MLB 2024 season preview: Rankings, every team's playoff odds

Happy MLB Opening Week, baseball fans!

After a wild offseason, one thing is clear heading into the new season: Everyone is chasing the two superteams that stand alone in the top tier of our initial 2024 rankings.

Whether your team is good enough to go toe-to-toe with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves or you are starting the season with hopes your squad can provide this year's most surprising success story, we've got everything you need to get ready as all 30 teams take the field for Opening Day on Thursday, March 28.

We asked our baseball experts to rank every team from 1 to 30 going into the new season for our first MLB Power Rankings of the year, and ESPN MLB writers Jorge Castillo, Bradford Doolittle, Alden Gonzalez and David Schoenfield teamed up to provide a rundown of what the season could bring, along with Doolittle's win-loss projections and playoff odds for all 30 teams.

Tier 1: The super two

1. Atlanta Braves

Projected record: 105-57 (99% playoff odds | 28.4% World Series odds)

What has changed most since we saw them last? The Braves tried snatching Aaron Nola from the rival Phillies early in the offseason, but when that didn't work they turned to other options to improve their rotation. They landed on signing Reynaldo Lopez and then trading for Chris Sale. The Braves are banking on Sale returning to his previous form after the deal with the Red Sox. The price? Vaughn Grissom, a promising young talent who didn't have a spot in the Braves' loaded lineup. Other than that, the Braves bolstered their bullpen and took a flier on former top prospect Jarred Kelenic. The Braves' outlook hasn't changed; they are primed for another division title. But will their October fortunes change? -- Castillo

Most likely 2024 award winner: Spencer Strider is the leading candidate among NL Cy Young hopefuls, and by a healthy margin. It's not hard to understand the enthusiasm. After leading the NL last year with 20 wins and 281 strikeouts while finishing fourth in the Cy Young balloting, Strider has added a new curveball to his already-lethal repertoire and looked more dominant than ever during spring training. With the powerful Atlanta offense behind him, Strider might well win 20 again while he makes a run at 300 whiffs. -- Doolittle

How they can rule the sport: The last time we really saw the dominant version of Chris Sale was in fall 2018. Sale's hellacious slider darted toward the shoetops of then-Dodger Manny Machado, prompting an ugly swing that solidified the Red Sox as World Series champions. The ensuing five years, Sale has battled injury and aging while in search of his Cy Young-caliber form. If he can tap back into that -- or, to be realistic, something close to it -- the Braves could be the sport's best team. We know their lineup is absurd and their bullpen will be good, and we know Strider and Max Fried will anchor the top of the rotation. Sale could be a game-changer if he's right. -- Gonzalez

One (realistic) bold prediction: Ronald Acuna Jr. won't steal 73 bases again -- the knee scare he had in spring training will cause him to cut down on his attempts -- but he will go 45/45, win the batting title and top a 1.000 OPS for the second straight season. And that means he'll become the first back-to-back MVP winner in the NL since Albert Pujols in 2009. -- Schoenfield

2. Los Angeles Dodgers

Projected record: 104-58 (99% playoff odds | 26.5% World Series odds)

What has changed most since we saw them last? It's not often that a team coming off a 100-win season and a 10th division title in 11 years makes the biggest splashes (plural) the following offseason. But this wasn't your typical situation. The Dodgers, fresh off a stunning early postseason exit for the second straight year, had planned on pursuing Shohei Ohtani for years, and, on their third attempt, they finally got him. The splurging didn't stop there thanks to Ohtani's shockingly club-friendly deal. With that, the Dodgers gave Yoshinobu Yamamoto the richest contract for a pitcher in history. They traded for Tyler Glasnow -- and signed him to a five-year, $135 million extension. They signed Teoscar Hernandez and Kiké Hernández to one-year deals. Oh, and the Dodgers still employ Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman and Will Smith and Max Muncy. Plenty has changed since October, but expectations haven't. -- Castillo

Most likely 2024 award winner: Strange as it is to say about a team with three perennial MVP candidates like Betts, Freeman and Ohtani, not to mention a three-time Cy Young winner in Clayton Kershaw, but a rookie is their most likely honoree. In fact, Yamamoto may well be the most likely candidate of any player in baseball to win a major postseason award. The betting markets peg Yamamoto with a better than 1-in-3 shot of becoming the next NL Rookie of the Year. Is he *really* a rookie? Yes. Should he be considered a rookie? Expect plenty of commentary around that question this summer about the $325 million debutant. -- Doolittle

How they can rule the sport: By doing the thing that has famously eluded them (outside of the COVID-shortened season): win the whole freakin' thing. There were business interests tied to the Dodgers' offseason splurge, sure, but the biggest motivation was winning titles. Yes, plural. And you need more than 40-man-roster depth to do it -- you need stars, the type who can transcend the randomness of small sample sizes in October. The Dodgers' brass has often talked about its desire to make this the greatest era in franchise history. It's a lofty goal, one that, they'll acknowledge, can't be reached without securing multiple championships. It's time to start. -- Gonzalez

One (realistic) bold prediction: By the end of the season, the Dodgers have changed three-quarters of their Opening Day infield. Betts has moved back to second base, the team acquires Willy Adames from the Brewers to play shortstop and Isaac Paredes from the Rays to replace Muncy at third base. -- Schoenfield

Tier 2: The biggest threats

3. Houston Astros

Projected record: 97-65 (92% playoff odds | 12.4% World Series odds)

What has changed most since we saw them last? Did the Astros need to sign the best closer on the free agent market to contend for a World Series spot? The answer is no. They already boasted Ryan Pressly and Bryan Abreu at the back end of their bullpen. But having Josh Hader slinging fastballs in the ninth inning -- with Pressley and Abreu partnering as setup men -- should shorten games for Houston. That is significant for a club that is so unsure about its rotation that it reportedly pursued Blake Snell two weekends before Opening Day. -- Castillo

Most likely 2024 award winner: Here are the AL pitchers who have accumulated more bWAR over the past two seasons than Framber Valdez: Shohei Ohtani (now in NL), Gerrit Cole (out for a couple of months), Dylan Case (now NL), Sonny Gray (now NL), Shane McClanahan (out for season) and Justin Verlander (starting season on IL). You can toss Baltimore's Corbin Burnes into the Cy Young mix as well as a new junior circuit member. Still, after Framber's two seasons with just shy of 400 innings and a 128 ERA+, the Cy Young doors are swinging wide open for him as the season dawns. -- Doolittle

How they can join the top two: The Astros' starting pitching depth eroded enough this spring that they reportedly considered a late run at Snell, an indication that -- regardless of how menacing their lineup is and how potent their bullpen looks -- there's frailty in their rotation. If Verlander (shoulder discomfort) and Jose Urquidy (forearm strain) are healthy enough to join Valdez, Cristian Javier and Hunter Brown relatively soon, the Astros will once again be an absolute force. If not, their remarkable run of seven consecutive trips to the American League Championship Series will be in serious jeopardy. -- Gonzalez

One (realistic) bold prediction: Only five position players have had at least 5.0 bWAR each of the past three seasons, and Kyle Tucker is one of them. This year, Tucker adds to that with his best season yet by posting a career-high 6.8 WAR, going 30/30 for the first time and improving upon last year's fifth-place finish in AL MVP voting. -- Schoenfield

