The World Series is over and the winter meetings are coming up, which means big trades and even bigger free-agent signings. Front offices have already been churning through the data and making plans that will impact the product each team puts on the field. Here at Pitcher List, we take a look at each division as teams get ready for the 2024 season.
The NL East had three playoff teams in 2023, with one of them coming one win away of reaching the World Series. However, reading that statement after the fact is certainly very different from what the offseason expectations promised.
The Braves continued their dominance of the division, winning their sixth straight title and securing the division handily by mid-September, only to again flop in the postseason. The Phillies were again a strong contender and earned the NL’s top wild-card spot, but lost a Game 7 at home in the NLCS. The real shocker came from the Mets, who spotted the highest payroll in MLB history en route to a losing record and a mid-season sell-off. In their place, the Marlins rode a wave of unsustainable one-run wins all the way to the playoffs, where they made a quick exit. Washington was better than expected but still is a long way away from contention.
With this in mind, the 2023-24 offseason for the East will be pivotal, as the division looks like a true three-horse race, albeit with Atlanta still a heavy favorite. How will each team approach their needs and try to improve?
2023 record: 104-58 (first place)
Overview: Just like they have done over the past half-decade, the Braves were a dominant force and ran away with the division. The 2023 version appeared to be the best one yet, with a ton of power and just enough pitching to win all kinds of games. As a team, they hit 307 h0mers, which tied the 2019 Twins for most all-time in a single season and enjoyed the most recent rule changes en route to 132 stolen bases, which was a top-10 figure in MLB. Having Ronald Acuña Jr. (the likely NL MVP) at full force was a driving factor, but also the addition of Sean Murphy at catcher and the prodigious power of Matt Olson, Austin Riley, and Marcell Ozuna.
However, their historic offense fizzled out in the playoffs, suffering another painful loss to the Phillies, scoring only 8 runs over 4 games. With Atlanta having locked up most of their young core for the next decade, they are still projected as one of the league’s best teams, with not a lot of holes to cover. Their focus should be to find a way to translate their regular season prowess into postseason success, which is usually easier said than done. As a couple of fan favorites reach free agency, the Braves may have their sights set on bigger things.
Position player outlook: From a position player standpoint, the Braves are essentially the league’s flagship franchise. They could trot out their top 8 position players from last season, plug in a random hitter to round out the lineup and they would still be the top offense in the game. With Acuña posting a memorable 40/70 season, he is still projected to be the best hitter in the game in 2024, despite the likely regression that comes after an MVP effort. Similar cases could apply for the likes of Ozuna, Riley, and Olson in the power department, but their losses should be offset by the improvement of youngsters Michael Harris II and Vaughn Grissom, while enjoying a full season of Ozzie Albies would help anchor the team up the middle.
While it is likely that they will lose some outfielder depth in Kevin Pillar and postseason hero Eddie Rosario, there are plenty of veteran options on the market for solid bats or strong defense. The real prize of the offseason would come if the rumors are true and Atlanta is chasing Shohei Ohtani, which would be akin to Kevin Durant joining the Warriors. Even if the Braves do not need such an impact bat to secure yet another division title, it could represent the missing piece for another shot at the World Series.
Starting rotation outlook: After bringing back Charlie Morton for his age-40 season, the Braves are set at the top of their rotation, where their three best options give them a high floor. Spencer Strider will not win a Cy Young due to his ERA, but he was still one of the best pitchers in the game and projects as such for 2024. Max Fried has battled a slew of injuries, which may require the Braves to be creative in filling out their rotation, which currently includes Bryce Elder and Michael Soroka at the back end.
The Braves have been linked to some of the top free-agent starters, including Aaron Nola and Sonny Gray, which would seem to also get them to another stratosphere. As Atlanta’s starting pitching faltered in the playoffs (while their staff ERA was 15th in the league during the regular season), it is clear that it is definitely a point of emphasis during this winter.
Bullpen outlook: With Raisel Iglesias still in the picture, the Braves have a reliable arm to close out games, even as their bullpen as a whole still needs some tweaking. Re-signing at least one of their trio of veteran free agents (Chavez, Hand, and McHugh) could add some stability, though they also have some intriguing arms in the organization, especially righty Darius Vines, who can be the long man in the bullpen or even start some games. AJ Minter and Pierce Johnson sound like a good plan to come late in games, though they should be complemented by a veteran arm or two.
2023 record: 84-78 (third place, 20 games behind)
Overview: In many ways, the 2023 season was a rousing success for the Marlins. They earned just their third-ever playoff berth over a full season, making Skip Schumaker the eventual Manager of the Year. Despite still ranking last in attendance for the National League (for the 10th straight full season), they saw a bump of over 200,000 fans compared to 2022, creating some buzz for a team that has a few exciting players. They even were buyers at the trade deadline, which is usually not a term associated with the Miami Marlins.
