24 MLB predictions for 2024: Shoehei Ohtani’s HR total, Tigers win division, Phillies wow

This has been a doozy of an offseason, hasn’t it? Feels weird to say that knowing there are lots of impact free-agents yet to sign, and pitchers to be traded. 

With that in mind, we held off on our predictions file as long as we could, but who knows when the rest of that stuff will happen? USA Today’s Bob Nightengale just predicted that Blake Snell wouldn’t sign until spring training. Lovely. 

So here we go. Bold-ish predictions for 2024, based at least loosely in reality. Ready? 

1. Ohtani-wood predictions

Gotta start with the most talked-about move of the offseason.

A. Ohtani hits 40 homers. Most of those are jaw-dropping and magical. 
B. The Dodgers win the NL West, easily.
C. Ohtani does not win the NL MVP award, but finishes top 5. Yoshinobu Yamamoto makes the All-Star team and receives down-ballot Cy Young votes.
D. The Dodgers do not win the World Series. October is tough, and even with all the money they’ve spent this offseason, there are still the types of concerns in the rotation, lineup and bullpen that get exposed in the postseason. 

MORE: Will Ohtani’s deferral-heavy contract become a trend?

2. Bobby Witt Jr. takes “the jump” for a full season

The talent just oozes from Witt, and anyone who played with him on that Team USA squad for the WBC last spring would have talked for hours about the star Witt is going to become. We got an extended glimpse last year, after a slow start.

In 95 games from June 11 to the end of the year, Witt batted .305 with a .904 OPS, 20 homers, 20 doubles, 7 triples, 29 stolen bases and 69 RBIs. His defensive improvement at shortstop was maybe even more impressive, from a pretty sizable negative to a big positive. And that power, the 30 home runs, happened despite playing his home games at Kauffman Stadium, a notoriously pitcher-friendly ballpark. In fact, only four players have ever hit more home runs at Kauffman in one season than Witt’s 19 last year. 

If you want a dark horse player to take the AL’s Ohtani Award — sorry, AL MVP — in 2024, you could do much worse than Witt, who could mess around and post a 40/40 season. Friendly reminder, he doesn’t turn 24 until next June. 

3. Baltimore bounty

The Orioles aren’t going anywhere. They were the best team in the AL East, and they will be the best team again in 2024. I still expect them to add pitching help, either in the offseason or by the midseason trade deadline, because no contender can have enough. But this young core — built around Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson — is just going to continue to get better, especially when Jackson Holliday arrives on the big-league scene.

They might not top 101 wins, because a lot has to go right to hit triple digits, but as long as they’re healthy, they’ll be a team better prepared to win in October. 

4. Rookie forecast: AL

Folks, it’s going to be a fun year to watch the youngsters grow into stars at the big-league level. As much as I’d like to go out on a still-sturdy limb and pick guys like Junior Caminero (Rays), Ceddanne Rafaela (Red Sox) or Nolan Schanuel (Angels) to win the AL rookie award — all three could be All-Star caliber — how can you go against Full Count Carter? 

Evan Carter came up in early September and posted a .306/.413/.645 line in 23 games down the stretch, then posted a .300/.417/.500 line in 17 postseason games as the Rangers surprised everyone to win the World Series. What helps Carter is that powerful Texas lineup, where he’ll likely slot in around Corey Seager and Adolis Garcia, either in the 3 or 4 spot. 

The caveat here: When does Jackson Holliday get the call to the bigs? If he makes that much-anticipated debut before mid-May, he’s probably the favorite. 

5. Rookie forecast: NL

Over in the senior circuit, the top group isn’t quite as elite, but you’ll still see rookies have an impact on division/wild-card races, especially if guys like Masyn Winn (Cardinals) and Pete Crow-Armstrong (Cubs) spent the offseason learning from their offensive struggles in the bigs late last year. The pick for the NL at this point, though, is Kyle Harrison. The lefty has a great pitchers park as his San Francisco home, and that’ll help when batters actually make contact against his swing-and-miss stuff. 

6. Century sluggers?

Assuming they both stay healthy, of course, expect the Yankees duo of Aaron Judge and Juan Soto to come damn close to reaching 100 total combined home runs. 

Judge was just shy of his 62-homer pace in 2022 before he got hurt — 8.9 percent HR rate in 2022, 8.1 in 2023 — and that was with basically nobody to support him in the lineup. With Soto there now? He might get 60 again if he stays healthy. 

And, yes, Soto is far from a pull hitter, so that famous “short porch” in right field of Yankee Stadium might not benefit him as much as it has Anthony Rizzo, but he only hit 12 homers at home last year for the Padres and still finished with 35 on the season. If he gets a couple of cheapies to right field and spreads the ball around with his typical velocity, no reason to think he won’t push 40 homers. 

