Texas' Bruce Bochy Tom Fox - Pool/Getty Images

The 9 Storylines That Will Shape MLB in 2024

Kerry Miller

As we turn the calendar from 2023 to 2024, what will the next 12 months look like in the world of Major League Baseball?

On the immediate front, there's an unusual number of marquee free agents still available this deep into the offseason. We need the likes of Blake Snell and Cody Bellinger to finally choose a new home before we can really start to size up the postseason contenders.

But that's just one of the many major storylines we're already eying up for 2024.

Can the Rangers overcome what is already a long list of high-profile injuries to become the first repeat World Series champion since the 1998-2000 New York Yankees?

Speaking of the Yankees, is Juan Soto the missing piece the Yankees needed to finally make it back to a World Series? And will he sign a long-term deal in New York before reaching free agency?

Will anyone be able to stop the Dodgers as they assemble a super team?

And how much time are we going to spend hearing about television rights and relocation rumors in the new year?

In no particular order, these are the nine big MLB storylines that will define 2024.

A Do or Die Year for the Villainous Dodgers

Shohei Ohtani FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

Undeterred by how miserably things went for the New York Mets when they went all-in on winning a World Series in 2023, the Los Angeles Dodgers signed Shohei Ohtani for $700 million, signed Yoshinobu Yamamoto for $325 million, traded for and immediately extended Tyler Glasnow and have emerged as the clear favorite to win it all in 2024.

And they probably aren't done yet.

Because of how deferred Ohtani's contract is, they could still sign Josh Hader or Teoscar Hernández or trade for Corbin Burnes or Jesús Luzardo and still pay a luxury tax well below what the Mets owed this past season.

Will they actually win the World Series?

Who knows? Got to assume the Dodgers will lead the majors in regular-season wins, but October baseball is inherently somewhat random—as we've seen with the Dodgers on a pretty regular basis over the past decade.

One thing that is certain, though, is that fans of the other 29 franchises will be dancing on the Dodgers' grave if they do fail to win it all, which could make 2024 one of the most interesting (post)seasons in a long time.

Try as MLB might to improve its product with faster play and more stolen bases, what the sport has been missing in recent years was a good villain.

Sure, the Mets have been spending like crazy since Steve Cohen took over, but they haven't won a championship since 1986. Their 2023 downfall was amusing from afar, but there wasn't any sort of national desperation to see them fail, as was the case with the Yankees back when they were winning the World Series on a regular basis.

And, heck, even the Yankees have only won one title since 2000 (in 2009), so there's an entire generation of baseball fans at this point that doesn't even remember when they were the Evil Empire. Most were actually rooting for Aaron Judge to get to 62 home runs in 2022. Two decades ago, he would have been the most hated player in the sport for being so damn good in pinstripes.

But the Dodgers assembling a super team—while seeming to exploit a massive loophole with the Ohtani contract—is right up there in villainous sports lore with the 2010-14 Miami Heat or the birth of the NWO in the world of wrestling. It will be fascinating to watch it all unfold.

MLB's Regional Sports Network Broadcasting Mess

Former Padre Juan Soto Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

While the Los Angeles Dodgers are spending like there's no tomorrow, many MLB franchises have been afraid to spend anything in light of the uncertainty surrounding their TV deals with Regional Sports Networks.

The TL;DR version here is that Bally Sports—a subsidiary of Diamond Sports Group, which is owned by Sinclair—bought up the TV rights for 14 MLB franchises and then went bankrupt. It's unclear at this point if they'll be able to pay all of the teams to broadcast games in 2024, and it's wholly unclear where those games will be airing in 2025 and beyond.

In the end, it might be awesome for us, the viewers of baseball who are sick of needing at least four separate streaming services to be able to legally watch any game we want. Sure will be swell if we can get to a point where there aren't multiple games blacked out on MLB TV every single day.

But for now, it's a financial disaster for a huge chunk of the league, creating even more of a divide between the haves and have-nots.

Of particular note, the Texas Rangers just won a World Series, but they've been reluctant to strike any long-term deals with free agents in their quest to repeat, because there's $111 million from Bally Sports that may or may not actually be coming in 2024.

It's also why the Padres traded away Juan Soto while drastically trimming their payroll after getting dropped by Bally (as were the Arizona Diamondbacks) in the middle of last season.

Similar to everything that went down with the Oakland A's relocation plans in 2023, get ready to hear about this RSN stuff as a sort of ever-present background noise throughout the upcoming campaign.

So Many Free Agents Still Unsigned

Blake Snell Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Between the Regional Sports Networks uncertainties and the bidding wars for Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto sort of pausing all other major negotiations, we're heading into January with a startling number of free agents still on the board.

At the start of the offseason, our Joel Reuter put together a comprehensive ranking of the top 100 free agents available this winter. More than half of those players still have not signed, including Blake Snell, Cody Bellinger, Josh Hader, Jordan Montgomery and Matt Chapman, who each ranked in Reuter's top eight.

Last offseason, there were a handful of stragglers who waited until after the new year to sign their new contracts, including Michael Wacha, Aroldis Chapman and that whole monthlong Carlos Correa saga. By Jan. 1, 2023, though, we had a pretty good idea what Opening Day rosters were going to look like.

