Faster than Craig Kimbrel can receive a pitch clock violation, Opening Day in baseball is less than two weeks away on March 28th*. The 2024 MLB season is upon us once again after a confusing and chaotic offseason that followed one of the most entertaining seasons in recent memory; we saw rule changes, different styles of play, blossoming superstars, and teams go from 100+ losses to postseason appearances within a blink of an eye.

It almost feels pointless to make preseason predictions given the hilarity that will ensue the romantically-unpredictable sport, so this exercise will be making preseason division predictions with the caveat of NOT being allowed to pick the odds-on favorite; that doesn’t mean that they can or won’t win, but we have to lay out a multiversal pathway for someone else to take the pennant. Everyone starts the season 0-0! Here’s to being hopeless idealists for the game that is a marathon, not a sprint. We’ll start with the American League Divisions and Awards.

 *Not counting the Dodgers and Padres opening their season in Seoul, South Korea, on the 20th and 21st.

AL CENTRAL

The Favorite: Minnesota Twins

The Winner: Detroit Tigers

The Minnesota Twins took the AL Central and won their first playoff series since 2002 over the Toronto Blue Jays last year; they did coast off a very weak division, just 8 games over .500, and had a losing record on the road, but their shutdown staff of Sonny Gray, Pablo Lopez, and Kenta Maeda before handing it off to flamethrower Jhoan Duran allowed the young names they believe in like Julien and Royce Lewis to thrive at the plate; however, this offseason they could have easily made a push to put a stranglehold on the division, but they took a half-measure and already have questionable health in their superstars in Correa and Buxton. Gray and Maeda they lost in free agency, Jorge Polanco was traded, and their major acquisition is truly just return to health on a team that prides itself in depth.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Central is tumultuous; the Guardians continue to refuse to spend money and will have a first-year manager after the retirement of an all-time great. The White Sox are tanking. The Royals have made a plethora of minor signings after extending Bobby Witt Jr. but are still only projected to win around 75 games with their youth. This opens a door for a team that has been behaving as if they want to win ball games for the past several offseasons now: the Detroit Tigers. Miguel Cabrera has finally ridden off into the sunset. Javier Baez strikeouts have continuously been meme’d to death, but their young core via the draft has added veteran adults like Mark Canha, Kenta Maeda, and Andrew Chafin, who can provide some mentorship to the young names we’ve been waiting to break out for the last couple of seasons. Tarik Skubal could be a dark horse for AL Cy Young, adding another pitch to his repertoire. Meanwhile they, Casey Mize, Riley Greene, and Spencer Torkelson are all top-10 picks looking to put it together for a full season, and second-base prospect Colt Keith inked a 9-year extension this offseason, signifying their belief in the future of the kid, similarly to Corbin Carroll last year. It’s a team with an experienced manager, the will to make moves to win now, and was projecting upward post-All-Star Break last year; there’s a reality where they’re this year’s “out of nowhere Baltimore Orioles” team.

AL EAST

The Favorite: New York Yankees

The Winner: Baltimore Orioles

Yes, the fourth-place Yankees, with Cy Young Winner Gerrit Cole likely to miss several months to start the year, are still the betting favorites for the division that sent three teams to the postseason last year. Now, they did trade for Juan Soto and acquire Marcus Stroman along with the hopes that Aaron Judge will play the majority of the season, but a large part of this is because the betters love the big-market Yanks, always anticipating the next desperate move from Cashman as they photoshop every player in pinstripes. 

The Baltimore Orioles won the AL East last year as the #1 overall seed in the American League AND acquired Corbin Burnes, former Cy Young candidate, without dipping into their top prospect treasure trove they’ve accumulated from seasons of agony. There could be an argument for second-year regression for many of the young stars that maximized their potential all year last season, but they replaced an injured closer, Felix Bautista, in the closer role with Craig Kimbrel and have a new ownership group that showed a willingness to spend immediately, so another move could even be made for an Orioles core that could be in contention for the next decade if they lock up their big names. With every Adley Rutschman mound hug, every Gunnar Henderson blissfully innocent Lego Star Wars post, and every bird bath in the outfield, it appears as if they seem to love each other and have a hunger to build something there together.

AL WEST

The Favorite: Houston Astros

The Winner: Seattle Mariners

Ah, the wild wild west. The Houston Astros are going to continue to be the betting favorites because they will be the juggernaut and model of consistency until they aren’t, making the ALCS 6 consecutive years with 4 World Series appearances within that span. While they did go out and add the best closer on the market, Josh Hader, to a 5-year, $95 million deal, they’re also undergoing a period of change; Dusty Baker is out as manager, and Joe Espada is off the bench (Astros fans will tell you this is addition by subtraction). Justin Verlander and Jose Urquidy will start the season banged up, and they’re banking on a lot of bounce-back seasons from aging Jose Abreu, the Correa replacement Jeremy Pena underperformed expectations after being a World Series standout, and Alex Bregman is in a contract year; that’s a lot of moving parts for a team that’s been the model of consistency.

