I don’t blame you if you read the above headline and immediately wondered whether I’ve lost my mind: The Los Angeles Dodgers won 100 games, then went out and landed the top two free agents available as part of a billion-dollar spending spree. They’re prohibitive World Series favorites in the eyes of just about every oddsmaker out there. How they can possibly not sit atop everyone’s power rankings as teams open camp this week?
Well, allow me to run through some basic math. In a 162-game season, there are roughly 1,450 innings that need to be filled by a team’s pitching staff. We also know that teams would like to have a majority of those innings, at a minimum, come from their starting rotation — the league average last year was around 840. Of course, the Dodgers waltzed to an NL West crown in 2023 while getting only 801.2 frames from their starters, so let’s be generous and round down to 800 as the bar to clear. I still have a simple question, even after all those offseason moves: How on earth does Los Angeles plan to get there?
Let’s break it down, pitcher by pitcher
- New ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto has thrown between 171 and 200 innings in each of the past three seasons, but he’ll also have to adjust to an every-fifth-day schedule now that he’s stateside. Let’s put him somewhere in the 175 range, roughly where last year’s Japanese sensation, Kodai Senga, wound up.
- The 120 innings Tyler Glasnow threw last year were a career high; he’s only cracked 100 twice in an eight-year career. Even if he avoids major injury — and that’s a big if — pushing him much past 140 or 150 feels off the table.
- Similarly, Bobby Miller threw 138.2 innings between the Minors and Majors last season — also a career high. He’s still just 25, and he seemed to wear out in September and October, so it seems hard to believe that the Dodgers will want to push him much beyond that in 2024. (Ditto youngster Emmet Sheehan, who worked a career-high 123.1 innings in 2023.)
- Walker Buehler is coming off Tommy John surgery, and the team has already confirmed that he’ll start this season on the injured list. And when he does finally make it back to the rotation, the Dodgers will surely keep a tight leash on his workload — he likely won’t be able to go more than four or five innings per outing for a while.
- James Paxton just turned 35, and here are his last four workloads: 20.1 innings in 2020, 1.1 in 2021, zero in 2022 and 96 last year before a nagging knee injury finally shelved him for good.
- Clayton Kershaw and Dustin May are rehabbing from major surgeries and won’t be available until the second half, at the earliest.
- Ryan Yarbrough hasn’t thrown even 90 innings since 2021 and eclipsed the four-inning mark in an outing just once with the Dodgers last year. Michael Grove and Gavin Stone also figure to be in the mix, but both struggled mightily in 2023.
Add all that up, and you’re maybe getting to 800 innings even if everything breaks right and there are no major setbacks. Maybe Glasnow finally puts together a full season, Buehler rounds into form and Kershaw and May come back in a timely fashion. Maybe Glasnow (and Paxton) gets sidelined again, Buehler struggles in his first year back from Tommy John and Kershaw and May aren’t back until August or September, putting massive strain on a suddenly thin staff — strain that could wear them out by the time they get to the postseason.
None of this is to say that the Dodgers aren’t supremely talented, or that I’d be surprised if they won it all this year; far from it. It’s just to say that there are several other supremely talented teams around the league — one in particular, who we’ll get to in a moment — that may have fewer question marks and red flags on their rosters right now. Of course, even after explaining myself, you’re probably still thinking I’m crazy; what else are power rankings for? So without further ado, let’s get to the rest of the list.
MLB power rankings entering 2024 spring training
1. Atlanta Braves
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Braves have questions of their own, of course — can Max Fried, Charlie Morton and Chris Sale all stay healthy, and what does the depth behind them look like if they can’t? But I feel slightly better about those names as things currently stand than I do about the Dodgers’, and that’s not even mentioning the fact that Atlanta boasts the deeper and more dynamic lineup of the two. These teams belong in a tier of their own as things stand, and here’s hoping we get that long-awaited NLCS matchup in a few months’ time. At the moment, though, I’d give the Braves the slightest of edges.
Really, consider this more Tier 1A — World Series contenders in a season that didn’t involve multiple superteams. The bullpen was the one real area to target for Houston this offseason, and target it they did by landing Josh Hader — a move that vaults them to the top of the rest of the contenders here. Don’t sleep on the Orioles, though: Corbin Burnes is as steady as they come, and placing him atop a potential postseason rotation makes things feel much steadier for a Baltimore team ready to fire the rocket boosters after already winning 101 games a year ago.
