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.
Since 2013, the NL West has followed a very predictable script: the Dodgers will be awesome and someone else will probably make the playoffs as a wild card. Discounting the Giants’ improbable 2021 division title, Los Angeles has been the class of the division every year since, and 2023 was yet another flexing of their muscles.
Having said that, the second part of the familiar script got flipped on its head. While it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the Padres would be Robin to LA’s Batman, it turned out that their +104 run differential was not enough to join the Dodgers in October. In their stead, the plucky Arizona Diamondbacks became America’s favorite underdog all the way to the World Series, where the ghost of Byung-Hyun Kim derailed their hopes from Game 1.
Even with the emergence of Arizona as a contender, the outlook for 2024 looks about the same. The Dodgers are primed to stay on top, the Padres, Dbacks, and Giants will try to keep up, while the Rockies are like your weird cousin who keeps getting invited to Thanksgiving dinner for some reason. In terms of free agency and possible trades, the NL West will probably be one of the busiest divisions in the game, as all teams need some sort of roster overhaul over the winter.
2023 record: 84-78 (second place, 16 games behind)
Overview: The 2021 Arizona Diamondbacks lost 110 games, which is only two fewer than the 2023 A’s, who many considered to be one of the worst baseball abominations of the century. The truth is that those Dbacks were dreadful, but at least held some of the foundational pieces that would lead the turnaround towards 2023. Zac Gallen, Ketel Marte, and Christian Walker are some examples of both sides of Arizona’s fate, as the team earned its second-ever World Series appearance.
Despite this quick reversal of fortune, it is also important to note that the Dbacks made the postseason despite a negative run differential, almost collapsed when they fell below .500 in early August and benefited from several other NL contenders fading down the stretch. In that way, thinking that they can just run it back and contend in 2024 would be misguided, to say the least.
With a dynamic outfield leading the way on offense and a solid rotation anchoring the staff, Arizona starts the offseason from a position of privilege, but there are a few areas that need to be strengthened. Historically, this franchise has only made the playoffs in consecutive seasons once in its existence, so the curse of complacency could come back and bite them if they sit on their proverbial hands.
Position player outlook: The free agent veterans probably leaving Arizona represent the kind of profiles the team will be seeking to round out the roster, as the mentorship and stability of Gurriel and Longoria were cited by several teams as difference-makers for a young team on the rise. The projections show that everyone on Arizona’s probable Opening Day lineup will be 30 on younger, except for late bloomer Walker, who should continue to be the team’s top power threat.
The up-the-middle combo of Gabriel Moreno, Marte, and Carroll is the best in the division and one of the best in the game, providing solid defense, speed, and offense. By virtue of this solid foundation, the Dbacks can again try to be creative, just like they were last offseason when they dealt from their surplus of outfielders to obtain Moreno. With Longoria likely leaving (or retiring), it would make sense to add another veteran bat to create a platoon with the still-raw Emmanuel Rivera. Re-signing Gurriel and his old-school batting style makes sense, since left field is not well covered in the current depth chart, while also having some depth at shortstop may also be prioritized, as Geraldo Perdomo is more glove than bat.
With Carroll becoming the first-ever Rookie of the Year for the franchise, and the rule changes favoring speed and defense, things are looking up for the Dbacks. At the same time, reinforcements are welcome.
Starting rotation outlook: For most of 2023, the Dbacks rotation outlook was basically Gallen and Kelly, and then it all turned to jelly. The early DFA of Madison Bumgarner was a sign of things to come, as Arizona’s rotation finished 21st in MLB with a 4.67 ERA, which sounds astonishing considering that Gallen finished at 3.47 and Kelly at 3.29. While the team gave plenty of fruitless starts to the likes of Ryne Nelson, Tommy Henry, and Zach Davies, it is pretty telling that they used openers several times in the postseason.
The biggest X factor for the Dbacks is the development of Brandon Pfaadt, who suddenly became a major force in October despite being demoted mid-season and finishing his first taste of MLB with a 5.72 ERA and 22 homers allowed over 96 innings. If the team trusts that Pfaadt’s pedigree and playoff heroics are a better indicator of his true talent, suddenly Arizona owns one of the best rotations in the NL, needing only to fill the 4-and-5 spots via free agency or with another challenge trade.
However, if the youngster turns back into a pumpkin or the Gallen/Kelly duo struggles to maintain their level after career-highs in innings pitched, it could all fall apart quickly. It makes sense for Arizona to add pitching insurance this offseason, even in the form of unexciting innings-eaters.
