The biggest domino of the offseason has officially fallen: Shohei Ohtani is a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, moving across town for the low, low price of $700 million. L.A. just landed arguably the most talented player in the history of the sport, and while they’ll have to wait at least a year to unleash him on the mound, they’ll immediately slot him into a lineup that already included two other former MVPs in Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman. A team that just won 100 games, adding the biggest free agent in league history? It’s no wonder the Dodgers are now the betting favorites to win it all in 2024 — and, surely, they have to be at the top of any respectable MLB power ranking, right?
In the words of a very wise man: not so fast, my friend. Sure, the top of the Dodgers lineup looks unbeatable with Betts, Freeman and Ohtani. But if Ohtani were really a championship cheat code, the Angels would have at least two or three rings by now. Baseball remains a team game, and there are still some significant reasons to be skeptical of L.A.’s ability to avoid another October collapse — at least as things currently stand. Of course, there remains a ton of offseason left, and a ton of big names still available. The Dodgers certainly aren’t done, and neither are the Yankees, Cubs, Braves or any other would-be contenders.
Still, with Ohtani signing, let’s take a look at the landscape of the league as it stands right now.
MLB power rankings post-Shohei Ohtani signing
1. Atlanta Braves
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
3. Houston Astros
Yes, signing Ohtani is a huge boon to the Dodgers’ chances in 2024. But, for my money, the deepest lineup in baseball still resides in Atlanta — Los Angeles has some holes to fill after the top five of Betts, Freeman, Ohtani, Will Smith and Max Muncy, while the Braves are loaded just about 1-9. Plus, while Atlanta has its own rotation questions to answer, their current starting pitching situation looks a lot better than the Dodgers’, with Clayton Kershaw still unsigned (and rehabbing from shoulder surgery that will cost him at least some of 2024), Walker Buehler a total unknown and Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May out for most if not all of the year.
Joining those two in the top tier of championship contenders is the Astros, who were a bizarre home-field losing streak away from getting back to the World Series with a great chance at winning back-to-back titles. Houston’s starting pitching situation figures to be a bit healthier this year — and getting October Cristian Javier to show up in the regular season would be a huge help — and this remains a monster offense. Plus, at this point, the Astros deserve the benefit of the doubt that they’ll be in the hunt when it matters most.
Even if they mostly run it back, there are already reasons to believe the Phillies would be better in 2024 than they were in 2023 — a full season from Bryce Harper, Trea Turner hitting all year instead of just the last two months and a full season of Ranger Suárez to name but a few. This remains a deep, balanced team, one that figures to be awfully motivated to wash the taste of last year’s NLCS out of their mouths and finally finish the job. They simply have the fewest holes of any team outside of the big three — even fewer than the Orioles, who despite winning 101 games still have plenty to prove this winter.
Like, for starters: Will GM Mike Elias and the Angelos family actually show an interest in spending some money? Recent signs point to no, and if that’s the case, all the prospect depth in the world won’t help them overcome what is right now a pretty middling pitching staff. Speaking of middling pitching staffs: The Rangers lineup is awfully exciting, especially with a full year of Evan Carter and the potential promotion of top prospect Wyatt Langford on tap, but this team needs reliable innings desperately. Given all the question marks above, you could make the case that the Yankees deserve to be a bit higher in this tier with Juan Soto in tow. But this team is still very vulnerable to injury, and there are still too many unknowns about how this rotation will look behind Gerrit Cole.
Four of the five teams in this tier are likely disappointed to be here, none more so than the Blue Jays — who, for a delirious few hours on Friday afternoon, looked as though they’d shocked the world and landed Ohtani. Alas, things soon fell apart, but now Toronto GM Ross Atkins has to try and pick up the pieces in a hurry as he tries to make the most of a very good rotation and an offense that has two more years of Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. All is certainly not lost here, especially if they’re able to pivot and nab Cody Bellinger, who would fit into that lineup like a glove.