4. Baltimore Orioles

Projected record: 87-75 (60% playoff odds | 3.3% World Series odds)

What has changed most since we saw them last? Adding a front-line starter was the Orioles' clear top offseason priority. They pulled it off by acquiring Corbin Burnes, a former Cy Young Award winner, with just one year of control remaining. The move became all the more important when Kyle Bradish was ruled out for the start of the season with a UCL sprain. Burnes will start Opening Day. The question is when will Jackson Holliday be behind him? The sport's No. 1 prospect made a push to be on the roster with a strong spring, but will start the season in the minors. -- Castillo

Most likely 2024 award winner: As baseball's consensus top prospect, Holliday is among the favorites to win AL Rookie of the Year. Top prospect status doesn't always dovetail with immediate awards recognition, but it sure did last year when Baltimore's Gunnar Henderson and Arizona's Corbin Carroll took the prizes. If Holliday pulls it off, it would mark the first time the Browns/Orioles have won the award in back-to-back seasons. -- Doolittle

How they can join the top two: The Orioles' young nucleus of position players makes them enthralling, but it's starting pitching that can ultimately make them dominant. And if Bradish's sprained UCL prevents him from contributing this season, others will have to step up. Burnes will need to pitch like the ace he is, but Grayson Rodriguez will have to take the next step in his development, Cole Irvin will have to translate his revamped arsenal into a successful season -- and Orioles general manager Mike Elias will have to use his wealth of young talent to add another top-of-the-rotation starter. The strength of this division demands it. -- Gonzalez

One (realistic) bold prediction: Henderson raises his average 30 points to .285, hits 35 home runs, adds value on the bases and in the field -- and becomes the first Orioles MVP winner since Cal Ripken in 1991 while also following Ripken's path in winning Rookie of the Year and then MVP as a sophomore. -- Schoenfield

5. Philadelphia Phillies

Projected record: 88-74 (68% playoff odds | 2.2% World Series odds)

What has changed most since we saw them last? The story here is that the Phillies didn't change much. Philadelphia's two most expensive offseason moves kept its co-aces around for the long term: Aaron Nola signed a seven-year contract, and Zack Wheeler was handed a three-year contract extension. The Phillies tried luring Yoshinobu Yamamoto, but that didn't work out, which led to Wheeler getting his $126 million. Nola and Wheeler, combined with a veteran-laden lineup, have helped lead the Phillies to a World Series and one game shy of another World Series over the past two years. The only notable addition was signing Whit Merrifield to a one-year deal. If it ain't broke, spend some money to keep it together. -- Castillo

Most likely 2024 award winner: It's hard to discern how preseason manager of the year odds are established, but Rob Thomson is given around an 11% shot at the NL honor, making him -- and not one of the team's superstar players -- the most likely award contender on the Phils. If nothing else, it shows just how much credibility the baseball lifer has built up since moving to the top step of Philly's dugout. What would such a season look like? Overtaking the heavily favored Braves in the NL East would almost certainly be involved. -- Doolittle

How they can join the top two: We know the Phillies will mash, and we know, with as much certainty as one can have about starting pitching these days, that Wheeler and Nola are going to anchor the rotation. The key, though, will lie in the effectiveness of the starters behind them. Ranger Suarez, Taijuan Walker and Cristopher Sanchez combined for a 4.08 ERA in 397 innings last year. If they can find a way to be even better, the Phillies might actually give the Braves a run for the top of the division. -- Gonzalez

One (realistic) bold prediction: With his new extension in hand, Wheeler becomes the first Phillies pitcher to win 20 games since Roy Halladay in 2010 (and just the third in the divisional era, as Steve Carlton is the only other). Wheeler also leads the NL in ERA and innings pitched and beats out Spencer Strider for Cy Young honors. -- Schoenfield

6. Texas Rangers

Projected record: 87-75 (54% playoff odds | 2.0% World Series odds)

What has changed most since we saw them last? The Rangers rode an explosive offense and a deep starting rotation to the championship in October. That offense should be even better with rookies Evan Carter and Wyatt Langford joining Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and Adolis Garcia. But the starting rotation is in rough shape. Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom and Tyler Mahle are not expected to return until the second half, and Jordan Montgomery remains a free agent. The Rangers will rely on Nathan Eovaldi, Jon Gray, Andrew Heaney, Dane Dunning and late signing Michael Lorenzen to stay in the division race until the reinforcements arrive. -- Castillo

Most likely 2024 award winner: A Rangers rookie outfielder. With Jackson Holliday set to start the season in the minors, the two AL Rookie of the Year favorites are Rangers: Carter and Langford. Together, their probabilities translate into nearly a break-even chance that a Texas outfielder will win the award. Chances are, the Rangers will be fine with a neck-and-neck race because that means both phenoms are doing their thing. -- Doolittle

How they can join the top two: The Rangers' injured list to begin the season will be headlined by deGrom and Scherzer, two bona fide aces who will make a combined $83.3 million this season. The Rangers' hopes of becoming the first repeat champions since the 2000 Yankees will rest squarely on their two right arms. At their best, deGrom (returning from another major elbow surgery) and Scherzer (recovering from a herniated disk) would make up the best rotation duo in the sport. But Scherzer is 39, and deGrom, who is now 35, has made only 17 starts over the past two years. Neither will be full-go until the second half. The Rangers will have to make it work until then. -- Gonzalez

One (realistic) bold prediction: Picking Langford to win Rookie of the Year isn't that bold, so let's go bolder: He hits 35 home runs, leads the AL in RBIs, makes the All-Star team and finishes in the top 10 of MVP voting -- as the Rangers win the AL West. -- Schoenfield

7. New York Yankees

Projected record: 91-71 (76% playoff odds | 7.1% World Series odds)

What has changed most since we saw them last? The answer here would've been easy three weeks ago. Acquiring Juan Soto, and hitting him in front of Aaron Judge, shifts the league landscape. It was a bold move that exemplifies the win-now pressure that has mounted in the Bronx. But then Gerrit Cole's elbow started barking. Cole avoided the worst-case scenario -- he doesn't need Tommy John surgery -- but the Yankees will be without their bona fide ace for at least the first month of the season. That means the pressure is on Carlos Rodon and Nestor Cortes, the new Opening Day starter, to quickly rebound from forgettable 2023 campaigns to keep the Yankees from falling behind in a competitive AL East. -- Castillo

Most likely 2024 award winner: Let's see. We have a 25-year-old outfielder with a career 157 OPS+ entering a platform season, his first in a home park that is a haven for lefty power hitters, and every exploit will be covered extensively in MLB's largest media market. This has a chance to be the Summer of Juan in the Bronx, one that could land Soto his first MVP award as a first-timer in the AL. -- Doolittle

How they can join the top two: It's really simple: Cole needs to be OK enough to pitch as close to a full season as possible. Is there a path to the Yankees being good without him? Sure. Their lineup is filled with stars; their bullpen features a bevy of big arms; and their rotation is made up mostly of household names. But can the Yankees elevate to one of the sport's best teams without the game's best pitcher? Not really. Not when you consider the questions surrounding fellow starters Rodon and Cortes, or the depth they traded away for Soto. It's not what Yankees fans want to hear, but the health of Cole's elbow will probably define their season. -- Gonzalez