The Yankees have been far more aggressive than the Phillies or Rangers this winter, but they also had far more holes to fill, and there are still age and injury concerns up and down this roster. I’m concerned about Texas’ lack of urgency in filling its pitching staff — if they don’t wind up bringing Jordan Montgomery back, things could get dicey in a hurry — but I’ll give that lineup the benefit of the doubt over a Philly squad that feels one piece short.
The gap between tiers two and three is wider than the gap between tiers one and two, but it wouldn’t shock me if any of these teams found themselves in the final four come October. Write off the Diamondbacks as a fluke if you want, but this team has tons of talent and has spent this offseason filling needs with smart, responsible moves. Brandon Pfaadt’s postseason surge and the addition of Eduardo Rodriguez make this rotation far more formidable, the bullpen should once again be a strength and this is a deeper lineup than you think with Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Joc Pederson in tow. The Rays should by all rights be lower than this, with so much of their rotation — Jeffrey Springs, Drew Rasmussen, Shane McClanahan — recovering from major surgery and Wander Franco’s status still very much up in the air. But do you want to bet against Kevin Cash and Co.?
After that we have four teams with plenty of intriguing names but offseasons that feel incomplete so far. The Mariners surround an MVP candidate in Julio Rodriguez with a loaded rotation, but can they manufacture enough on offense? The Jays have stars at the heart of the lineup and plenty of pitching, but no team felt more in need of a vibes adjustment after last season. The Twins have mostly spent the winter shedding talent salary amid ongoing TV deal uncertainty, but it’s hard to count out a team with Pablo Lopez, Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober in the rotation and Carlos Correa, Royce Lewis, Edouard Julien and Byron Buxton (for now) in the lineup. The Cubs, meanwhile, have probably the most variance in this tier — you could tell me they catch fire and win the NL Central going away, or you could tell me they’re a bat short and still haven’t done enough to fix their rotation.
Consider this the Wild Card zone: None of these teams offer enough cause for optimism to consider them divisional contenders, but they all should be at least around the mid-80s range needed to contend for a playoff spot. I wanted to put Cincy higher than this given their glut of fun young talent, but there are still a ton of question marks around this pitching staff — especially in that home stadium. You might assume that the Padres have pulled the ripcord after trading Juan Soto, but Fernando Tatis Jr., Xander Bogaerts, Manny Machado, Ha-Seong Kim, Joe Musgrove and Yu Darvish are all still around, and it’s hard to imagine that core not producing at least something around .500.
The Cardinals have added a bunch of pitching after a shockingly bad 2023 season, and the positional depth and versatility that made them preseason World Series contenders last spring is still around, but we’re far too close to “No. 2 starter Miles Mikolas” to consider them anything more than a Wild Card team at the moment. Boston and Milwaukee, meanwhile, are teams caught in the middle, unsure just how badly they’d like to win this year but with too much talent to far all that far without a real fire sale. (Though one could be coming for the Brewers depending on how their season starts.)
I’m skeptical as to just how competitive the Royals will be this season — as this ranking attests — but let’s take a moment to praise their offseason, one that featured multiple significant deals for respectable MLB starters (Seth Lugo, Michael Wacha) and a monster extension for new face of the franchise Bobby Witt Jr. They’re probably still a year or two away, but the outlines of the next competitive Kansas City squad is here if you squint hard enough. You could maybe say the same about the Pirates, given the raft of top prospects Pittsburgh is in the process of welcoming to the Majors, but 1) they’re missing a centerpiece like Witt Jr. and 2) it’s still an open question as to how many of those top prospects actually pan out.
In terms of long-term direction, you have to feel better about the Nationals than the Angels, who enter post-Ohtani life seemingly caught in between vying for respectability or tearing it all down and starting over. But they still have Mike Trout and some other pieces, and for that, they get nudged above the bottom. Washington still can’t develop pitching with any sort of consistency, but shortstop C.J. Abrams and catcher Keibert Ruiz look like keepers, while lefty MacKenzie Gore could be in line for a breakout year.
There are bad teams, and there are teams that are actively refusing to field a professional roster. It would be a disservice to the teams above them to include these three in Tier 6, so they get one of their own. (Feel free to deal Dylan Cease any time now, Chicago.)