But right now, there is so much still up in the air.

Take the Cubs, for example. They have yet to sign a single free agent and don't much look like a World Series contender in their current state. It's currently a toss-up between the Cubs (+185) and Cardinals (+190) to win the NL Central. But Chicago has been linked to basically every marquee name still available and will presumably reel in at least two or three nice-sized fish over the course of the next few weeks.

The Yankees also haven't signed anyone, but they did make several noteworthy trades. Surely they are looking to add at least one more starting pitcher to assert themselves as the favorites to win the American League.

Long story short, a mostly uneventful December (aside from Ohtani and Yamamoto, of course) should at least pay off in the form of an entertaining January.

Can the Injury-Riddled World Series Champions Tread Water for the First Few Months?

Max Scherzer Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images

We already knew the Texas Rangers were going to be without Jacob deGrom for most (if not all) of the 2024 campaign. The $185 million ace underwent the second Tommy John surgery of his career on June 12, which would optimistically put him back on an MLB mound right around the trade deadline.

The lone splash the Rangers have made thus far this offseason was signing Tyler Mahle to a two-year deal on Dec. 14, but he underwent Tommy John surgery three weeks before deGrom (May 22) and presumably won't be pitching for them at least until the All-Star break.

One day after the Mahle signing was announced, we found out that Max Scherzer underwent surgery to treat a herniated disc and will be sidelined until June or July.

The reigning World Series champs do still have Nathan Eovaldi, Jon Gray, Andrew Heaney and Dane Dunning, not to mention Jack Leiter and Owen White as talented prospects who could get a few MLB auditions until the first of those injured aces returns. They also retained all eight players who led the team in plate appearances in 2023, plus September/October breakout star Evan Carter, so the offense should be pretty darn good once again.

But between those three injured starters and the bullpen that still needs some work even after adding Kirby Yates, might the Rangers already be in too deep of a hole by the time Scherzer, deGrom and Mahle are back in the mix?

Both the Astros and the Mariners should be very good once again in 2024, and the AL East is going to be loaded. Kind of have to assume that aside from the AL Central, it's going to again take at least 89 wins to make the postseason. We shall see if the back of the rotation for the first half of the year is able to help get them there.

The Pinstripes Chapter of Juan Soto's MLB Legacy

Juan Soto Orlando Ramirez/Getty Images

First off, it's hard to believe that Juan Soto just turned 25 like two months ago, isn't it?

Between his role in Washington winning the 2019 World Series, his four top-10 finishes for NL MVP, his Home Run Derby heroics, the pair of blockbuster trades and the constant questions of when, where and for how much/long he'll eventually sign his mega contract, it feels like Soto has been a staple on the MLB landscape for at least a decade. But Childish Bambino is still a year away from hitting free agency for the first time in his career.

After the second of those two blockbuster trades, he'll be playing that season alongside Aaron Judge with the New York Yankees.

As a refresher of the one big thing that happened during the Winter Meetings, the Padres sent Soto and Trent Grisham to the Bronx Bombers for Michael King, Drew Thorpe, Randy Vásquez, Jhony Brito and Kyle Higashioka.

After giving up as much as they did to acquire the OBP aficionado—and after having to spend way more to re-sign Judge after letting him play out his contract year in 2022—you have to believe the Yankees are doing everything they can to sign Soto to a long-term extension before he can hit the open market.

If they do extend him, it's a massive story. He won't get $700 million, but he might eclipse Mike Trout's 12-year, $426.5 million deal for what would be the second-largest contract in MLB history.

If they don't extend him, it's still a massive story. He'll be to 2024 what Shohei Ohtani was to 2023, with constant speculation of where he'll land—or if his current team should trade him if the first four months don't go according to plan.

Also, if Aaron Boone still can't get to the World Series with Soto joining the fray, this has to finally be his last year at the helm, right?

More Relocation Drama?

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Athletics' move from Oakland to Las Vegas was unanimously approved by Major League Baseball in mid-November, meaning it's now just a matter of "when" not "if" that relocation will take place.

They'll still be playing their home games at the dilapidated Coliseum in 2024, but they could be in a temporary home by 2025—with San Francisco's Oracle Park as one of the possible options—and presumably fully situated in Las Vegas no later than 2028.

Will there be more talk of relocation throughout the 2024 campaign, though?

The Winter Meetings were held in Nashville this year, which has been the ever-present candidate for an MLB franchise, either by relocation or expansion.

At various points last season, the White Sox, Orioles, Rays and surely at least one other team that I'm forgetting were all reported as candidates for Nashville. Tampa Bay has since announced plans for a new stadium to replace the Trop, so it is presumably staying put. But will some other team take its place as a possible mover?

Between the aforementioned RSN woes and the continually inflating player salaries, it seems like most of the owners of the small-market franchises are at least willing to consider a relocation.

Some of them will do so simply as a ploy to try to get their current city to fund a new stadium, but it could remain a thing we end up talking/hearing about all season long.

One More ALCS for the Houston Astros?