One (realistic) bold prediction: Rodon bounces back from his injury-plagued 2023 and finishes in the top five of the AL Cy Young voting -- and starts Game 1 of the ALDS ... after the Yankees win the AL East to bypass the wild-card series. -- Schoenfield

8. Tampa Bay Rays

Projected record: 87-75 (54% playoff odds | 2.5% World Series odds)

What has changed most since we saw them last? The Rays always seem to find ways to excel in run prevention. Whether it's riding a nasty bullpen, deploying openers or relying on standard starters, they punch above their payroll in that department. The 2024 season will be a test. Tyler Glasnow was traded. Shane McClanahan, Jeffrey Springs and Drew Rasmussen are out with arm injuries. Zach Eflin, coming off a career season, will lead a projected rotation that combined for 71 starts last season. Ryan Pepiot, acquired from the Dodgers in the trade for Glasnow, is a promising option the Rays could turn into their next front-line guy. -- Castillo

Most likely 2024 award winner: Since the Rays' best pitchers often get hurt and their position-player production tends to get watered down by the club's micro-focused approach to matchups, Rays manager Kevin Cash is almost a default pick. That's especially true this time around since Junior Caminero, a prime AL Rookie of the Year candidate, was farmed out last week to finish off his development. Which is a shame for the Triple-A pitchers he's about to abuse. -- Doolittle

How they can join the top two: We've spent a long time dreaming on the potential of a fully healthy Rays rotation, only to be let down repeatedly. So, let's try again! Shane Baz (Tommy John surgery in September 2022) is on track to rejoin the rotation in May or June. Springs (Tommy John surgery in April 2023) could do the same in July or August. Rasmussen (internal bracing procedure in July 2023) could follow in August or September. And there seems to be a slight chance McClanahan (Tommy John surgery in August 2023) could contribute before the end of the year. Yeah, it's a lot. Getting meaningful contributions from just one of those guys would be huge, though. -- Gonzalez

One (realistic) bold prediction: After Zack Littell was claimed on waivers from the Red Sox last May, injuries in the rotation gave him a chance to start for the Rays, and now he'll be in the rotation for 2024. Rays Pitching Magic© kicks in even more this season as Littell wins 15 games with a 3.42 ERA and makes the All-Star Game. -- Schoenfield

9. Arizona Diamondbacks

Projected record: 84-78 (51% playoff odds | 1.1% World Series odds)

What has changed most since we saw them last? The Diamondbacks aren't a feel-good underdog story anymore. Five months after their stunning World Series run, they're expected to compete for a spot in the postseason and another chance to win the title. The Dodgers, of course, are the favorites in the NL West. The Giants and the Padres should both be good. But the Diamondbacks have two young stars in Corbin Carroll and Gabriel Moreno. They employ two rotation stalwarts in Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly. They added to the core by signing Eduardo Rodriguez, Eugenio Suarez and Joc Pederson. Expectations, above all, have changed the most. -- Castillo

Most likely 2024 award winner: After two straight top-five NL Cy Young finishes, Gallen is more than capable of getting over the top in 2024. He's been remarkably consistent in terms of workload, strikeout and walk rates. If he can match his 2023 volume (210 innings) with something like his 2022 good fortune (.237 BABIP, 2.1% homer rate) that's one epic campaign, one that would likely make him Arizona's first Cy Young winner since Brandon Webb (2006). -- Doolittle

How they can join the top two: D-backs general manager Mike Hazen did a nice job augmenting a group that surprised all of baseball by reaching the World Series last fall, but the upside potential lies with a handful of young players who have another step to take in their respective developments. They are: Alek Thomas, Brandon Pfaadt and Geraldo Perdomo (or Jordan Lawlar, if he graduates to the major leagues on a full-time basis this season). Carroll, 23, and Moreno, 24, are already stars. If the others emerge, too, the D-backs will be a force once again. -- Gonzalez

One (realistic) bold prediction: Carroll matches Maury Wills' 1962 season for the best baserunning season ever at plus-19 runs (Carroll was plus-12 last season, according to the baserunning metric at Baseball-Reference.com, which combines stolen base value and advancement on the bases). He does this in part by stealing 68 bases while getting caught just six times. -- Schoenfield

Tier 3: The could-be contenders

10. Seattle Mariners

Projected record: 86-76 (51% playoff odds | 2.1% World Series odds)

What has changed most since we saw them last? A whole lot, but not much at the same time. Jerry Dipoto, working within tight financial constraints, managed to have another busy offseason by making moves along the margins without adding payroll. In: Jorge Polanco, Tom Murphy, Mitch Garver, Gregory Santos, Mitch Haniger, Luis Urias, Ryne Stanek, Austin Voth, Seby Zavala. Out: Teoscar Hernández, Eugenio Suárez, Jarred Kelenic, Evan White, Marco Gonzalez, Robbie Ray, Justin Topa. The maneuvering won't matter if Seattle's talented starting rotation doesn't perform to its potential and if Julio Rodriguez doesn't pick up where he left off to end last season. --Castillo

Most likely 2024 award winner: Logan Gilbert, Luis Castillo and George Kirby all are among the top 10 highest probabilities among AL Cy Young candidates. No other team in baseball has a trio with those collective chances. Castillo is tops among them and ranks with the AL favorites, but no matter who emerges, the Mariners have a robust rotation big three entering the season. -- Doolittle

How they can become true contenders: The Mariners' front office -- given a smaller budget than they hoped -- set out to remake the lineup this offseason by cutting excess strikeouts and implementing a more contact-heavy approach. Gone are Teoscar Hernandez, Eugenio Suarez and Jarred Kelenic; in are Jorge Polanco, Mitch Garver and, for a second time, Mitch Haniger. The success of the latter three will go a long way toward determining whether the Mariners finally take the next step in their ascension. But what they need more than anything else, perhaps, is a bounce-back season from Ty France, whose OPS has dropped 110 points in two years. -- Gonzalez

One (realistic) bold prediction: Kirby is a popular sleeper-type Cy Young pick, and we'll predict a top-three finish for him in that department. Here's an even bolder prediction though: He wins 20 games, joining Jamie Moyer (who did it twice) and Randy Johnson as the only Mariners to do that (poor Felix Hernandez, with his lack of run support, topped out at 19 wins). -- Schoenfield

11. Toronto Blue Jays

Projected record: 87-75 (55% playoff odds | 2.3% World Series odds)

What has changed most since we saw them last? For one day in early December, much of the baseball world thought the franchise's direction was about to change. Remember that? When Shohei Ohtani was supposedly on a flight to Toronto ready to take his talents to The North? Well, he wasn't, and the Blue Jays were left to pivot after Ohtani spurned them for the Dodgers. Instead of landing a generational two-way talent in his prime, the Blue Jays added 39-year-old Justin Turner, utilityman Isiah Kiner-Falefa (and his .660 career OPS), DH specialist Daniel Vogelbach, and Cuban right-hander Yariel Rodriguez, who has never appeared in a game that matters in the United States. So, in summary, not much has changed for Toronto. They need Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to return to his previous MVP form, Bo Bichette to continue tormenting pitching, and the starting rotation to thrive. -- Castillo