However, the glass half empty will tell you that the Marlins did this mostly on smoke and mirrors. Their playoff berth as the final wild card in the NL came with a -57 run differential, the worst ever for a playoff team. A superb record in one-run games and Schumaker’s late-inning maneuvering were more than enough to overachieve, but the Cinderella story came to an abrupt end with a playoff drubbing at the hands of the Phillies, who outscored the Fish 11-2 over a quick sweep.
With the early offseason headlines garnered by the ousting of general manager Kim Ng, the Marlins are still searching for a new head of baseball operations who can navigate a tricky roster. With three teams clearly above them in the East’s pecking order, Miami will have to be creative to avoid the regression pitfalls that could haunt them in 2024.
Position player outlook: The current depth chart for the Marlins shows a team that is bereft of stars, even if they still have more than a few solid players. Luis Arraez is fresh off a second straight batting title, and his status as a hitting savant is intact (his projection is confident that he will again hit well above .300). Jazz Chisholm Jr.’s stock has taken a dip, especially due to injury concerns that have limited him to only 157 games combined over the past two years. The top of the order should be rounded out by mid-season acquisitions Jake Burger and Josh Bell, who provided enough of a spark to lead Miami to the postseason.
At the same time, it seems unlikely that Jorge Soler and his 36 homers re-sign with the Marlins, leaving a huge power gap to be filled. As the team ranked 22nd in home runs, power should be its top priority, though the current class of free-agent hitters is not the best in terms of long balls. Elsewhere, losing veterans like Joey Wendle and Yuli Gurriel appears to be more palatable, though it is hard to quantify how much their presence helped with a young core of players.
With the team still carrying the albatross Avisaíl García contract and having other defensive liabilities like Jesús Sánchez and Bryan de la Cruz, there is a lot of work to be done by the new front office if they wish to remain competitive.
Starting rotation outlook: The biggest shock of the 2023 Marlins was that they were able to reach the playoffs despite a subpar season from ace Sandy Alcantara (7-12, 4.14 ERA). The emergence of Jesús Luzardo as a frontline starter along with the exciting rookie season of Eury Pérez was enough to provide a spark for the franchise and solidify the Marlins as a pitching-first squad.
In Year 2 of Perez’s development, he could become the team’s ace, especially considering that Alcantara will be out all of 2024 following Tommy John surgery. Luzardo and Braxton Garrett round out a top 3 that is one of the sneaky-best in the league, but the rest of the rotation is a bit lacking. Edward Cabrera and Trevor Rogers are certainly solid, but not ideal in a division with several power bats and an arms race in place.
The possible return of 2020 standout Sixto Sánchez will be something to watch, though it would probably behoove the Marlins to take a flier or two on veteran free agents to add depth and possibly surprise again in 2024.
Bullpen outlook: Miami’s bullpen was one of the main reasons for its unlikely playoff run, especially with the heroics of reliever extraordinaire Tanner Scott, who pitched to a 2.31 ERA over 74 games. The late addition of David Robertson did not work out well, but the bullpen is still a strength for this team, which needs to obtain value from any possible source. AJ Puk has earned a nice second act as a late-inning reliever, while other pieces like Steven Okert and Andrew Nardi are well above average. Adding depth is always an option, but the bullpen should not be a concern for the new regime.
2023 record: 75-87 (fourth place, 29 games behind)
Overview: The Mets had the proverbial season from hell in 2023. Despite the deepest pockets in the league and a roster full of All-Stars, the team could never get off the ground, setting up one of the biggest flops of all time. The silver lining of this failure is that ownership and the front office were honest about their shortcomings and punted the season by the trade deadline. In that sense, the Mets got a head start on the offseason by a couple of months.
The fire sale that saw them deal Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander for a slew of intriguing prospects was seen as good business, while they would eventually land David Stearns to run baseball operations. Stearns had long been coveted by the franchise, thanks largely to his small-market success which will now get to work with almost unlimited funds. The early offseason also included the departure of manager Buck Showalter, who has now been replaced by Carlos Mendoza, who should at least provide a fresh discourse for veteran players.
Now with a few free agents of note, the Mets have become one of the most intriguing teams to follow, as they could again try to go all-in or try a moderate approach with this uneven free-agent class. In any case, there should be enough pressure from the New York fans and media to chase a playoff spot any way possible.
Position player outlook: One lingering question might define how the Mets tackle 2024—will they trade Pete Alonso? There is a case to be made that the team should do everything it can to retain him, as he has been the face of the franchise since his debut while averaging over 40 homers a season. He is durable, improved his defense at first base, and the team can consistently pencil him for at least 3 WAR per season. At the same time, he is about to turn 29 and is at risk of becoming a one-dimensional slugger with only one season of team control left. With Scott Boras as his agent, lame puns are the least of New York’s problems, and receiving some value in return may be the most prudent course of action.