Bullpen outlook: The addition of Paul Sewald at the trade deadline was a major turning point for the team, even if Sewald is prone to high-wire acts as a closer (3.57 ERA and 13 saves despite a 1.47 WHIP). Adding him with more years of team control was a masterstroke for the franchise, who can now count on Sewald to handle the ninth in 2024. With Kevin Ginkel, who was a force in the playoffs, Arizona will enjoy a dynamic one-two punch to close out games, but they still need to improve the bullpen’s underbelly. The likes of Joe Mantiply, Scott McGough, and Miguel Castro are serviceable, but not true difference-makers for a team that is bound to play in many close games.
2023 record: 59-103 (last place, 41 games behind!)
Overview: Believe it or not, the Rockies lost 100 games for the first time in franchise history, and they even made the playoffs as recently as 2018. Since then, the team has fallen into a series of confounding roster decisions, overall mismanagement, and misery on the field. Even with the built-in excuses of playing at altitude and the challenges of developing pitchers, Colorado’s outlook for 2024 and the foreseeable future is bleak.
The roster is full of washed veterans and non-prospect youngsters, especially on the pitching side. Even as the team continues to draw well in Denver (over 32,000 fans per game, higher than even the champion Rangers), it is fair to wonder when the fan base will start becoming impatient with ownership. The biggest issue with the Rockies is that they have become not only bad but kind of soulless and boring, outside of the mandatory 13-11 games at Coors Field.
With 2024 firmly as another rebuilding year, will the team chase wins to keep fans appeased? or will they continue to bottom out and try to develop from within? This offseason may not generate many headlines in Denver, but the team has to commit to something.
Free agents: LHP Brent Suter
Position player outlook: After re-signing franchise icon Charlie Blackmon, Colorado’s offense has no notable free agents, which suggests that most of the offense will be coming back. That statement may be the most depressing part of everything, as the Rockies had a terrible offense in 2023 even without adjusting for their home park. Using raw numbers, Colorado was 20th in team OPS, 26th in homers, and 18th in runs per game.
The only bright spot in the lineup was and probably will be Nolan Jones, who was cast off in Cleveland and suddenly tapped into his prospect pedigree to produce a 138 OPS+ over 424 plate appearances. Unless Kris Bryant (who still has 5 years left on his mega contract) suddenly turns back the clock, Jones appears to be the only building block for this offense, as the drop-off from him to the likes of Brendan Rodgers and Ryan McMahon is steep.
With the lineup full of holes, especially in the infield, the Rockies need a true roster overhaul that cannot be completed in a single offseason. Bringing in a few veteran hitters to be more competitive is almost a given, especially as the farm system is not likely to be a short-term solution. The team’s top prospect, shortstop Adael Amador, is still a couple of years away, so on a park-adjusted basis, the Rockies are a serious candidate to have the worst offense in 2024.
Starting rotation outlook: With Antonio Senzatela and Germán Márquez out for the full season following Tommy John surgeries, there is no clear headliner for the rotation in 2024. Rockies lifer Kyle Freeland led all Colorado starters with a 100 ERA+, as all others were below league average. Ryan Feltner, who had a brief 10-start contribution in 2023, projects to be the team’s top starter, with the likes of Austin Gomber and Peter Lambert rounding out the rotation. With no notable free agent willing to give the Denver altitude a shot, it may be years until the Rockies develop solid pitching.
Bullpen outlook: Six different relievers earned at least one save for the Rockies last season, and having any kind of bullpen stability is probably a moot point for this team. The combo of Justin Lawrence and Tyler Kinley should handle the ninth inning for the few save opportunities next season, and the best-case scenario for the Rockies is either of them becoming a dominant closer to attract trade suitors.
2023 record: 100-62 (first place)
Overview: Un terms of notable free agents, the Dodgers may have the longest and most note-worthy laundry list in baseball. With several former All-Stars and impact veterans probably leaving the franchise, the front office is facing a true challenge to maintain their NL West supremacy.
This being the Dodgers, they will probably figure it out. Being the presumed destination for Shohei Ohtani is a good place to start, but LA has also been connected to most of the blue-chip free agents out there, especially from the pitching side of things. If that plan fails, the team could also choose to re-sign a few of their own departing veterans, promote from their never-ending prospect supply, or swing a trade or two to fortify the roster.
In any case, the Dodgers may be more aggressive than usual during this offseason. The deflating loss to the Dbacks in the NLDS showed many of the team’s holes, prompting an unacceptable loss for a franchise that measures its success on pennants, not on division titles. With the rest of the division in flux, the Dodgers need a couple of splashy moves to retain the status quo.