Most likely 2024 award winner: The oddsmakers like Kevin Gausman after he finished third in the 2023 AL Cy Young balloting. But playing a hunch, let's go with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Coming off of two straight solid-but-not-spectacular seasons, it's time for Vlady to rediscover the stroke that led to his epic 48-homer, 123-run, 167-OPS+ 2021 season, one that landed him second in the MVP balloting. He was 22 back then, and that's just too darn young to be his career campaign. -- Doolittle

How they can become true contenders: A lot of the focus -- rightfully so -- has been on Guerrero returning to MVP form, but there are three key members of that lineup who also need to bounce back. Daulton Varsho OPS'd just .674 last season after being acquired in the trade that sent catcher Gabriel Moreno to the D-backs. Alejandro Kirk, one of the Blue Jays catchers who made Moreno expendable in the first place, went from slashing .285/.372/.415 in 2022 to .250/.334/.358 in 2023. And then there's George Springer, the 34-year-old leadoff hitter whose adjusted OPS put him just two percentage points above league average last year. They all need to be better. -- Gonzalez

One (realistic) bold prediction: After leading the AL in hits in 2021 and 2022, Bo Bichette does it for the third time. He also wins his first batting title with a .323 average and cracks 50 doubles to join Carlos Delgado and John Olerud as the only Blue Jays with 50 doubles in a season. -- Schoenfield

12. Minnesota Twins

Projected record: 89-73 (76% playoff odds | 4.2% World Series odds)

What has changed most since we saw them last? The Twins, on paper, are not as good as last season, largely because they lost Cy Young runner-up Sonny Gray to free agency and didn't replace him with another front-line starter. Rotation addition Anthony DeSclafani has made just 23 starts over the last two years. They said they would cut payroll, and they weren't lying. What hasn't changed is that the AL Central isn't very good, and Minnesota is projected to win it. -- Castillo

Most likely 2024 award winner: Pablo Lopez was everything the Twins could have hoped for during his first season in Minnesota. He's become one of the rare starters you can pencil in for 190 to 200 innings. If he gets a little lucky with balls in play and on deep fly balls, we're talking a sub-3.00 ERA, upward of 240 strikeouts and, if most things go right, 15-18 wins. In 2024, that's a Cy Young résumé. -- Doolittle

How they can become true contenders: Royce Lewis reminded us all why he was the No. 1 pick in the 2017 MLB draft with a magical late-season surge that propelled the Twins to their first playoff-round victory in 21 years. Carlos Correa, though, slashed just .230/.312/.399 while bothered by plantar fasciitis. And Byron Buxton had just five at-bats after the start of August. The Twins' chances of emerging as legitimate contenders will rest squarely on the shoulders of those three players. If they're all healthy, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said, "the possibilities are almost endless." -- Gonzalez

One (realistic) bold prediction: Edouard Julien hits 30 home runs with a .400 OBP -- becoming just the third Twins player in history to reach both those marks, joining Harmon Killebrew (who did it four times) and Bob Allison. In fact, only two second baseman have done it: Rogers Hornsby (who did it three times) and Jeff Kent. -- Schoenfield

13. San Diego Padres

Projected record: 81-81 (32% playoff odds | 0.5% World Series odds)

What has changed most since we saw them last? A year after winning the offseason, reversed from their high-spending ways. Juan Soto is arguably the best hitter in the world. Trading him means the Padres' offense won't be as good. But Soto wasn't San Diego's only loss. Blake Snell, Josh Hader, Nick Martinez, Seth Lugo, Drew Pomeranz, and Trent Grishman are among the others. The 2024 Padres are less talented than the 2023 version, even after their recent addition of Dylan Cease. But they still might do something last season's team didn't: Reach the postseason. -- Castillo

Most likely 2024 award winner: Mike Shildt, the 2019 NL Manager of the Year, has a lot to work with in building a candidacy in 2024. He has a talented team in the Padres, first and foremost. But that team grossly underachieved in 2023 and then proceeded to cut payroll. Nevertheless, Shildt still has plenty to win with, and if he can get the Pads into a wild-card slot, that might be enough for a second go-round in the MOY winner's circle. -- Doolittle

How they can become true contenders: The Padres' five franchise cornerstones (Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr., Xander Bogaerts, Joe Musgrove and Yu Darvish) combined for 16.8 FanGraphs wins above replacement last season. That's pretty good, but they're each capable of more. And with Soto, Snell, Hader and others gone, they'll need to produce. More needs to happen, of course. Cease needs to pitch more like the 2022 version of himself, Jake Cronenworth needs to bounce back, Michael King needs to take the next step in his development, and Jackson Merrill needs to prove himself as a big league regular, but nothing is more important than the Padres' five stars acting like it. -- Gonzalez

One (realistic) bold prediction: Michael King will be the Padres' best starter. After finishing 2023 with nine excellent starts in the Yankees' rotation, King jumps from 104 innings to 165 in 2024 and finishes with a 2.98 ERA while recording a top-10 lowest OPS among NL starters. -- Schoenfield

14. Chicago Cubs

Projected record: 84-78 (49% playoff odds | 0.7% World Series odds)

What has changed most since we saw them last? The Cubs surpassed expectations only to fall just short of the postseason. This year, they're favorites to win the NL Central. They're counting on an influx of top prospects to help out. The Cubs boast the best farm system in the National League, and 11 of the organization's top prospects, according to ESPN's Kiley McDaniel, could realistically make their debuts in 2024. That list is topped by Pete Crow-Armstrong, who was the favorite to open the season as the Cubs' starting center fielder until they re-signed Cody Bellinger last month. Crow-Armstrong will make his way to Chicago at some point this season. He won't be alone. -- Castillo

Most likely 2024 award winner: Four times Craig Counsell has finished second in NL Manager of the Year voting. He's never won. His reputation could hardly be more sparkling and in the managing game, reputation matters. That's how you become the highest-paid field general in history. So if the Cubs break out as NL Central champs and it doesn't feel like a default win because of a bad division, Counsell is going to end his MOY drought. -- Doolittle

How they can become true contenders: Justin Steele emerged in his age-27 season last year, going 16-5 with a 3.06 ERA to finish fifth in National League Cy Young voting. Behind him there are questions -- about Shota Imanaga's transition from Japan, how Jordan Wicks performs in his first full season in the major leagues, how Jameson Taillon bounces back and whether hyped pitching prospect Cade Horton emerges. The Cubs will have a solid offense and a good defense. If the rotation steps up, they'll run away from a crowded NL Central. -- Gonzalez

One (realistic) bold prediction: Seiya Suzuki put it all together in the second half of his second season with the Cubs, hitting .313/.372/.566. Let's say he comes close to that over an entire season: .300/.370/.540 with 30 home runs. -- Schoenfield

15. San Francisco Giants

Projected record: 83-79 (40% playoff odds | 0.6% World Series odds)

What has changed most since we saw them last? San Francisco needed an infusion of talent. They used the entire offseason, and most of spring training, to complete a significant one. The Giants tried signing Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto. That didn't happen, giving credence to the idea that the club can't land premier free agents. Signing Jung Hoo Lee to a six-year $113 million contract -- an overpay in some observers' eyes -- plus Jorge Soler and Jordan Hicks didn't change the club's expected fortunes much. But getting Matt Chapman and Blake Snell during spring training altered the expectations surrounding San Francisco. Add Robbie Ray's expected summer return and the Giants are legitimate postseason contenders. -- Castillo