The rest of the infield is highlighted by Francisco Lindor, who had a low-key awesome 30/30 season in 2023, as he still projects to be the team’s top position player, if not an MVP candidate anymore. The breakout of Francisco Alvarez at catcher is bound to have an even greater impact over a full season, while fan favorites Jeff McNeil and Brandon Nimmo will remain as lineup anchors with solid OBPs.
The outfield and DH are the biggest sources of concern for this offense. Even if their riches make the Mets a natural landing spot for Ohtani, the franchise’s erratic behavior may be too much to ignore for his camp, which could lead to another season of giving Daniel Vogelbach more at-bats than he should get. Starling Marte played in only 86 games and will begin next season at 35 years old, suggesting that the end may be near. While youngster Mark Vientos is projected to get more opportunities in 2024, he is still a work in progress, which is scary for a team that is chasing the Braves and Phillies.
Starting rotation outlook: As it stands today, New York’s rotation is Kodai Senga…and then it all falls apart like in Jenga. The current depth chart lists José Quintana,
David Peterson, Joey Lucchesi, Tylor Megill, and José Butto as next in line to start games, which is less than ideal.
While a natural dropoff was expected after dealing Verlander and Scherzer, the Mets’ situation is dire. Senga was a revelation after coming over from Japan, as his ghost forkball was as good as advertised, leading the way with 12 wins, a 2.98 ERA, and a superb 0.9 HR/9. He should receive Cy Young votes, and the team looks like gangbusters after locking him up for only $15 million a year until at least 2027. However, it is clear that he needs help to carry the staff, and that the best options are not internal.
As even landing Ohtani would not help the rotation, the Mets will probably be linked to several free-agent starters in the upcoming weeks. The optimistic outlook suggests that Peterson may take a step forward and become a solid #2 starter, however, he’ll be recovering from hip surgery and will not be back in the rotation until June at the earliest. The rest of the incumbent hurlers are nothing more than mid-4 ERA types, which is hard to fathom in such a competitive division.
Bullpen outlook: It was a rough start to 2023 for the Mets when star closer Edwin Diaz got injured celebrating a win in the World Baseball Classic (things that only happen to the Mets, right?). While the bullpen was not the culprit of their bad season, the absence of Diaz cast a shadow from the start.
With Diaz now back and projected to regain his status as an elite reliever, the new skipper can mix and match accordingly to navigate the middle innings. If the Mets sign a couple of starters, they could push the likes of Megill and Butto to long relief, turning a weakness into a strength. The late innings will be complemented by solid options like Brooks Raley and Trevor Gott, though they still need some work to avoid free passes (New York’s bullpen ranked 23rd in MLB in walk rate).
2023 record: 90-72 (second place, 14 games behind)
Overview: After losing the World Series in 2022, the Phillies came oh so close to repeating as NL champions, losing games 6 and 7 of the NLCS at home to the upstart Diamondbacks. The end came as a shock, especially as Philadelphia had enjoyed one of the best postseason home-field advantages in recent memory.
As a whole, the 2023 season was a story of a team that kept getting better and better. The Phillies stood at 25-30 to end May, but went 65-42 the rest of the way, then made quick work of the Marlins and Braves in the postseason. Even though the end result was disappointing, there were several positive developments for a team that has earned the distinction as an steady NL contender.
The biggest risk for the Phillies is that their roster continues to get older on a stars-and-scrubs type of construction. Even if they lose their top pitcher as a free agent, the key to this offseason could be to acquire depth and versatility, as the Phillies are not likely to catch the Braves anytime soon. Despite this, they have now proved that getting in the playoff field is more than enough to have a chance, and having a deeper roster could be the difference for 2024 and beyond.
Position player outlook: In terms of an offensive core, there are few teams that can match the Realmuto-Turner-Harper trifecta that the Phillies have assembled. Even as they are all now above 30, there is no reason to think that 2024 will see a decline in their production. Turner probably felt the pressure of his massive deal to start in 2023, but he regained his mojo in the second half. Harper learned to play first base on the fly and is now comfortably one of the best corner infielders in the league, while Realmuto is still a plus with the bat and his arm at catcher.
The biggest question for the Phillies this offseason is how to be more dynamic on offense. Their playoff wins showcased massive power, but their losses also were a reflection of what happens when they face tougher pitching. Early rumors suggest that the team is trying to trade outfielder Nick Castellanos, as having him and the lumbering Kyle Schwarber on the same outfield truly creates a defensive disadvantage. Even though trading him would probably necessitate the team to take on a chunk of his salary, it may be worth it and try a new offensive approach.
