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April 16, 2024

Three under-the-radar storylines for the 2024 MLB season

By FREDDY BRANSON | March 12, 2024

nationals-park-in-2021

KENGRIFFEY24FAN / CC BY 4.0 

With the MLB season approaching, Freddy Branson shares three of the most under-discussed storylines that could heavily impact the league this year. 

The start of the 2024 MLB season is fast approaching, and with that comes a number of narratives and plots that captivate the minds of all invested in the MLB. From the Dodgers’ tandem blockbuster signing of Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto to the Yankees’ trade for Juan Soto, there have been a number of league-altering moves that are sure to change the landscape of the MLB for the foreseeable future. 

With this in mind though, it is also worth talking about some of the smaller storylines that have the capacity to affect how this season plays out, though they may not get the same media attention as the major moves.

Nats roster revitalisation 

Coming off of their 2019 World Series Win, the Washington Nationals have been on a sharp decline, losing key franchise pieces in Trea Turner, Max Scherzer, Anthony Rendon and, most importantly, Juan Soto. 

In what has been a historic collapse coming off of such a peak in the franchise’s history, the Nationals have finished bottom of their division for three straight seasons. However, toward the end of last season, there was a noticeable improvement in results, something that I believe can continue into this upcoming season.

I believe that in order to have greater success this season, the progression of key top prospects will be of paramount importance. Since 2019, the Nats have accumulated a wealth of top prospects, most notably through the Soto trade that netted them a treasure chest of young players highlighted by James Wood and CJ Abrams, as well as Robert Hassell III, Mackenzie Gore and Jarlin Susana. 

In particular, the development of Abrams and Gore into frontline franchise pieces, as well as Wood’s promotion to the Major Leagues (he is currently the MLB’s No. 14 Overall Prospect) should help solidify the young core of the Nats into the future. 

Additionally, the No. 2 overall pick from last year’s draft, Dylan Crews (currently the MLB’s No. 7 Overall Prospect) can also be expected to make the big league roster this year and should be able to contribute productively as an outfield slugging bat.

The Nationals have made a number of sneaky, low-risk, high-reward signings this off-season that could help place complementary pieces around this young core of players. Most notably, among these additions are Jesse Winkler, Joey Gallo and Eddie Rosario, all of whom have posted 100 OPS+ seasons within the last three seasons. 

Ultimately, while the Nats might not make the playoffs, I believe that they will certainly make a strong playoff push, perhaps resemblant to that of the 2022 Baltimore Orioles team, led by Adley Rutschman and a number of solid veteran players (including Cedric Mullins, Ramón Urías and Anthony Santander), and can look forward to some future success within the next couple of seasons.

Padres outfield cavity

The San Diego Padres have had a tumultuous offseason, to say the least. A change in ownership due to the unfortunate passing of their owner Peter Seidler, as well as major departures in key contributors from last season in Josh Hader, Seth Lugo and likely Blake Snell among a multitude of others, have amounted to a difficult offseason for the Pads. 

In addition to all this, with the impending free agency of star outfielder Juan Soto looming, the front office decided it would be best to capitalize on his value while they could, leading to his trade to the New York Yankees

This has left the team in a difficult situation with a number of holes at various key positions: starting pitcher, outfield and designated hitter. Seemingly the only position that has improved this offseason is the bullpen which has seen the signings of international pitchers Yuki Matsui and Woo Suk Go, as well as Wandy Peralta and a trade for Enyel De Los Santos

However, the most obvious void that desperately needs to be filled is that of the outfield — the only players with any kind of Major League experience on the roster are platinum glove winner Fernando Tatis Jr., Jose Azocar and Jurickson Profar. 

Currently, the predicted solution that the Padres will turn to is a full-on youth movement, either through current MLB Pipeline No. 12 Prospect Jackson Merrill (a typical shortstop who has played in CF and LF throughout Spring Training), or Arizona Fall League MVP Jakob Marsee

The issue with these two players is that neither one has played above AA level, and thus they do not have the typical requisite experience that would be relied upon for a team trying to make a playoff push.

It would seem that the Padres either need to make a late spring training signing/trade, otherwise, they may see themselves falling even lower than the disappointment of the 2022 season, a shock for a team that found themselves in the NLCS just two years ago.

Royals offseason spending

One of the sneaky players in this year’s offseason has been the Kansas City Royals, a team trying to build around a pretty solidified young core of players, featuring ascending shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. and first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino. 

This offseason the Royals have spent the fifth most amount of money on free agents out of all MLB teams, totaling $110 million. With this money they have acquired the utilities of a number of solid pitchers: Michael Wacha, Seth Lugo, Chris Stratton and Will Smith, as well as outfielder Hunter Renfroe

This is the type of spending that not many small market teams have dared to risk in recent years (especially after the failure of the San Diego Padres 2022 offseason spending), marking a positive change in the mentality of some of the owners in the MLB.

With these offseason additions, the Royals have created a roster that has a surprisingly high upside and could potentially make a strong playoff push in a weak AL Central where there isn’t any stronger contender for the division title. 

I could see the Royals following a Rangers-esque progression this season, being in serious contention for a playoff spot. While there is not a one-to-one comparison between last year’s Rangers and this year’s Royals, I see a number of similarities in a team that, coming out of a disappointing season, spent big on pitching in the offseason and relied on the progression of a number of young players.

With this comparison in mind, I don’t think it would be fair to expect them to make a World Series push, but a playoff spot is most certainly something that could be in the cards. I would not be shocked if the Royals outperformed their expectations for the year.


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