Houston's Jose Altuve Ron Jenkins/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Houston Astros already hold the record for consecutive years reaching at least the ALCS, doing so in each of the past seven Octobers.

But could they get there one more time, matching the 1991-99 Atlanta Braves' MLB record of eight straight appearances in the semifinals of the postseason?

In what sure looks like the final year of the nucleus of that dynasty with both José Altuve and Alex Bregman slated for free agency next winter?

That isn't to say it's 'now or never' for Houston, which reasonably could still be a contender in 2025 and beyond.

There's been talk this offseason of potentially trading Framber Valdez, but they have all of Valdez, Justin Verlander, Lance McCullers Jr., Cristian Javier, Hunter Brown, Luis Garcia and José Urquidy signed through at least 2025, as well as Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker, Chas McCormick, José Abreu and frankly everyone except for Altuve and Bregman.

All the same, this feels like the end of an era; one last ride with the two infielders who have been the co-faces of the franchise since this run began.

And with what is now arguably the worst farm system among the 30 franchises, after this season, it's probably time to start planning for the future (read: trading expiring MLB assets for legitimate prospects) before they wind up in the same abyss they fell into from 2009-14.

They can, should and will be all-in on chasing one more title in 2024, though, and it will be fascinating if it results in another ALCS showdown with either the Rangers or the Yankees.

Who Will Be This Year's Mets, Rangers and Diamondbacks?

New York's Francisco Lindor Adam Hunger/Getty Images

There's always one team that drastically improves from one year to the next, like the Texas Rangers did from 2022 to 2023. That team doesn't necessarily always win the World Series, of course, but they did improve from a 68-win mess to a 90-win success. Similarly, and more drastically, the Baltimore Orioles went from 52 wins in 2021 to 83 victories in 2022.

There's also always an equal but opposite reaction, like the New York Mets going from a 101-win World Series contender to a 75-win laughingstock, or the depressing development in the Bay Area the previous year, when both Oakland and San Francisco suffered 26 more losses in 2022 than they did in 2021.

And then in the postseason, it's almost expected at this point that a surprise team will make a run to the World Series. Arizona did so as the NL's No. 6 seed last year. Philadelphia did it as the No. 6 seed in 2022. And despite suffering more regular-season losses than any other team that made the playoffs in 2021, Atlanta won the World Series.

This begs the question: Who fills those roles in 2024?

The 20-plus win improvement figures to be the St. Louis Cardinals. They hadn't suffered 85 losses in a season since 1999, but they went 71-91, tying the Washington Nationals for the second-worst record in the NL. But they've signed three veteran starting pitchers to hopefully address what plagued them throughout 2023.

On the "drastic decline" front, it should be a two-horse race between the Milwaukee Brewers (92-70) and the Miami Marlins (84-78), with Baltimore (101-61) and Tampa Bay (99-63) perhaps also candidates after winning so many games in 2023.

The Brewers are somewhat embracing a rebuild, trading away Mark Canha, Tyrone Taylor and Adrian Houser, non-tendering Brandon Woodruff and Rowdy Tellez and entering 2024 with two of the biggest names theoretically on the trade block in Corbin Burnes and Willy Adames. The Brewers have won at least 86 games in each of the past six 162-game seasons, but they could bottom out in a big way.

The Marlins over-achieved to an absurd degree, reaching the postseason in spite of a negative-57 run differential. Now, their ace, Sandy Alcantara, is out for the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Their top slugger, Jorge Soler, declined his player option and remains a free agent. And there's been chatter that they could trade away starting pitcher Jesús Luzardo. They could go straight from 84 wins to 100+ losses.

And on the "fewer than 90 wins but reaches the World Series" front, well, ask us again in 10 months. But maybe this is the year the AL Central champ at least makes it back to the ALCS for what would be the first time since 2016.

What Happens with the Three Longest-Tenured Players in the Majors?

Los Angeles' Clayton Kershaw Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

There are only three active players who have been with the same franchise dating back to at least 2010: Joey Votto (Reds since 2007), Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers since 2008) and Stephen Strasburg (Nationals since 2010).

But will any of them appear in a game for those franchises in 2024?

Strasburg is the only one of the three still under contract, though the "active" part is questionable, at best. He still has not officially retired, despite reports of a planned retirement ceremony which controversially surfaced late last season. No one realistically expects him to pitch in 2024, but maybe he'll shock us?

Votto is the one most likely to play for a new franchise this season, though even he doesn't seem to have any clue which franchise that will be:

The Reds are practically drowning in infielders and are unlikely to re-sign him. But if the demand for his services is really that low, maybe he decides to return to Cincinnati as the left-handed half of a DH platoon, and at a hometown discount of $4-$5 million.

The real wild card of the trio is Kershaw, who is recovering from shoulder surgery and isn't expected to be available until some time in the summer.

If he were to sign during the offseason, you got to believe a reunion with the Dodgers is the most likely outcome. But he could wait until the middle of the season and sign with the highest bidder once he's healthy. That would make for a fun little summertime, trade-deadline wrinkle that we haven't seen since the tail end of Roger Clemens' career.

   

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