While the NFL playoffs chug along and the NHL and NBA seasons are in full swing, baseball fans still have a little bit longer to wait until it’s our time in the spotlight. So, for the time being, what better way to pass the time than overanalyzing all the offseason free agent signings and trades? It certainly seems like the right thing to do. Only a few more weeks until pitchers and catchers report…
Last week, we looked at the top 5 fallers from the 2024 offseason. This time, we’re going to be a little more positive and take a look at the five teams who have improved the most over the past couple of months, whether it be via trades or free agency. Just like last week, these rankings are only going to take into account the on-the-field major league product and focus on the teams whose chances at a division title, playoff berth, or World Series title have improved the most as a result of those acquisitions.
Without further ado, here are the top 5 risers from this offseason!
How do you improve a team that won 104 games in 2023? Letting Alex Anthopoulos perform trade wizardry and ending up with Chris Sale and Jarred Kelenic seems like a pretty good answer. Both Sale and Kelenic are high-upside options that raise Atlanta’s ceiling without carrying too much inherent risk. Sale has had his fair share of injury concerns over the past several seasons, but when he’s on, he can be one of the most unhittable pitchers in the league. The reworking of his contract and extension through 2026 ensures the Braves will give Sale every chance to return to peak form. Sale slides in behind Spencer Strider and Max Fried to create what could be one of the best three-headed monsters we’ll see this season. Meanwhile, Kelenic hasn’t quite lived up to the lofty expectations set in his career thus far, but he showed flashes of brilliance early on in 2023 and is still only 24 years old. Perhaps he can learn a thing or two from the elite hitters in this lineup and reach his true potential. Depth-piece additions of David Fletcher and Aaron Bummer round out what has been a chaotic but productive offseason for the defending NL East champs, giving them a great chance to repeat as division winners as they try to make it back to the Fall Classic.
Props to the small-market Kansas City Royals, who have made a slew of creative free-agent signings and trades this offseason without needing to break the bank. In a weak AL Central division, it’s good to see the Royals make some aggressive moves to support young studs Bobby Witt Jr., Vinnie Pasquantino, and of course, Cole Ragans. The primary additions for Kansas City thus far are to the pitching staff, a much-needed investment for a team that ranked 27th in starter ERA and 29th in bullpen ERA in 2023. Veteran starters Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha provide low-cost improvements to the rotation that should pay immediate dividends, while the trade of Jackson Kowar to the Braves for Kyle Wright could pay off in the long term after Wright recovers from shoulder surgery. The offense does still need some improvement, as Hunter Renfroe is the only significant addition to the Royals’ offense thus far. But the most important acquisition? Relief pitcher Will Smith—who has been a member of the last three World Series champion teams. Might as well give Kansas City the trophy now.
The Arizona Diamondbacks shocked the baseball world in 2023 by making a Cinderella run to the World Series and have responded by making a couple of solid acquisitions this offseason to try and run it back in 2024. Eduardo Rodriguez was a match made in heaven for the D-Backs, who were in desperate need of a strong left-handed option behind Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly. The 30-year-old turned in one of his best seasons in 2023, posting a 3.30 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 134 ERA+. If Rodriguez can stay healthy and maintain a similar level of performance in 2024, he will be a fantastic option in the middle of the rotation. Additionally, Eugenio Suárez represents a big upgrade at 3rd base for Arizona, even if he is a bit of a strikeout machine, as he’s hit at least 21 home runs in every full season since 2016. The Diamondbacks also made a key move in-house by re-signing Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to a 3-year contract, retaining a key piece of the lineup and defense. Up next for Arizona? A reunion with old friend J.D. Martinez sure sounds like a lot of fun. Go get him, Mike Hazen.
In 2023, the Yankees uncharacteristically struggled offensively, as their team batting average of .227 was second worst in the league and they were also 25th in runs scored behind offensive powerhouses such as the Royals and Nationals. So, how do you fix this problem? Well, adding the best bat available in the trade market is a good place to start. Juan Soto is a massive get for a Yankees offense that struggled to get guys on base for much of the year and immediately adds a power-hitting lefty to the lineup to complement Aaron Judge. Even if Soto ends up being a year-long rental and leaving in free agency, Yankee fans will enjoy spending the 2024 season watching Soto draw a walk and Judge driving him in with a bomb (or vice versa). Beyond the Soto acquisition, the additions of outfielders Alex Verdugo and Trent Grisham give the Yankees more flexibility both offensively and defensively. On the pitching side of things, the Marcus Stroman signing feels underwhelming when you consider some of the other big free-agent names still out there, but at least it’s something. If Carlos Rodón can return to form, this can still be a very solid rotation led by Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole. The Yankees still have work to do, especially in terms of bolstering the pitching depth following the departure of Michael King and others in the Soto trade, but they’ve made significant enough improvements to take a big step forward this year after a disappointing 2023.
Was there ever any doubt? The Dodgers were a great team in 2023, winning 100 games and capturing their second straight NL West title, but the additions they’ve made this offseason have turned them into an absolute juggernaut and the strong favorites to win the World Series in 2024. Of course, the headliner here is Shohei Ohtani’s gargantuan 10-year, $700 million contract (and the controversial deferral that came with it). If you add the greatest player of this generation (even if you only get half of him this year), you automatically earn the #1 spot on this list. But that’s far from all the Dodgers have done this offseason—in addition to Ohtani, they landed the best international free agent in Yoshinobu Yamamoto and acquired one of the best pitchers on the trade market in Tyler Glasnow. With Walker Buehler also returning to action in 2024, the Dodgers now boast one of the best rotations in the league. The signing of Teoscar Hernández also boosts the outfield power for Los Angeles, making this one of the scariest lineups to face top-to-bottom. The Dodgers have gone all-in this offseason in their formation of a superteam and look poised to be perennial title contenders for the foreseeable future. Let’s see if they can cash in.
That concludes our list of the five teams who have improved the most during the offseason… so far, at least (please sign somewhere soon, Blake Snell and Cody Bellinger). With that taken care of, it’s time to find some other way to pass the time while we wait for the season to start. So, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go refresh Twitter and the MLB transactions page a few hundred times.
…how many days until pitchers and catchers report again?