Most likely 2024 award winner: The somewhat beleaguered Farhan Zaidi had himself a strong hot stove season. Despite that narrative dominated by the Giants whiffing on elite free agents, he managed to ink Snell, Lee, Chapman, Soler and Hicks. He nabbed Nick Ahmed on a minor league deal. His trade for Ray could pay off big later in the season. Zaidi also plucked Bob Melvin from division rival San Diego to replace Gabe Kapler in the dugout. If the Giants bust out, Zaidi is going to be a leading contender for Executive of the Year. -- Doolittle

How they can become true contenders: The Giants received 729⅓ innings from their starting rotation last year, dead last in the majors. Only two pitchers went more than 150 innings: Logan Webb and Alex Cobb, who underwent hip surgery in October. That will have to change. Adding Snell will certainly help matters, even though he also isn't known for going deep in games. But Hicks' transition to the rotation and Ray's emergence in the second half will be critical here. Just as important: Kyle Harrison's development in his age-22 season. -- Gonzalez

One (realistic) bold prediction: The Giants gave Lee a six-year, $113 million contract as a free agent from South Korea, betting his contact skills and ability to hit for average will translate to the majors. They will: He hits .301 with a .360 OBP and becomes the first Giants player since Hunter Pence in 2014 to score 100 runs. -- Schoenfield

16. Cincinnati Reds

Projected record: 80-82 (31% playoff odds | 0.6% World Series odds

What has changed most since we saw them last? For 17 years, Joey Votto was Reds baseball. The future Hall of Famer won an MVP, made six All-Star teams and became a beloved athlete in Cincinnati -- and beyond. But the Reds have flipped the page, going all-in on a promising youth movement while Votto tries to make an impact on his hometown Blue Jays. It'll be strange not seeing Votto in a Reds uniform. But if Elly De La Cruz, Matt McLain, Hunter Greene, Andrew Abbott and the rest of a deep young core put the Reds back on a winning track, the fan base will move on just fine. -- Castillo

Most likely 2024 award winner: The odds like Reds skipper David Bell as a Manager of the Year candidate, second only to Chicago's Craig Counsell. But let's dream a little and point to the immense potential of Elly De La Cruz. Yeah, it's unlikely. He's only 22 and has less than 100 MLB games under his belt. He swings at everything and misses a lot of the time. In the field, despite De La Cruz's athleticism, his metrics have been negative because you never know where he's going to chuck the ball. But let's say he pulls it all together. We're talking 30 homers, 40 steals, highlight reel defense. It's probably too soon for this conversation, but the potential is there for something really special. -- Doolittle

How they can become true contenders: We know all about the head-turning crop of young position-player talent, but it'd be really nice if Cincinnati could get something similar on the starting pitching front to complement Greene. We're talking about Nick Lodolo and Andrew Abbott in the major leagues, and Connor Phillips, Rhett Lowder and Chase Petty in the minors. Phillips (54th), Lowder (65th) and Petty (70th) all cracked Kiley McDaniel's Top 100 at the start of the year. At least one of them should graduate to the majors this season. -- Gonzalez

One (realistic) bold prediction: We'd love to proclaim a breakout season for De La Cruz ... but instead we'll call one for Hunter Greene, who finally stays healthy, makes 30 starts, strikes out 200 batters and posts a 3.50 ERA, giving him the highest WAR for a Reds pitcher under the age of 25 since Edinson Volquez's 4.8 at age 24 in 2008. -- Schoenfield

17. St. Louis Cardinals

Projected record: 85-77 (56% playoff odds | 1.6% World Series odds)

What has changed most since we saw them last? The Cardinals did not waste time addressing their most pressing need over the offseason: starting pitching. They quickly signed veterans Kyle Gibson and Lance Lynn to one-year deals in November before giving Sonny Gray a three-year, $75 million deal a week later. They ended the offseason by signing Brandon Crawford -- another 30-something-year-old -- to be a backup infielder. The Cardinals filled their biggest need. Time will tell if they got better. -- Castillo

Most likely 2024 award winner: The Cardinals have some interesting rookies like Masyn Winn and Victor Scott II. They have a recent MVP in Paul Goldschmidt. They signed last year's AL Cy Young winner, Gray. The oddsmakers actually give manager Oliver Marmol the team's best probability, likely because if St. Louis snaps back to form, he'll get a lot of the credit. But let's go with Nolan Arenado for MVP. He's never won it, making him one of the best active players without an MVP trophy. He's got a lot to prove after having his Gold Glove streak snapped. Arenado turns 33 soon and this may be his last, best chance to an MVP run. -- Doolittle

How they can become true contenders: The Cardinals' vaunted development pipeline has stalled, forcing the front office to plug several rotation holes from the outside this offseason. If Gray, Gibson and Lynn, signed for a combined $99 million, can step up, the Cardinals might challenge for the NL Central. If not, it will be another grueling summer in St. Louis. Cardinals starters finished last season with a 5.08 ERA. Only the Royals, Reds, A's and Rockies were worse. -- Gonzalez

One (realistic) bold prediction: Nolan Gorman cracks 40 home runs and Jordan Walker hits 30 -- but the Cardinals still miss the playoffs with 80 wins, recording their first back-to-back losing seasons since 1994-95.-- Schoenfield

Tier 4: We're saying there's a chance

18. New York Mets

Projected record: 79-83 (24% playoff odds | 0.3% World Series odds)

What has changed most since we saw them last? David Stearns tinkered with the roster in his first offseason leading the Mets' front office, signing nine free agents to one-year contracts, highlighted by the addition of J.D. Martinez just a week before Opening Day. Sean Manaea received a two-year deal -- with an opt-out after this season -- as part of the Mets' mini rotation overhaul. Starters Luis Severino (one-year deal) and Adrian Houser (trade) were also added to the mix. But the most significant change will be deploying Edwin Diaz for the ninth inning again. The All-Star closer is back after missing last season with a knee injury that launched a disappointing season in Queens. -- Castillo

Most likely 2024 award winner: Carlos Mendoza is a little under the radar but first-time managers have a built-in leg up in manager of the year consideration. That's mostly because they are invariably taking over disappointing teams. The Mets didn't make any major splashes during the winter, instead opting to build up roster depth. You can win that way if the manager leverages the depth in the right way. So if the Mets exceed their middling expectations, Mendoza could become the real king of Queens. -- Doolittle

How they can become 2024's big surprise: In a year's time, the Mets have gone from a popular World Series pick to a team that needs a lot to go right just to stay in a playoff race. Diaz and Jose Quintana need to stay healthy. Severino, Manaea, Starling Marte, Jeff McNeil and Harrison Bader need to bounce back. Martinez needs to keep mashing at age 36. Francisco Alvarez and Brett Baty need to take the next step in their development. Just as important: Kodai Senga, who is nursing a strain in his shoulder capsule, needs to make meaningful contributions. This is very much a transition year for the Mets. Those aforementioned players need to keep it from getting ugly. -- Gonzalez

One (realistic) bold prediction: With Pete Alonso on his way to a third straight 40-homer season but the Mets playing under .500 at the trade deadline and the first baseman heading into free agency after the season, the Mets deal him to the Mariners for some prospects -- and then look to re-sign him in the offseason. -- Schoenfield