The Rays remain the Rays; I’m sure they’ll find a way to game 90-plus wins in the regular season once again, because that’s what they do. But I have no idea who will be pitching for this team in 2024, with Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen and Jeffrey Springs recovering from major surgeries and Tyler Glasnow reportedly on the trading block. The cupboard isn’t bare, but it’s hard to feel too optimistic about the general trajectory here — especially without a ton of resources to upgrade things in the short term.
The Twins and Mariners are in similar situations, ostensible contenders whose ownership groups seem more set on getting payroll under control than on adding pieces to the roster. Minnesota figures to get more from Carlos Correa, Royce Lewis and Byron Buxton than they got last year, but they also have two pieces of their starting rotation to replace; Seattle, meanwhile, has a ton of pitching and a genuine star in Julio Rodriguez but just shipped off Eugenio Suarez and Jarred Kelenic for spare parts.
(While we’re here, good on Arizona for nabbing Eduardo Rodriguez, an ideal fit behind Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly on a pricey but not unreasonable $80 million deal. Do not write this team off as a fluke; they could be back next October.)
Call this the Variance Bunch: All of these teams could wind up in a different tiers by the end of this winter, in either direction. Even though they missed out on Ohtani, the Cubs seem primed for something big, and hopefully that something comes in the form of a Bellinger reunion and/or a rotation upgrade. The Reds are their own rotation upgrade (or two) away from making some serious noise in the wide-open NL Central, a division that also features a Cardinals team that could be much improved if it adds another arm and gets all of its many quality position players healthy and rolling at the same time.
The Brewers and Padres, on the other hand, could decide to pull the ripcord. With Brandon Woodruff gone and a dire-looking offense, Milwaukee is flirting with trading Corbin Burnes — a deal that would signal a rebuild, or at least a retooling, in Wisconsin. The Padres seem determined to try and stay competitive out west, even without its best hitter, and this team still does have enough talent to do it if A.J. Preller spends his Soto savings wisely. Still, if things don’t get off to a great start, expect San Diego’s patience to run out.
We’ve reached the very fringes of postseason contention, teams that haven’t given fans a ton of reason for excitement but could find their way to October nonetheless. The Marlins will be everyone’s favorite regression candidate after going 33-14 in one-run games last year (and losing GM Kim Ng after the season), and just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean it isn’t true. We’re still not sure if David Stearns really has his sights set on contending in his first year with the Mets or simply biding his time and seeing what he has, especially if he falls short in the Yoshinobu Yamamoto sweepstakes.
Speaking of Yamamoto: The Giants’ attention now turns to the 25-year-old after they once again whiffed on a superstar, this time Ohtani. San Francisco better hope they land the righty and/or Bellinger, because I just nodded off trying to come up with something to say about this team as currently constituted. I’m not too worried about the prospect of the Guardians dealing Shane Bieber; this team always finds a way to manufacture starting pitchers, and the cupboard is far from bare. But the whispers around Josh Naylor and Emmanuel Clase have me wondering when Cleveland’s ownership is going to get serious about winning, and the answer doesn’t seem to be 2024. At this point, they’re at risk of getting passed in the AL Central pecking order by the Tigers, who have budding young offensive stars in Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson and Kerry Carpenter and brought in Kenta Maeda to bolster a sneaky young rotation.
The final two tiers represent the teams who aren’t even really pretending to contend in 2024 (despite the Angels’ protestations to the contrary). The thing that differentiates these four from the three below them, however, is that there are at least some glimmers of hope — and reasons for fans to tune in. There’s a good, young foundation in Pittsburgh, especially with Oneil Cruz back from his unfortunate injury, and it needs support from a historically very cheap ownership group. The Nationals were frisky down the stretch last year and have more young talent in the pipeline, while Bobby Witt Jr. alone puts Kansas City on the radar even if they don’t land one of the many starters they’ve been linked to so far this winter.
The White Sox are at the start of a very long and very painful rebuild — with little to show for the last one — the Rockies continue to genuinely mystify me and the Athletics are more a real estate portfolio than a professional baseball team.