The surprising contributions of the likes of Bryson Stott, Brandon Marsh, and Alec Bohm, all of whom hit above league average, should be the biggest cause of optimism for a younger supporting cast in this offense. While a possible Castellanos trade could net major-league-ready talent, the Phillies are almost set in their lineup—it is manager Rob Thomson’s responsibility to optimize it, especially when it comes to defensive alignments.
Starting rotation outlook: Aaron Nola is probably the best stateside free agent starter on the market, and there will be a bidding war for his services. Even as the Phillies are not out of the picture to retain him, they must have contingency plans. Zack Wheeler automatically emerges as the team’s ace, which is a very nice fallback option. He led the team in FIP and was an fWAR darling, as he projects to be one of the best pitchers in MLB for 2024.
Ranger Suárez could not match his stellar 2022, but he still looks like a solid #2 starter, while Christopher Sanchez came out of nowhere to deliver almost 100 innings with a 3.44 ERA, even surpassing the likes of Taijuan Walker in the postseason pecking order. While a return to form from Walker would be a welcome development, having Suarez and Sanchez gives the Phillies a steady rotation before adding any free agents.
Bullpen outlook: Craig Kimbrel and his high-wire act are as good as gone, which probably elevates José Alvarado to full-time closer. Alvarado found a new gear in 2023 and now looks like a top-5 reliever in the NL. He will be supported by a full season of Orion Kerkering, who is not only a contender for best name in the league, but also could be one of the best rookies in 2024. Gregory Soto, Matt Strahm, and Yunior Marte should also pitch significant innings, as the bullpen is another area of strength for Philadelphia.
2023 record: 71-91 (fifth place, 33 games behind)
Overview: For a short while in early September, the Nationals were actually ahead of the Mets. While that hilarious outcome was not sustained to end the year, it at least served as proof that Washington was probably ahead of schedule in its rebuild. Going 8-18 in September could mean that many of the team’s young players tired from the demands of a full season, or it could signify that the roster was playing well over its collective head during a 17-11 August.
As the team faces another tough year, management must decide how to evaluate the 2023 season and then go forward. There are clear building blocks for the next winning iteration of the franchise, but there are other youngsters that have failed to match their pedigree, and so this offseason will tell us a lot regarding Washington’s vision. Even as there is no pressure to field a winning squad in 2024, improvement is paramount in many areas of the roster.
Position player outlook: The current depth chart for the Nationals only projects four hitters to surpass 1 WAR in 2024: CJ Abrams, Luis Garcia, Keibert Ruiz, and Lane Thomas. That vision is certainly consistent with the eye test, as Washington has failed to develop a true offensive core since their Juan Soto–Anthony Rendon–Bryce Harper days. Abrams, who stole 47 bases but posted a .300 OBP, is probably a nice role player instead of a true star, while the likes of Garcia and Thomas would probably be backups in other NL contenders. Ruiz will be 25 on Opening Day and continues to develop as a catcher, but his defense is more advanced than his offense.
While Victor Robles is a free agent, he could be brought back and try to recapture some of his 2019 magic, making him an attractive trade option at the deadline. The same could be said for Joey Meneses, who is by far the oldest lineup regular. While Meneses could not produce at the same level as his breakout in 2022, he still drove in 89 runs to lead the team.
With plenty of filler to complete the lineup, the most intriguing storyline for 2024 in Washington will be the potential call-up of top prospects Dylan Crews and James Wood, who could signal better days for the franchise.
Starting rotation outlook: While the hope of top-hitting prospects around the corner provides excitement for the fanbase, the pitching portion of the roster has already been established as a cornerstone. Josiah Gray and MacKenzie Gore have gone through ups and downs, but they are both in their mid-twenties and still possess plenty of upside. They are the clear top options and will be given longer leashes to continue their development.
Patrick Corbin enjoyed a mini-resurgence for a while in 2023, though he ended on a rough note and has a contract almost impossible to trade, so he will remain a fixture. While the likes of Jake Irvin and Trevor Williams are penciled in to get plenty of starts, the front office could take a chance on a couple of veterans to mentor the youth and possibly turn them into trade fodder. The team would have nothing to lose by signing someone like Johnny Cueto or Corey Kluber, just to name a couple of inexpensive arms.
Bullpen outlook: The Nationals had one of the worst bullpens in baseball in 2023, and there is not a lot of optimism for next year. With the tandem of Hunter Harvey and Kyle Finnegan handling save opportunities, there is not much to write home about. As it stands today, Washington’s bullpen is full of replacement-level arms, as it is apparent that they will continue to send out several pitchers from their system and see if someone sticks. Even if they could solidify their bullpen in free agency, it will probably not be a priority until the team starts winning again.