand, new president of baseball operations David Stearns is treating this as something of a transition year. They want to contend, hence the recent J.D. Martinez signing, but development and building the next core are the priority. If the Mets are competitive this season, great. If not, they’ll lean into the development year thing, and tout 2025 as the year they return to prominence.

The mushy middle

15. Milwaukee Brewers
14. San Francisco Giants
13. St. Louis Cardinals
12. Chicago Cubs
11. Arizona Diamondbacks

Do these clubs want to contend for the 2024 World Series? Of course. The D-backs won the National League pennant just last year, the Giants spent heavily in free agency (eventually), and the Brewers have won the NL Central twice in the last three years. At the same time, they all have built-in excuses if they don’t take home a ring. The Brewers traded Corbin Burnes and lost manager Craig Counsell to the Cubs. The Giants are waiting on a wave of young pitching to arrive. The Cardinals have an aging roster and are coming off a 71-91 season. The D-backs are facing an uphill battle in the NL West. The Cubs are up against the most pressure here after poaching Counsell from the Brewers and re-signing Cody Bellinger. Their very best prospects (Pete Crow-Armstrong, Cade Horton, Matt Shaw, etc.) are not yet ready to assume full-time roles, however, so you can talk yourself into believing 2025 is the year the Cubbies fully arrive. Definitely though, these clubs are in position to contend in 2024 and want to do so.

The teams most under pressure

10. Baltimore Orioles

Few teams in baseball are set up as well long-term as the O’s. They won 101 games last season, have a roster loaded with young talent, and have the game’s best farm system and No. 1 prospect in Jackson Holliday. The future is bright and a new ownership group is taking over, so if they don’t win the World Series in 2024, there is every reason to believe the Orioles will contend again in 2025, 2026, and beyond. That said, winning the World Series only gets more difficult with each passing year as players start to get expensive (Adley Rutschman is a year away from arbitration, for example). The O’s don’t want to find themselves in 3-4 years wondering when the rebuild will pay off, you know?

9. Texas Rangers

In a way, the defending World Series champions should feel little pressure entering the new season. They’re the champs and the rest of the league has to come take it from them. Clearly though, the Rangers want to win again. Texas put top prospect Wyatt Langford on the Opening Day roster, they expect Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer back later this season, and Corey Seager and Marcus Semien are still in their primes. The Rangers are not resting on their laurels. Still, being the defending champs does take a little pressure off this year.

8. San Diego Padres

The Padres were arguably the biggest disappointment in baseball last season, going 82-80 despite a franchise record $291 million payroll for competitive balance tax purposes. This offseason they scaled back on spending — their projected CBT payroll is down to $230 million, below the $237 million threshold — and traded away Juan Soto, yet there are reasons to believe they’ll be a better team that they were last year. Bottom line, you should expect to contend for a championship when you have Xander Bogaerts, Dylan Cease, Manny Machado, and Fernando Tatis Jr. The Padres went to the NLCS in 2022 and are out to prove 2023 was a blip.

7. Seattle Mariners

After Cal Raleigh’s postseason drought-ending walk-off homer and Wild Card Series win in 2022, the Mariners took a step back and missed the postseason by one stinkin’ game in 2023. Rather than load up in the offseason, payroll was slightly reduced from $137 million last Opening Day to a projected $135 million this year. Uncertainty regarding ROOT Sports and local television revenue has been cited as the reason for not upping payroll. Regardless, the Mariners have a superstar in Julio Rodríguez and a powerful rotation led by Luis Castillo, Logan Gilbert, and George Kirby. Returning to the postseason this year should be viewed as the bare minimum, not some sort of achievement.

6. Toronto Blue Jays

Toronto is still looking for its first postseason win of the Bo Bichette/Vladimir Guerrero Jr. era. Not series win, single game win. Those two are two years away from free agency and other important players like Chris Bassitt, Kevin Gausman, and George Springer are well into their 30s. The fan base is restless after an offseason that was spent finishing second or third for the biggest names, and ultimately resulted in a weakened roster compared to last year. The Blue Jays might be too low in our rankings. There is real pressure on this club to contend for a championship in 2024.

5. Houston Astros

The Astros were one win away from a third straight American League pennant last year and there is every reason to believe they will be in contention in 2024. We can start to see the window closing, however. Justin Verlander is 41, Jose Altuve turns 34 in May, Alex Bregman will be a free agent after the season, Kyle Tucker and Framber Valdez will be free agents after next season, and the farm system ranks among the worst in baseball. Houston may not get many more bites at the apple with this group, and they want to add to the trophy case before players start aging out and/or hitting free agency.

4. Atlanta Braves

Six straight NL East titles is nice. Two straight NLDS defeats is not. The Braves won the World Series in 2021, so it’s not like this core is still trying to get over the hump, but Atlanta is set up very well to win another title or three in the near future. For my money, no team is set up better for the next 4-5 years. Almost all their foundational players are in their 20s and signed to affordable long-term contracts. Atlanta is perhaps best positioned to be a dynasty as any team since the late-90s Yankees. Now they just have to go out and win that second title before the dynasty talk can begin. 

3. Philadelphia Phillies

Needles to say, the Phillies do not want losing the 2022 World Series to be the high point of the Bryce Harper era. Just about the entire core is in its prime — Harper, Aaron Nola, J.T. Realmuto, Trea Turner, Zack Wheeler, etc. — and the supporting cast is as strong as its ever been. Players like Brandon Marsh, Ranger Suárez, and Bryson Stott are high-end complementary players who would be centerpieces on more than a few other clubs. This group is talented and postseason battle-tested. Now they just have to break through and actually win the World Series.

2. New York Yankees

The Yankees responded to their worst season in three decades by trading for Juan Soto and only one year of Juan Soto. Soto will be a free agent after the season and the Yankees made the trade while being fully aware he and Scott Boras intend to test the market. This is New York’s one guaranteed year with Soto, plus Gerrit Cole (turned 33 in September) and Aaron Judge (turns 32 later this month) are closer to the end of their prime than the beginning. The window is closing on the incumbent core and Soto may not be around beyond 2024. Simply put, you don’t make that Soto trade unless your goal is winning the World Series this year. The pressure’s on in the Bronx.

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

The No. 1 spot is an easy call this year. You don’t give Shohei Ohtani a record $700 million contract and Yoshinobu Yamamoto the largest pitching contract in history and not expect to win the World Series. The Dodgers won 111 games in 2022 and 100 games in 2023, then went a combined 1-6 in the NLDS. As successful as this franchise has been the last decade — 10 NL West titles in the last 11 years — Los Angeles has won one World Series since 1988, and it was during the shortened 60-game pandemic season in 2020. They invested heavily in Ohtani and Yamamoto to win it all in 2024, not at some undetermined point in the future. Anything short of a World Series championship this season will be viewed as a failure. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that.

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