Baseball’s offseason got off to a fairly sleepy start, but things have kicked into overdrive over the past week or so — as two historic players found their way to arguably the two most recognizable brands in the sport. First, the New York Yankees swung a trade with the Padres but superstar outfielder Juan Soto. Then, after 24-48 hours of private jet tracking, sushi restaurant scooping and all sorts of other drama, Shohei Ohtani finally put the speculation around his free agency to bed by announcing a 10-year, $700 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Ohtani and Soto are two of the best players in the game, and they’re headed to new teams that feature plenty of elite talent themselves — Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman in L.A. and Aaron Judge in New York. But as we look ahead to a dynamite 2024 season, that begs the question: Just which team has the best 1-2 punch in baseball after these latest moves? Is it Ohtani and Betts? Judge and Soto? Or maybe none of the above if you happen to be a Braves, Astros or Rangers fan? Let’s dive in and pick a winner.
(NOTE: This is strictly considering the 2024 season, not beyond — meaning that, for the purposes of this debate, Ohtani is regarded as a DH only.)
Who has the best 1-2 punch in baseball?
5. Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, Houston Astros
They might be flying under the radar a bit, after Alvarez played just 114 games last season and Tucker suffered through a miserable postseason slump. But you could make the argument that these are two of the 10 best hitters in baseball right now — anchored by Alvarez, who’s still underappreciated despite slashing a ridiculous .300/.407/.599 over the last two years. He’s like a lefty Judge, only with even better plate skills, while Tucker is a true five-tool talent in his own right, a walking 30/30 season who also happens to be among the game’s better defensive right fielders. If we were measuring potential ceilings, this duo would almost certainly be higher. As it stands, we’ve yet to see them both put it all together at the same time for a full season, and the fact that neither of them play a premium defensive position — Alvarez is basically just a DH — bumps them a bit further down.
4. Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, Texas Rangers
Not many teams can claim to have two of the top three finishers in MVP voting on the same roster — let alone in their middle infield. Seager and Semien don’t have the sort of flashy power/speed ceilings of some other stars. But Seager is, like Alvarez, a unique combination of hitting ability and power, and he does it at one of the game’s most important positions. Semien is baseball’s iron man, probably the best bet around to appear in all 162 games of a given season while producing from atop Texas’ lineup. Seager’s tendency for at least one major IL stint a year hurts them here, though, as does the lack of truly outrageous upside that the three pairs above them offer.
3. Ronald Acuna Jr. and Matt Olson, Atlanta Braves
Now we start really splitting hairs. Acuna Jr. just finished polishing off one of the greatest offensive seasons the sport has ever seen, the first player to join the 40/70 club (even typing out the phrase “40/70 club” feels ridiculous). Olson has some of the most prodigious raw power around, paired with better plate skills than you’d expect. But the bar is really, really high here, and in the end, I couldn’t find a way to put them above our top two.
2. Aaron Judge and Juan Soto, New York Yankees
Let’s break this down into a single-player comparison. Acuna Jr. probably has the slight edge on Judge, especially given the latter’s significant injury concerns as he enters his age-32 season. (Acuna Jr. has also missed some significant time so far in his career, but in ways that don’t call into question his durability nearly as much as Judge’s health issues.) But the gap between those two doesn’t feel as wide as the gap between Soto and Olson (or, if you prefer, Austin Riley): Soto, like Olson, doesn’t provide much defensive value, but he’s a generational hitter just now entering his prime at age 25, and I have more faith in his underlying skills moving forward than I do Olson’s — who just hit .240/.325/.477 two seasons ago. If you want to look askance at Judge’s age and injury history and give the nod to the Braves, go right ahead. But Soto is enough to nudge them into the No. 2 spot.
1. Shohei Ohtani and Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers
Alas, it’s not enough to get them all the way to No. 1. Even with Ohtani relegated to DH-only duties in 2024 — if we were getting a full two-way season from him, this wouldn’t even be a contest — it’s hard to deny the star power here. Ohtani has a legitimate claim to the title of best hitter in baseball; he led the AL with 44 homers and led the Majors in OPS at 1.066 last season despite playing in just 135 games. (Oh, he also stole 20 bases for good measure.) With a full season to focus only on hitting, the sky feels like the limit — something like a 40/40 campaign is very much in play. And then there’s Betts, who not only gave Acuna Jr. a real run for his money at the plate last season but also offers near-unparalleled defensive versatility as an elite corner outfielder who can more than hold his own at second base (or even shortstop, if needed). Of all the players on this list, these are the two I’m surest will perform at an elite level, the best combination of floor and ceiling. Oh, and they’ll share a lineup with a whole other former MVP we haven’t even touched on here in Freddie Freeman. Did we mention the Dodgers will be pretty good next year?