7. Phillies make one big “oh, wow” move

These predictions aren’t just about the 2024 regular season and playoffs. We’re including the whole calendar year, and we still have a couple months remaining until Opening Day, with lots of free agents still on the board and lots of trades to be made. Even after starting the offseason by re-signing Aaron Nola, the Phillies have been right there with some of the biggest names this offseason, and Dave Dombrowski isn’t exactly the type of executive to say, “oh well, we tried.” He’ll figure out a way to make something happen. Something unexpected. Something more than extending Zack Wheeler, which is way up there on the priority list. 

Maybe something fishy? Nah, probably not. But maybe?

8. Tigers win AL Central

I’ll admit, I’ve been fooled in the past by a strong finish to the season for the Tigers. This time, it’ll be different. Probably. Maybe. Thing is, the bar isn’t super high. It’s entirely realistic to think the AL Central division will be claimed by a team with 90 or fewer victories. Maybe even fewer than the 87 it took for Minnesota to win in 2023.

The Twins have taken a step back. The Guardians haven’t added to the offense. Kansas City has made improvements, but not enough to go from 106 losses to division title contention. The White Sox remain a mess (though hopefully they’re getting sorted out). 

Detroit’s rotation could be really good, even with Eduardo Rodriguez opting out of his deal. Adding Kenta Maeda helps fill that void, and Jack Flaherty could be primed for a bounce-back season. Health is key, obviously, but there are some really good arms ready to go. Tarik Skubal made 15 starts in 2023, with a 2.80 ERA, 11.4 K/9, 7.29 K/BB and 2.00 FIP. Those are elite, Cy Young numbers over a full season, folks. Matt Manning made 15 starts last year, too, spending two stints on the IL with non-arm issues, and he had a 3.58 ERA. Former No. 1 overall pick (2018) Casey Mize missed most of 2022 and all of 2023 after Tommy John surgery, but he should be back at full strength starting this spring. He’s looking to build off his 2021 season, when he had a 3.71 ERA in 30 starts. 

There are issues with the roster, sure. But it wouldn’t surprise me at all if this is the team that wins the division. 

9. Skubal shines

Yeah, I just mentioned him, but Tarik Skubal is special. If he pitched for the Yankees or Dodgers or another big-market team, you probably would have heard all offseason about how Skubal is right up there with Gerrit Cole as the AL Cy Young favorite for 2024. Instead, he pitches for the Tigers, and a lot of folks still don’t know about the lefty. 

How’s this: Since 2000, there have only been two other pitchers (Clayton Kershaw three times, Jacob deGrom once) who have started at least 15 games with an ERA of 2.80 or better, a FIP of 2.00 or better and a K/BB of 7.0 or better. And, of course, just because Skubal posted those numbers in 15 starts doesn’t mean he’ll automatically do it for 30 starts, but he’s got the stuff to finish top 5 in the Cy Young race this season. 

10. Longshot AL MVP predictions

Took a few minutes to peruse the Bet365 futures page. In the AL, there are 13 guys listed at +20000, meaning they’re the longest of longshots who deserve individual inclusion. Of that group — Anthony Volpe, George Springer, Kevin Gausman, Riley Greene, Anthony Santander, Evan Carter, Gleyber Torres, Pablo Lopez, Vinnie Pasquantino, Brent Rooker, Gerrit Cole, Luis Castillo and Spencer Torkelson, who has the best shot at finishing Top 5 in the vote? 

Cole’s the best player of that group, but he won the Cy Young in 2023 and finished only 11th in the MVP vote. So he’s out, along with the other pitchers. Torkelson finally looked like he might be capable of harnessing that great power down the stretch last year, posting a .921 OPS with 16 homers in his final 48 games last year. But he’s not exactly a defensive asset, finishing minus-11 in DRS last year, so top-5 seems like a big stretch. 

Look to the youngsters: Greene, if he can finally stay healthy, or Carter, if his magical September/October wasn’t some sort of deal with the devil. 

11. Longshot NL MVP predictions

In the NL, there are 14 guys listed at +20000: Ian Happ, Christian Walker, Ha-Seong Kim, Jack Suwinski, Justin Steele, Nolan Jones, Zac Gallen, James Outman, Kodai Senga, Seiya Suzuki, Zack Wheeler, Jazz Chisholm, Marcell Ozuna, Willy Adames. Which guys could finish top five in the voting? 

Citing the Cole factor, throw out the pitchers. Jazz has the hands and power to make it happen, but can he stay healthy? Feels doubtful. In the right lineup (not Milwaukee’s), Adames could absolutely make that push. But the choice here is Suzuki. You saw how he finished the 2023 season, right? He’d shown signs of life in July, but he homered on Aug. 2 and never really slowed down, batting .350 with a 1.073 OPS, 12 homers and 39 RBIs in his final 50 games of the season. That’s the impact bat the Cubs were hoping they’d get when they signed him out of Japan. If he’s truly figured out MLB pitching, forget finishing top 5, he could win the award. 