19. Boston Red Sox

Projected record: 79-83 (21% playoff odds | 0.4% World Series odds)

What has changed most since we saw them last? What was supposed to be a "full-throttle" offseason was a whimper of a winter. The Red Sox again cut payroll -- about $20 million -- and emerged from the offseason with a roster arguably worse than the one that finished 78-84 in 2023. They traded Chris Sale for Vaughn Grissom and replaced Sale with Lucas Giolito, who is out for the season with an elbow injury. They watched James Paxton, Adam Duvall and Justin Turner leave in free agency. They traded Alex Verdugo to the Yankees. Their biggest free agent signings were Tyler O'Neill and Liam Hendriks, who won't pitch until around the trade deadline. The offseason further angered a fan base still reeling from the Mookie Betts trade four years ago. Apathy could be next in Boston. -- Castillo

Most likely 2024 award winner: Rafael Devers' plate discipline numbers have inched gradually forward throughout his career. Last season he became more of a take-and-rake pull hitter, but one who retained enough aggression to keep his strikeout rate well above average for a legit power hitter. The 2024 season will be Devers' age-27 campaign and, good as he's been, it doesn't feel like we've seen his career season. If 2024 is it, his numbers will be MVP-esque. He has yet to finish in the top 10 in the annual balloting, so he has a lot of voters to win over. -- Doolittle

How they can become 2024's big surprise: The Red Sox have abstained from big signings in recent years, much to their fans' chagrin. Their success in 2024, then, will be largely defined by the development of their young players. Triston Casas (24 years old), Grissom (23) and Ceddanne Rafaela (23) could play a major role in bolstering the offense this season. Yeah, the Red Sox still have to get something from their starting rotation and must navigate the monster that is the American League East, but they have to take it one small step at a time right now. -- Gonzalez

One (realistic) bold prediction: Casas picks up where he left off over the final three-plus months last season. While he doesn't post a 1.000 OPS like he did in the second half, he does go over .900 with 35 home runs and starts the All-Star Game. Now here's the really bold part: He leads the Red Sox to a wild-card spot. -- Schoenfield

20. Cleveland Guardians

Projected record: 80-82 (29% playoff odds | 0.5% World Series odds)

What has changed most since we saw them last? It's more of the same for the Guardians, an organization that pumps out quality starting pitching every year but didn't make any prominent offseason moves. Cleveland's success will ride on a talented rotation that is expected to feature Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie, Tanner Bibee, Logan Allen and Carlos Carrasco to start the season. Offensively, the lineup could use more punch in the outfield, but there's promise with Jose Ramirez, the sport's most overlooked star, as the engine. Standing pat coming off a 76-win season usually isn't enough to win a division. But this is the AL Central. The Guardians are a contender. -- Castillo

Most likely 2024 award winner: The Guardians don't have any preseason awards front-runners, but it doesn't take much imagination to picture someone from Cleveland taking any of the major honors. Jose Ramirez is the obvious pick. He's been on the perimeter of AL MVP consideration since 2017. Working against Ramirez is that, at 31, it's hard to imagine the kind of production spike that would steal the spotlight. But Ramirez does so many things well you can't count him out, especially if he posts an upper-end (for him) season in the context of a team breakout. -- Doolittle

How they can become 2024's big surprise: The Guardians are still really good at developing starting pitchers. What they don't have, once again, is much punch in their lineup. The Guardians finished last season with a .397 slugging percentage, fifth-lowest in the majors. They accumulated only 166 home runs from 2022 to 2023, less than every team except the Tigers. It's hard to compete in this era without the benefit of the home run. Because the front office didn't do much of anything to address that this offseason, the likes of Jose Ramirez, Josh Naylor and Bo Naylor will carry a heavy burden. -- Gonzalez

One (realistic) bold prediction: The Naylor brothers combine for 51 home runs -- 27 from Josh and 24 from Bo. That puts them in the top 15 all time for brothers in a season (the Giambi brothers hold the record with 61 in 2002). -- Schoenfield

21. Milwaukee Brewers

Projected record: 79-83 (25% playoff odds | 0.3% World Series odds)

What has changed most since we saw them last? The star power in Milwaukee will be dimmer on Opening Day. Craig Counsell bolted to a rival for the most money ever given to a manager. 2021 Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes was shipped to Baltimore. All-Star closer Devin Williams will miss the season's first three months with a back injury. Expectations, consequently, have fallen in Wisconsin. But the Brewers expect to continue competing in the NL Central. Having Jackson Chourio, one of baseball's top prospects, star as a rookie would help. -- Castillo

Most likely 2024 award winner: In recent years, you've had your pick of the major categories. There was Craig Counsell (manager), Christian Yelich (MVP) and Brandon Woodruff or Corbin Burnes (Cy Young). But 2024 is a season of change in Milwaukee. In a strange way that makes new manager Pat Murphy, who has the rare opportunity of replacing his own protege in Counsell, a viable candidate. If Murphy wins as much as Counsell did with what looks like more of a transitional roster, he'll get support. -- Doolittle

How they can become 2024's big surprise: If the Brewers are going to overcome a diluted roster and make a run in what remains a wide-open NL Central, they'll need some unexpected star-level performances. Chourio, the toolsy center fielder who is ESPN's No. 2 overall prospect, and Joey Ortiz, the young high-floor shortstop acquired in the Burnes trade, have the best chance of providing that. That alone wouldn't be enough to win a division, but it would set Milwaukee up to be truly competitive again as early as 2025. -- Gonzalez

One (realistic) bold prediction: The Brewers win the NL Central. That's it. That's our bold pick. Nobody is picking them. The Cubs are the popular choice, the cool kids are going with the Reds, the Cardinals have their believers. Let's go with the Brewers, taking a tight four-team race with 86 wins. And don't sleep on Joey Ortiz, who will outperform Jackson Chourio as the best rookie in the lineup. -- Schoenfield

22. Detroit Tigers

Projected record: 78-84 (19% playoff odds | 0.2% World Series odds)

What has changed most since we saw them last? The Tigers won't have Miguel Cabrera on their roster for the first time since 2007 after the future Hall of Famer retired following last season. Now it's about the Tigers' youth movement. Tarik Skubal, Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson, Colt Keith, and Parker Meadows are among the next wave. The Tigers added several veterans to the mix including pitchers Kenta Maeda and Jack Flaherty, but the focus remains on the future. -- Castillo

Most likely 2024 award winner: Let's say that the AL rookie race has a big three in Jackson Holliday, Evan Carter and Wyatt Langford. A strong No. 4 might be Colt Keith, who should be Detroit's everyday second baseman from the get-go in 2024 after signing a long-term extension in January. The kid can hit and has the ability to light up all three columns of the slash categories. The Rookie of the Year race is often a product of talent plus opportunity. That bodes well for Keith, even as the competition for rookie honors in both leagues figures to be fierce in 2024. -- Doolittle

How they can become 2024's big surprise: Yes, it's all about the future in Detroit. But if they really want to be a surprise, then the veterans need to augment them with bounce-back performances. We're talking about Flaherty (4.84 ERA the past two years), Maeda (4.44 ERA since nearly winning the Cy Young in 2020), Mark Canha (108 OPS+ last season), Gio Urshela (coming off a broken pelvis) and, of course, Javier Baez, who signed a six-year, $140 million contract in November 2021 and proceeded to slash .230/.273/.361 over the next two years. -- Gonzalez