Free agents: UTIL Kiké Hernández, OF Jason Heyward, RHP Daniel Hudson, RHP Joe Kelly, LHP Clayton Kershaw, RHP Lance Lynn, OF Jake Marisnick, DH J.D. Martinez, RHP Shelby Miller, RHP Jimmy Nelson, OF David Peralta, RHP Alex Reyes, SS Amed Rosario, LHP Julio Urías, 2B Kolten Wong
Position player outlook: As Mookie Betts had another MVP-level season in 2023, with Freddie Freeman close behind, the Dodgers have arguably the best and most stable duo of stars in the league. Fangraphs sees no signs of them slowing down, projecting for a combined WAR above 10. The mere idea of Ohtani joining forces with them will produce shudders for the rest of the NL West, as DH is probably the biggest position of need for the roster. While JD Martinez’s 33-homer resurgence was a welcome surprise last season, adding the reigning AL MVP would put this offense in a different tax bracket.
In terms of current needs, most of 2023’s infield issues should be worked out by the expected return of Gavin Lux, who should spare Mookie from having to moonlight at shortstop and second base. The always-underrated trio of Will Smith, Max Muncy, and Chris Taylor will continue to anchor the lineup with their steady contributions, so there is not much to improve in the lineup as a whole.
Outside of the DH spot, the Dodgers are likely to shop around for one or two veteran outfielders and try to bestow their patented Dodger fountain of youth magic upon them. Even if they fail in that department, and even if Ohtani looks elsewhere to take his talents, offense should not be a problem for LA.
Starting rotation outlook: On the other side of the spectrum, the rotation is a huge question mark for the Dodgers. Seeing Clayton Kershaw on the free agent list may be a formality, as he is presumed to return to the team, even as he faces a lengthy absence in 2024. Adding the ouster of Julio Urías and the uncertainty of Walker Buehler following a lengthy absence has left LA with its thinnest rotation outlook in many seasons.
The depth chart currently shows Bobby Miller (11-4, 3.76 ERA) as the headliner, with other youngsters like Emmet Sheehan, Gavin Stone, and Ryan Pepiot continuing their development. While relying on them may be a good idea from a franchise standpoint, the variance of such a young rotation may be too much for a team with the highest aspirations.
Even as the Dodgers may have to curtail some spending if they land Ohtani, the rotation should be the priority if they wish to get over the hump and finally win a real title (as Corey Seager suggested).
Bullpen outlook: The Dodgers had the third-best bullpen in MLB in terms of ERA (3.42), achieving this despite being only tenth in strikeout rate. Manager Dave Roberts had one of his best seasons in terms of decision-making, usually using a mix-and-match approach in terms of matchups. This yielded a bullpen that had 11 pitchers earning at least one save, with Brusdar Graterol (1.20 ERA) and Evan Phillips (2.05 ERA) handling most of the high-leverage innings. A similar arrangement should serve the team well in 2024, though the front office could push for a brand-name closer if Phillips suffers from the regression bug.
2023 record: 82-80 (third place, 18 games behind)
Overview: Out of the six NL playoff teams in 2023, only two of them had better run differentials than the Padres. After assembling a super team and amassing the third-highest payroll in the sport, the Padres were supposed to be World Series or bust but instead suffered from some of the worst sequencing in recent memory. Terrible results in one-run and extra-inning games doomed the team, even as most of their stars posted solid numbers.
As news leaked out of the franchise taking out a sizable loan to cover payroll, it became evident that trimming some hefty salaries would be a priority. However, the early part of the offseason has become even more turbulent than that, starting with the departure of manager Bob Melvin and then followed by the untimely death of owner Peter Seidler. These developments have made the Padres one of the most intriguing teams during this winter.
The mere idea of trading Juan Soto makes sense from a financial standpoint but could represent losing San Diego’s best chance towards a deep playoff run. With several prominent players already on their way out, the Padres need to be very careful with their decisions, starting with their new manager.
Free agents: 1B Ji Man Choi, 1B Garrett Cooper, RHP Luis García, LHP Josh Hader, LHP Rich Hill, RHP Seth Lugo, RHP Nick Martinez, LHP Drew Pomeranz, OF Jurickson Profar, C Gary Sánchez, LHP Blake Snell, RHP Michael Wacha
Position player outlook: Even as the list of free agents for San Diego is impressive and full of recognizable names, their current core still gives them a great starting point. If they decide to keep Soto, having him surrounded by Manny Machado, Xander Bogaerts, and Fernando Tatis Jr. is almost a guarantee of several runs per game. Combining that with the natural positive regression this team should see in 2024 makes the Padres a natural contender.
At the same time, the stars-and-scrubs approach is always a risk to fail. In fact, none of the aforementioned stars were San Diego’s top player in 2023, as that honor belonged to Ha-Seong Kim. The second baseman should again be the balance between the top and bottom of the roster, but the most important development for the Padres would be if those at the lower part of the lineup take a step forward.
With Jake Cronenworth and Trent Grisham providing below-average batting lines last season, they could be natural candidates for platoons if they do not improve quickly. Regardless, the biggest factor that could reshuffle the offense is Soto’s departure. Even if the team gets major-league-ready talent in return, there is simply no way to replace the modern version of Ted Williams.