The easy thing to do in this situation would be to then pick the reigning World Series Champion, Texas

Photo: Lindsey Wasson / Associated Press

Rangers are the non-favorite; however, they essentially did nothing aside from hope the young prospects Evan Carter and Wyatt Langford get called up and produce immediately and the aging old wood fortifying their ship, Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer magically get repaired to fortify a rotation that is absolutely barren with the lack of spending with their new TV deal situation preventing them bringing back Jordan Montgomery; last year, it didn’t matter who was on the mound because they continued to mash, but that’s not truly a sustainable model.

The Mariners were a mere 2 games back from making the playoffs last year. Julio Rodriguez claimed he was in a “sophomore slump” despite having a 4-game span where he had 17 hits and having 32 homers with 37 stolen bases. It’s corny and overdone to say that Julio is the superstar who just “gets it” and has the Mamba Mentality, but he may be the most focused, driven young star in the game for his third year.

 The Mariners were a product of getting hot when it was already too little too late due to their early season struggles; they were one of the worst strikeout-crippled teams that brought upon their downfall at the plate in a park where it’s hard to hit it out, so they flipped power bat Eugenio Suarez and added Jorge Polanco as a switch-hitter and a pair of Mitch’s (Garver and Haniger). Their young rotation of Castillo, Gilbert, Kirby, Miller, and Woo is arguably the best in the league, one where they decided against flipping for a bat this offseason, and they’ll now get a full season of Cy Young contending arms in their 20’s. It’s that strength with the prospect of getting MVP Julio and a 2023 Diamondbacks small ball approach that can give them their first AL West title since 2001.

AL MVP

The Favorite: Aaron Judge, New York Yankees OF

The Winner: Julio Rodriguez, Seattle Mariners OF

Judge is the superstar in New York who’s larger than life when healthy and on the field, effortlessly hitting bombs 500 feet in the largest market. However, it is a narrative-driven award, and the addition of Juan Soto to his outfield has the potential of him stealing some votes a la Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts last season.

If Seattle wins the AL West or is a high wild card, it’ll be because Julio took them there offensively as someone that’s a 5-tool player under 25. He has the speed to steal bases with new rules that favor that skill, the defensive prowess, the power, and the lead-by-example attitude and quotes that fit a hero’s journey narrative. The moment he changes that .275 average last year is the moment we all should be terrified.

AL Cy Young

The Favorite: Kevin Gausman, Toronto Blue Jays

The Winner: Corbin Burnes, Baltimore Orioles

Kevin Gausman was one of the most steady, strikeout-heavy pitchers who commanded the mound last season but unfortunately couldn’t pick up as many wins as he could last year despite the 2nd-most strikeouts. He went 12-9 with a 3.16 ERA, with the majority of his starts going at least 6 innings, but the Blue Jays bats often couldn’t provide him some run support in many of his dominant outings. The assumption is that the Toronto bats bounce back this year, but he will be without defensive wonder third baseman Matt Chapman in a once-loaded Blue Jays infield defense.

Going back to the narrative, Corbin Burnes is going to be the story if he’s an ace on a new team winning a division that features big market teams after Baltimore made the “let’s win a World Series” move; there’s usually an adjustment period when you initially switch leagues, but Adley is a battery that will build rapport with him behind the plate, is a solid framer, and Burnes is a workhorse who will be playing for a contract after leading the league in starts in 2022 and ERA the year prior.

AL Rookie of the Year

The Favorite: Jackson Holliday, Baltimore Orioles SS

The Winner: Wyatt Langford, Texas Rangers OF

Yes, Jackson Holliday is the son of THAT Matt Holliday that was the #1 pick out of high school and is a part of the golden age of Orioles prospects; he made it to Triple-A last season after hitting 323/.442/.499 with 12 home runs and looks every bit the real deal; the issue is whether or not there’s enough room for him in the lineup and infield to be an everyday instant impact player.

Evan Carter was the World Series hero prospect they called up in times of desperation, but he may not even be the most electrifying prospect on his own team.

Wyatt Langford of the World Series Champion Texas Rangers is like if a rich guy also finds out he invested in Amazon stock decades ago. Their fourth overall selection in 2023 is 22 and likely going to make the Opening Day roster simply because the man-child simply will not stop hitting home runs, leading Spring Training in slugging percentage and has 5 homers, one being a grand slam, and will be an impactful everyday player that will be on countless highlight reels.

AL Manager of the Year

The Favorite: AJ Hinch, Detroit Tigers

The Winner: Kevin Cash, Tampa Bay Rays

Manager of the Year has typically been the “who maximized the roster and overperformed their expectations” award, so it would make sense for someone with the pedigree of AJ Hinch to possibly have the narrative of taking the Tigers to the postseason with their young talent.

There’s also a manager of a small-market team that is the permanent, smarter-than-you thorn in your side that could absolutely win this award again: Kevin Cash and the Tampa Bay Rays. They’re the computer model regular season team that refuses to spend and continues to take all of their talent they’ve evaluated across the league and get them ready to play and win with however many innings they need them for. There’s also the narrative that the one player they actually spent money on, Wander Franco, likely won’t ever play baseball again, and everyone is doubting the Rays in a division with the Yankees, Orioles, and Blue Jays; it would be the most “Rays” thing ever for Cash to make the managerially-impactful decisions to help them sneak into the postseason.


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