One (realistic) bold prediction: With Gerrit Cole missing the start of the season, the AL Cy Young race is wide open. How about Skubal? Just doubling his stats from last season makes him a strong contender: 30 starts, 2.80 ERA, 200-plus strikeouts, .199 batting average, 14 wins. He wins the award. -- Schoenfield

23. Miami Marlins

Projected record: 77-85 (18% playoff odds | 0.2% World Series odds)

What has changed most since we saw them last? The Marlins reached the postseason for just the second time since winning the 2003 World Series, but they ended up with a front office overhaul anyway. Kim Ng, the highest-ranking woman in a major North American professional sports front office, declined to return as general manager after she learned the team wanted to hire a president of baseball operations over her. The franchise chose Peter Bendix, another branch on the Rays' front office tree. His first offseason was uneventful. Miami, again, will depend on its pitching to carry a faulty offense. -- Castillo

Most likely 2024 award winner: It's hard to imagine Skip Schumaker winning Manager of the Year a second straight time. It's even harder to imagine Sandy Alcantara winning NL Cy Young from the injured list. Where does that leave us? How about Jesus Luzardo for Cy Young? He put up his first full season in 2023, starting 32 games. His K-rate is a dead certainty and his walk rate has continued to trend downward. Add in some balls-in-play luck and a ramp up to 190 innings and you've got a Cy Young candidate. The baseline talent is there. -- Doolittle

How they can become 2024's big surprise: It needs to start with none other than Jazz Chisholm Jr., the 26-year-old middle-infielder-turned-center-fielder who's bursting with talent but can't manage to stay healthy. Chisholm was limited to 97 games in 2023 -- one year after playing in just 60 of them -- because of turf toe and an oblique strain. He still managed to accumulate 19 home runs and 22 stolen bases. A full season of Jazz could provide the Marlins with the type of offensive catalyst they so desperately need. -- Gonzalez

One (realistic) bold prediction: With the help of his new split change, A.J. Puk's transition to the rotation is a success. He wins 12 games and posts a 3.56 ERA with 170 strikeouts in 150 innings. -- Schoenfield

24. Los Angeles Angels

Projected record: 73-89 (7% playoff odds | 0.1% World Series odds)

What has changed most since we saw them last? The Angels' inability to reach a postseason -- just once -- in six years with Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout on the same roster at the peak of their powers will boggle minds forever. Ohtani wasn't just a two-way star in Anaheim -- he was a jaw-dropping sensation, a reason for people to show up to the ballpark despite all the losing. Now Ohtani is up the 5, sandwiched between Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman in that stacked Dodgers lineup -- at least for now. And the Angels are left trying to make the playoffs for the first time in a decade without him. -- Castillo

Most likely 2024 award winner: Mike-freakin'-Trout. Have we forgotten how good this guy is? OK, he's missed so many games that you have to bake his absences into the Angels' team projection. Over the past three seasons, he's played in 237 of a possible 486 games. But let's consider his per-162-games numbers during that span: .283/.382./579, 45 homers, 97 RBIs, 111 runs. Keep this guy on the field and he is -- still -- an MVP front-runner. -- Doolittle

How they can become 2024's big surprise: The Angels' defense against the bevy of criticism levied their way -- for spoiling the careers of two generational talents, for not doing enough to bring back Ohtani, for going more than a decade with a decrepit farm system -- is that they've actually built a solid young core. If the Angels are going to survive the post-Ohtani era, that young core will have to emerge as early as this season. That includes catcher Logan O'Hoppe, shortstop Zach Neto, first baseman Nolan Schanuel, outfielders Jo Adell and Mickey Moniak, and starting pitchers Reid Detmers and Griffin Canning. Their bullpen should be better and their offense will at least be decent if Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon are healthy, but their young players hold the key. -- Gonzalez

One (realistic) bold prediction: Only one qualified player since 2011 (not including 2020) has reached a .400 OBP while hitting fewer than 10 home runs: Yandy Diaz in 2022. Rookie first baseman Schanuel posts that old-school line, as he posts a .405 OBP while hitting seven home runs. -- Schoenfield

25. Pittsburgh Pirates

Projected record: 73-89 (8% playoff odds | 0.1% World Series odds)

What has changed most since we saw them last? Pittsburgh's offseason plan appears to have been to acquire veterans on short-term deals with hopes of flipping them at the trade deadline. In other words, a way to indirectly buy prospects. The Pirates signed Rowdy Tellez, Michael A. Taylor, Martin Perez, Yasmani Grandal, and Aroldis Chapman to one-year contracts. They traded for Marco Gonzales, who has a club option for next season. Most, if not all, of them could be on other teams by August. -- Castillo

Most likely 2024 award winner: The Pirates sent Paul Skenes to the minors because of reasons and even if they hadn't, he would have had to go against Yoshinobu Yamamoto in the NL Rookie of the Year race. So instead let's dream a little based on what is very likely just a spring mirage: After missing most of 2023 with a leg fracture, Cruz is back and bashing. This spring, he has clubbed seven homers, and most of them were highlight-reel stuff. His OPS was almost dystopian. Cruz's ceiling is prodigious but so too are his flaws. But if we're talking about MVP upside, let's do it now. -- Doolittle

How they can become 2024's big surprise: The Pirates have three pitchers in Kiley McDaniel's Top 100. Of them, Jared Jones is the closest to the majors, Thomas Harrington has the highest floor and Paul Skenes, of course, has the most talent. The Pirates have a solid foundation of position players with Cruz, Ke'Bryan Hayes, Bryan Reynolds and, if he takes a step forward, Henry Davis. They need some pitchers to emerge -- because we all know they won't spend on them in free agency. -- Gonzalez

One (realistic) bold prediction: Hayes proves his final two months of 2023 weren't a fluke as he hits .300 with 25 home runs, wins his second straight Gold Glove at third base and also takes home the Platinum Glove as the best overall defender in the NL. It adds up to a top-10 MVP finish. -- Schoenfield

26. Kansas City Royals

Projected record: 72-90 (6% playoff odds | 0.1% World Series odds

What has changed most since we saw them last? The Royals are ... going for it? Kansas City was unexpectedly one of the busiest teams over the offseason, improving their roster with several veteran additions. Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha are in the rotation. Will Smith, Chris Stratton, and Nick Anderson are in the bullpen. Hunter Renfroe, Adam Frazier, and Garrett Hampson will supply depth. But the most important -- and expensive -- move was agreeing to an 11-year, $288.8 million extension with Bobby Witt Jr., the face of the franchise. -- Castillo

Most likely 2024 award winner: Yeah, it's Witt, even though pitcher Cole Ragans has generated so much buzz of late. Witt has played two seasons for the Royals, a franchise that dates back to 1969 and has had a lot of success. (And a lot of not success, but still.) He is arguably already the best shortstop in Royals history. That's kind of an award, but here we're talking more about AL MVP consideration. He can be that, too, and he can do that this season. Repeating some numbers expressed previously: Over his last 56 games last year, Witt hit .323/.369/.589 with 162-game prorated figures of 133 runs, 130 RBI, 41 homers and 61 stolen bases. -- Doolittle