12. Mariners finish with 87 or 88 wins

Not sure there’s anything the Seattle front office can do at this point to salvage the offseason. Mariners fans were excited for the potential acquisitions— maybe Ohtani? maybe hometown boy Blake Snell? certainly another big bat or two to fortify the lineup — but instead fan favorites were traded away and no effort at all was made chasing the biggest free agent stars, as ownership cut payroll amid concerns about the club’s TV deal. Super disappointing, no doubt about it. 

This is still a pretty decent club, though, with one of the game’s best rotations and a bonafide superstar in Julio Rodriguez. The M’s should stay on the fringes of the playoff conversation, maybe even sneak in if the bar drops a bit in 2024. The way this roster has been constructed, Seattle should win 87 or 88 games, which is right about (wait for it) … 54 percent of the games.

MORE: Six disappointing offseasons, and how to salvage them

13. A’s win 54 games

That situation is such a mess, and all because the owner just doesn’t care. John Fisher makes Rachel Phelps look like Peter Seidler. The players deserve better. The fans deserve MUCH better. The city of Oakland deserves better. The only good resolution would be for Fisher to sell the team, but I’m trying to keep these predictions grounded in reality, so I won’t go that far. That’s a wish, not a prediction. 

Elly De La Cruz

14. Reds revival

Cincinnati has all the makings of one of those teams that’s more dangerous in the postseason — a series of small sample-size confrontations — than the regular season — a 162-game slog. The Reds might not have signed any of the biggest names their fans hoped, but they did go out and add depth and veteran presence that could be exactly what this high-upside roster needs. 

Because, folks, if the Reds get into October and they have a healthy Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo and Frankie Montas ready to start games and a lineup with Matt McClain, Elly de la Cruz and the rest of that sensational sophomore crew? That’s the type of group that could do basically exactly what the Diamondbacks did in 2023. 

So, for the prediction: The Reds don’t win the NL Central (pencil in the Cubs or Cardinals), but they’ll snag a wild card and they will be the last team from the division left standing in October. 

15. Soto extension a no-go

If there was any remote chance of Juan Soto, a free agent after the 2024 season, signing an extension with the Yankees, that went out the window when Ohtani signed his $700 million contract ($460 million present value) and Yoshinobu Yamamoto got $325 million. Players get more on the open market. That’s just a fact. And the Yankees aren’t going to outbid themselves, which is what they’d have to do in order to get Soto to sign an extension. They didn’t do that for Aaron Judge. Heck, they wouldn’t even outbid the Dodgers for Yamamoto, a player they’d coveted for years, waiting for his eventual time to join an MLB team. 

Soto knows this truth of the market, which is why he turned down $400 million-plus from the Nationals a couple years ago. And you know for sure his agent, Scott Boras, knows it. No agent is more willing to allow his clients to push teams past their preconceived breaking points. Want evidence? Most of the top remaining free agents are Boras clients — Snell, Montgomery, Bellinger, Chapman, etc. 

Now, will he stay there long term? That’s certainly possible, but it would be shocking if that happened before he becomes a free agent next offseason. 

16. MLB expansion process ramps up

With the ballpark headaches in Tampa Bay and Oakland heading toward resolutions — though would anyone be shocked if there were significant hiccups with either franchise? — the path is clearing for MLB to head toward expansion. This is a good thing for baseball, the fans in the new markets and the owners, who will split up massive expansion franchise fees. 

Might be pushing it to expect two cities to be named by the end of 2024, but we’ll give it a try. Keep in mind baseball’s recent (and not-so-recent) expansions have been balanced, geographically, with at least one team on the western half of the country.

1969: Montreal, Kansas City, Seattle (Pilots) and San Diego
1977: Toronto and Seattle (Mariners)
1993: Florida and Denver
1998: Tampa Bay and Arizona

With that in mind, considering this is a predictions piece, here goes: Nashville and Portland. If geography isn’t that important, Nashville and Raleigh. I will add the caveat that Salt Lake City is positioning itself very favorably to jump in and potentially become the “western half” favorite ahead of Portland. 

MORE: Looking at top expansion candidates

17. Biggest bounce-backs, team edition 

Unless you’re the Mariners — who nailed their eternal 54 percent goal last year — your goal as a team is to win more games in 2024 than 2023. Which teams will take the biggest jump? These teams will win at least 10 more games this summer than they did last summer. For some, that’ll get them into the postseason. For others, that’ll just get them out of the pits of despair. 

Royals, up from 56 wins. Hell, they might win 20 more. Finally got some pitching.
 

Phillies, up from 90. Yeah, I said it. 
 

