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Did the Dodgers Break Baseball? Here Are 9 Other Storylines to Follow

Did the Dodgers Break Baseball? Here Are 9 Other Storylines to Follow

In theory, the prospects of winning the 2024 World Series look dim for 29 MLB teams. This offseason, the Los Angeles Dodgers, who were already very good, added the best player in baseball, Shohei Ohtani. The Dodgers also added coveted Japanese pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto. 

Yamamoto and Ohtani were the two biggest prizes of the offseason market, leading many pundits to claim the Dodgers are ruining baseball for the cardinal sin of spending money on players.

The thing is, baseball is decided by pitching and hitting, not dollars spent. Last year’s top three teams in dollars spent on payroll — the New York Mets ($353.5 million), New York Yankees ($277 million) and San Diego Padres ($249 million) — all missed the playoffs. Sure, it looks bad that the Dodgers signed some big-name free agents. But there’s still plenty of interesting angles for the 2024 season. Break out some hot dogs and pick up some Cracker Jack, baseball is coming back with plenty of reasons to get excited. Unless you’re a Yankees fan.

The Braves could rival the Dodgers

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It’s easy to forget about Atlanta because the Braves haven’t made any flashy offseason signings. Oh yeah, the Braves had five guys hit 33 or more home runs. Oh yeah, Ronald Acuña Jr. is the reigning National League MVP. Oh yeah, Matt Olson hit 54 home runs while playing in every game last season. Oh yeah, starting pitcher Bryce Elder was an All-Star in his first entire season in the bigs. 

We could do a whole hype spiel on any of those guys, much less their combined prowess. But let’s talk about Spencer Strider. The 24-year-old pitcher struck out an MLB-leading 281 batters in nearly 187 innings pitched last season and won an MLB-leading 20 games.

You can break down Strider’s analytics for days, but it boils down to this: His pitches are filthy. His fastball has movement and regularly tops 97 mph. His slider cuts hard. And he hits his spots. Perhaps best of all, Strider is a throwback gunslinger on the mound. He issued just one intentional walk last season. If any one player is going to set down Ohtani and the Dodgers in the postseason, Strider is the guy you should pin those hopes to.

Are the Yankees bad or good?

Perhaps the richest schadenfreude in the Dodgers’ offseason free agent signings is hearing complaints from New York Yankees fans. You know, the team who for 25 years dominated the free agent market. Fans are mad that another team is signing the best players available. 

Perhaps the Yankees’ biggest problem is they are still lugging around Giancarlo Stanton, who will go down in history as one of the worst deals the Yankees ever made. He made $32 million dollars last season to hit .191 and produce a wins above replacement (WAR) that was below 0, meaning the Yankees could have replaced him with a typical player from their minor leagues and been better off. And he is under contract for three seasons after this.

The 2023 Yankees were doomed by a terrible stretch in August that knocked them out of playoff contention. Maybe that was an aberration? The Yankees still have Aaron Judge, after all. And starting pitcher Gerrit Cole continues to dominate. Maybe Stanton reverts to his 2017 NL MVP form and the Yankees storm through the toughest division in baseball. Anything can happen!

The AL East is fascinating

The Baltimore Orioles were the feel-good story in baseball last season. After a big-spending free agency run in the 1990s netted zero World Series appearances, the Orioles became a two-decade-long rebuilding project. Gunnar Henderson helped end that era. The infielder produced a massive 6.2 WAR last season. In the playoffs, he went 6-for-12 in three games against the Texas Rangers. 

But the Orioles have plenty of young competition in the East. The Tampa Rays have shortstop Yander Franco, who is the same age as Henderson and hit for a higher percentage and showed signs of developing more power. The Rays had the second-best record in the American League, which only earned them a wild-card berth.

And then there’s the third-place Toronto Blue Jays, who would have screamed to an American League Central title last season if they were just one division over. The pitching is fine, but it’s the bats of Vladamir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette that give fans reason for excitement, if not hope of passing the Orioles and Rays.

The Rangers are the World Series champions

Who could forget the 2023 World Series champs? The Rangers pushed the boundaries of conventional wisdom by focusing on starting pitching last season. They won a World Series title with very little help from studs Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom. They still had enough depth to get enough pitching from stalwarts like Nathan Eovaldi to shove aside Arizona and win the team’s first title. 

Forget about young guys, Texas has something other teams would kill for: the best middle infield in baseball. Corey Seager hit .327 with 33 home runs in 119 games last year; Marcus Semien had 29 taters while playing every game. They’ll be back in 2024, and the pitching should be even better. Go ahead, forget about the Rangers, and be in for a rude awakening.

The Corbin Caroll show

It’s also possible we forgot about the Diamondbacks. Apologies to Corbin Caroll. The 22-year-old won the National League Rookie of the year award and finished fifth in MVP voting. You’ll have that when you hit .285, hit 25 home runs and steal 54 bases. On a young roster filled with middling talent, Caroll stands out as a diamond. 

But the Diamondbacks also stand out for another reason: A miracle in the playoffs. They won a forgettable 84 games in the regular season, squeaking into the playoffs as a wild card. Then, they went on a tear — knocking off the Milwaukee Brewers, the Dodgers and the defending champs, the Phillies. The Diamondbacks are proof you don’t have to spend a ton of money to have postseason success.

The Padres comeback

True, the San Diego Padres were underachievers last season. They missed the playoffs the year after they made it to the National League Championship Series. And true, they’ve been hemorrhaging talent in the free agency market. 

Doesn’t matter. The Padres are still pretty young. They still have one of the best corner outfielders in baseball, Fernando Tatis Jr. They also have Cy Young-winner Blake Snell leading a solid rotation. Anything can happen in baseball, but the Padres are an easy pick for a bounce back season.

Are the Astros done?

The Houston Astros have won a pair of World Series titles with José Abreu and José Altuve. But time is undefeated. Abreu is 37 years old and had a WAR of 0.0 last season. Altuve turns 34 this year and is entering the end of his prime years. Maybe they can squeeze out one more run? 

If you’re looking for the inside straight, Justin Verlander is as good an ace in the hole as any. The future Hall of Fame pitcher turns 41 this year, but he still throws hard and can be untouchable when he has a strong day on the mound. A return to playoff glory might be improbable for the Astros, but we live in a world where the Diamondbacks played in the World Series last year.

The Amazin’ Mess

No team had a more disappointing season than the New York Mets. An exciting offseason left the Mets with a loaded roster and high expectations. By the trade deadline, the Mets traded away Scherzer and Verlander, accepting their fate of a sub-.500 record.

Borrowing a page from the Rangers, the Mets have focused on starting pitching, adding Luis Severino from the Yankees and Sean Manaea from the Giants. If they get a strong year from Francisco Lindor and Kodai Senga remains a pitching leader, the Mets could be one of the most improved teams in 2024.

Yeah, it’s probably the Dodgers

The thing is, the Dodgers were already good. They had 100 wins last year, second-best in the National League behind the Braves. And Ohtani posted a WAR of 10.0 while not even pitching in the final month because of a UCL injury. He still hit plenty, with a .304 average, 44 homers and 20 stolen bases (really!). And the Dodgers’ lineup was already loaded with Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman. 

Meanwhile, Yamamoto is one of the most exciting international players in years. He had a 1.16 earned run average last season and has played professionally in Japan since 2017, when he was 18 years old. 

The Dodgers are already the gambling favorite to win the World Series. But, baseball being baseball, there’s no consensus about what will happen this season. That’s why they play the games.

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