How they can become 2024's big surprise: Witt is really good, and adding some established veteran pieces -- something out-of-contention teams are increasingly abstaining from -- was nice to see. But for the Royals, it's going to come down to how young starting pitchers like Cole Ragans, Brady Singer and Alec Marsh fare. Ragans, acquired in the trade that sent Aroldis Chapman to the Rangers last summer, was really good down the stretch, with a 2.64 ERA in 12 starts. But Singer and Marsh combined for a 5.58 ERA in 234 innings. -- Gonzalez

One (realistic) bold prediction: After falling one stolen base shy of the 30/50 club last season, Witt gets there this season in hitting 37 home runs and swiping 60 bases -- the only other player to reach both those figures was Ronald Acuna Jr. last season. Witt also wins a Gold Glove and finishes in the top five of the MVP voting. -- Schoenfield

Tier 5: Already playing for next season

27. Washington Nationals

Projected record: 58-104 (0.1% playoff odds | 0% World Series odds)

What has changed most since we saw them last? If all goes as planned, this season will be one final forgettable last-place finish before a talented young core takes hold and reverses the organization's fortunes in 2025. Some of that core -- Josiah Gray, Keibert Ruiz, CJ Abrams, MacKenzie Gore -- are already big leaguers. James Wood, Dylan Crews, and Cade Cavalli highlight the rebuild's next wave of talent set to make an impact in 2024. More is expected in 2025. And, who knows, maybe the Nationals will start spending money again. -- Castillo

Most likely 2024 award winner: The Yoshinobu Yamamoto factor, not to mention Jung Hoo Lee, makes it hard to pick an NL Rookie of the Year candidate who might stand out in other seasons. Jackson Chourio (Milwaukee) would surely have been lauded if not for that. Well, the Nationals are hurting for award candidates so we're entering that race anyway and putting forth Crews. If Wood gets to the majors first, we'll go with him. Either way, both players represent hope that someday the Nationals will once again be relevant in awards conversations. -- Doolittle

How they can make their season a success: Abrams, 22, hit 18 home runs and stole 47 bases, but he had a walk rate of just 5.2%. Ruiz, 25, contributed 1.3 Baseball-Reference wins above replacement but was a slightly-below-average hitter based on adjusted OPS. Gray, 26, and Gore, 25, combined for a 4.14 ERA in 57 starts. They all provided encouraging signs -- but they can all stand to take another step forward. -- Gonzalez

One (realistic) bold prediction: The future arrives in the second half. Wood reaches the majors at the halfway point and belts 16 home runs in 80 games, showcasing his future 40-homer potential. Crews gets called up a few weeks later and hits .275 with 10 home runs in 60 games. -- Schoenfield

28. Chicago White Sox

Projected record: 61-101 (0.4% playoff odds | 0% World Series odds)

What has changed most since we saw them last? They did it. They really did it. The White Sox finally traded Dylan Cease, ending the persistent speculation surrounding the right-hander's future over the last year-plus. The White Sox waited until mid-March, and their patience was rewarded with a good haul. But it won't help them this year. Now the trade rumor world turns its attention to another White Sox star: Luis Robert Jr. -- Castillo

Most likely 2024 award winner: If there isn't an official award for best ballpark food, there ought to be. Get Padma Lakshmi involved. The food at Guaranteed Rate Field is pretty good for a ballpark. Is it the best? Hard to say. That's why we need an award. But decent barbeque, some underrated hand-carved deli sandwiches, Chicago dogs and a solid array of microbrews. If there is an award to be won for the 2024 ChiSox, it's somewhere in this arena, especially since they probably ought to trade Robert sooner than later. -- Doolittle

How they can make their season a success: The White Sox thought that -- like the Braves -- they were building a sustainable, championship-level core, then quickly learned they weren't. And so, success this season would be the likes of Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, Andrew Vaughn and perhaps even Andrew Benintendi performing well enough to get a nice haul of young players back and build up a farm system that was ranked 20th by ESPN at the start of the season. Yes, Robert will probably factor into this conversation, too -- though building around him sure seems tantalizing. -- Gonzalez

One (realistic) bold prediction: The White Sox use 25 different starting pitchers -- breaking the MLB record of 24 shared by the 1915 A's and 2023 A's -- and stumble to 107 losses, most in franchise history. Along the way, Robert is traded at the deadline. -- Schoenfield

29. Colorado Rockies

Projected record: 57-105 (0.1% playoff odds | 0% World Series odds)

What has changed most since we saw them last? Nothing has changed. They didn't attempt to fix the worst offense in baseball. They did little to improve their pitching. Another last-place finish is on deck for the franchise that paid another team to take Nolan Arenado before signing the baseball player formerly known as Kris Bryant. Why change when you're consistently in the top half of attendance anyway? The formula makes money. -- Castillo

Most likely 2024 award winner: Bud Black has been a Manager of the Year, winning the award with San Diego in 2010. It's hard both to imagine him winning it again with this year's Rockies and even harder to imagine someone else on the club winning anything. So we'll go with Bud. If this Rockies roster were to make the postseason, Black should win something more along the lines of Manager of the Decade than the one-year honor. Anyway, Colorado fans are lucky to have him. -- Doolittle

How they can make their season a success: Pitching at altitude has been a problem since the Rockies' inaugural season in 1993. But they reached a low in that department last season. Their starters combined to post a 5.91 ERA at home and on the road, the seventh-highest mark this century. It wasn't long ago that the Rockies believed they had finally built some homegrown pitching, but German Marquez and Antonio Senzatela will spend at least the first half of this season recovering from Tommy John surgery. The likes of Kyle Freeland, Austin Gomber and Ryan Feltner desperately need to be better. -- Gonzalez

One (realistic) bold prediction: Something nice, you say? Ezequiel Tovar breaks out in his sophomore campaign and hits .300, represents the Rockies at the All-Star Game and, most impressively, unseats two-time reigning NL Gold Glove winner Dansby Swanson at shortstop. -- Schoenfield

30. Oakland Athletics

Projected record: 60-102 (0.2% playoff odds | 0% World Series odds)

What has changed most since we saw them last? Oakland is another club going nowhere in 2024 that decided to acquire a few veterans perhaps with a plan to trade them this summer. Ross Stripling, Alex Wood, and J.D. Davis are looking for bounce-back seasons as Oakland continues its deep rebuild. They're not part of the Athletics' long-term plans -- whatever and wherever they are. -- Castillo

Most likely 2024 award winner: Let's not kid ourselves. -- Doolittle

How they can make their season a success: If guys like second baseman Zack Gelof, closer Mason Miller, outfielder Denzel Clarke, shortstop Darrell Hernaiz and catcher Shea Langeliers can establish themselves as part of a solid, emerging core, that would be a major success. But given the anger from the current locals, the potential apathy that awaits them in Vegas, the uncertainty over their immediate future and the general ineptitude that surrounds all of it, simply surviving another brutal season should be considered a triumph for these A's. -- Gonzalez

One (realistic) bold prediction: Esteury Ruiz swiped 67 bases last season -- in just 132 games and fewer than 500 plate appearances. With more playing time and a little higher OBP (just .309 in 2023), he goes wild on the bases and steals 85 bases for the first 80-steal season since, yes, Rickey Henderson stole 93 in 1988. -- Schoenfield