Cardinals, up from 71. No reason that team shouldn’t be .500, at least.
 

Yankees, up from 82. But only because they HAVE to add more to the rotation, right?
 

Tigers, up from 78. Barely, but should get to +10. Will be enough to win the division comfortably. 
 

Rangers, up from 90. I mean, if they win every single road game like they did in October, they could win 130 games this year.

Oneil Cruz

18. Biggest bounce-backs, player edition

Gavin Lux, Dodgers: The disappointment from his spring injury last year was immense, no doubt. Can a healthy Lux be the hitter the Dodgers thought they were getting when he was raking in the minors? 
 

Carlos Rodon, Yankees: He’s too good to produce another season like 2023. 
 

Edwin Diaz, Mets: The trumpets will fire up again at Citi Field. 
 

Jarred Kelenic, Braves: For the first time in his career, there is no external pressure on Kelenic. If he hits, the Braves will win 100 games. If he struggles and loses his job, they’ll still win 100 games. That has to be freeing for a super-talented but too-intense player. 
 

Oneil Cruz, Pirates: That breakout that was supposed to happen last year but was thwarted by injuries, that happens in 2024. There will be ups and downs, but the ups will be amazing. 

19. Milestone memories

1,000 career RBIs: Jose Abreu (47 away), Manny Machado (56), Mike Trout (60) and Anthony Rizzo (70) are within shouting distance. Rizzo doesn’t get there, the others do. 

200 career homers: There are 33 players within 40 homers of that career plateau. These guys get to 200: Joey Gallo (198), Brandon Belt (194), Christian Yelich (193), Pete Alonso (192), C.J. Cron (187), Justin Turner (187), Joc Pederson (186), Max Muncy (180), Cody Bellinger (178), Xander Bogaerts (175), Rafael Devers (172), Shohei Ohtani (171), Corey Seager (170), Ronald Acuña, Jr (161) and Juan Soto (160). 

These guys do not: Eric Hosmer (198), Randall Grichuk (191), Yasmani Grandal (185), Adam Duvall (184), Kris Bryant (182), Kole Calhoun (179), Rougned Odor (178), Hunter Renfroe (177), Trevor Story (177), Javier Baez (175), Matt Carpenter (175), Jason Heyward (174), Jonathan Schoop (174), Carlos Correa (173), Gary Sanchez (173), Jorge Soler (170), Alex Bregman (165) and Eduardo Escobar (164)

2,000 hits: Only two players are within 200 hits of 2,000 for their careers, Evan Longoria (1,930) and Paul Goldschmidt (1,909). Goldy gets there, Longo does not. 

3,000 strikeouts: A couple of “will they pitch in 2024” questions here. My prediction is they both will, and both enter the 3k club. Zack Greinke needs 21 and Clayton Kershaw needs 56.

200 career wins: Nobody’s even close. Cole is at 145. Kinda crazy, isn’t it?

Merrill Kelly

20. Diamondbacks here to stay

It’s funny how one magical October run changes things, isn’t it? The Diamondbacks won’t win the NL West in 2024 (or anytime in the near/distant future), and I’m not sure than anyone in the Arizona organization cares about that at this point. That taste of the World Series was enough to make winning it all as the only true goal. Sure, a division title would be fun, but making that the aim isn’t worth it. Building a team that can win 92-97 games and comfortably get into the postseason is more than enough. 

They’ve done a great job this offseason of addressing the areas of concern, especially adding starter Eduardo Rodriguez to the rotation behind Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly. Eugenio Suarez at third is an upgrade while not losing the veteran clubhouse value that Evan Longoria brought. And we’re just starting to see what Corbin Carroll can do. Wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him finish top-3 in the MVP vote. 

21. Wander away forever, creep

We never see Wander Franco again on a MLB field, in 2024 or beyond. 

22. Angels do not top .500 sans Ohtani

This is not one of those situations where one superstar player was the root of the problems for a team, and once he leaves everything falls into place. The issues with this franchise are much, much deeper. The Angels might get to .500/wild-card contention in 2025 — there is finally a wave of potential impact players arriving/on the horizon — but not this year. 

23. Astros trade either Jose Altuve or Alex Bregman.

Both are free-agents after the 2024 season, and it seems impossible to imagine the Astros will sign both to lucrative long-term extensions. Both have had injury issues, and Houston has had no problems parting with “core” stars in the past, as George Springer and Carlos Correa can attest. So, yeah. Either Altuve or Bregman will be traded away. 

(Spoiler: It will be Bregman. Altuve isn’t going anywhere, for a lot of reasons.)

24. The Phillies beat the Orioles in the World Series

I reserve the right to change my mind in time for “official 2024 predictions” toward the end of spring training, but right now? The pieces are in Philly. Lessons have been learned. The motivation is there. The money is there. 

Source : ESPN.com

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