Starting rotation outlook: While there is a possibility of losing the team’s top bat, there is a near certainty that the Padres will not employ their best starter and reliever come 2024. San Diego’s current rotation has Joe Musgrove and Yu Darvish as the veterans who should lead the way, even as their health issues suggest that counting on 30+ starts from either of them is unlikely. With newly minted Cy Young winner Blake Snell (who closed the season allowing a 1.20 ERA over the last 4 months) probably triggering a bidding war, his days at Petco Park appear to be over.
While the team could give chances to the likes of Matt Waldron and Pedro Avila as starters, if the Padres fancy themselves as contenders, they should at least consider a couple of mid-level veterans who could be had by around $10 million per season. Expect San Diego to be linked to short-term deals, with pitchers like José Quintana, Carlos Carrasco, or Johnny Cueto being candidates for this type of deal.
Bullpen outlook: As Josh Hader is almost as good as gone, the bullpen will also need addressing as the new manager sets up the pecking order. While Robert Suarez appears to be the natural option to replace Hader in the ninth inning, other hurlers like Scott Barlow and Tom Cosgrove will also be in the picture. Even as the Padres fall to the middle class of the league in terms of bullpen quality, it is not a priority and the team is unlikely to chase any expensive free agent in this market.
2023 record: 79-83 (fourth place, 21 games behind)
Overview: Following an impressive 18-8 June, the Giants stood at 46-36 at the season’s midpoint, challenging the Dodgers for the top of the West and looking like a sure-fire wild card contender. It all went downhill from there, bottoming out with a 9-19 September that led to the ouster of manager Gake Kapler, just two years removed from a record 107-win season. Even if the move was unexpected, it at least signaled that the franchise is willing to do something in search of returning to prominence.
While the last offseason started with big intentions of signing Aaron Judge and/or Carlos Correa, the team settled for an approach based on depth and youth. Even as it worked for a while, the truth is that competing in a division with the Dodgers, Padres, and Dbacks requires at least a couple of star players. Logan Webb (#2 in Cy Young voting) appears to be in that stratosphere, and now the front office is ready to try to land a franchise-altering player again.
Early reports have tied the Giants to Ohtani and fellow Japanese star Yoshinobu Yamamoto, but also kicking the tires on Blake Snell, Cody Bellinger, and a slew of veterans who can complement the many youngsters the team graduated in 2023. With GM Farhan Zaidi starting to feel the pressure, this offseason will be crucial in San Francisco.
Position player outlook: The need for a true franchise bat is apparent on the current San Francisco depth chart, as no one is projected to produce even 3 WAR. Simultaneously, 9 position players have projections of at least 1 WAR, suggesting that the platoons and depth approach will remain in some form.
Patrick Bailey emerged as one of the best defensive catchers in baseball, but his bat still needs more reps to become a star. The same can be said for other young players who showed promise, such as Marco Luciano, Luis Matos, and Wade Meckler, all of whom the Giants consider to be potential everyday players. With the veteran presence of JD Davis and Wilmer Flores as part of the roster, San Francisco should focus on other complementary free agents that can add more speed and better defense.
The elephant in the room from a nostalgia standpoint is the free agency of Brandon Crawford, who serves as the last link of the glory days. He took a major step back with the stick in 2023, and even his defense was not the same as usual. While the team could bring Crawford back on a platoon/mentor role, retirement is not out of the question.
Starting rotation outlook: Logan Webb received a sizable extension mid-season and rewarded the franchise with a superb season, even as the team could not score a lot with him on the mound (11-13 record despite a 3.25 ERA). Having him as a bona fide ace adds a layer of stability that the team is used to having from a top pitcher, and now the challenge becomes surrounding him with more quality starters. Alex Cobb faded down the stretch and will start 2024 nursing an injury, and currently stands as the team’s number 2 option.
The biggest X-factor is young lefty Kyle Harrison, who showed flashes of dominance in his debut but still needs polishing and will probably be on an innings limit. The return of Anthony DeSclafani will also be relevant, but it is clear that adding a frontline pitcher is among the team’s top priorities.
Bullpen outlook: Camilo Doval is a mix of calmness and vertigo at closer, finishing 2023 with a 2.93 ERA and 39 saves despite at some point blowing 4 save opportunities in a row. It is important to remember that he will be 26 next year, so he is just entering his prime and should remain an elite closer. While new manager Bob Melvin will probably be more traditional in his bullpen usage, the combo of Taylor and Tyler Rogers over high-leverage innings should stay in place, while pitchers like Keaton Winn and Tristan Beck could become real weapons in relief should the rotation have more pieces come Opening Day.