Regardless if a team won more than 100 games or lost more than 100 games (or anywhere in between), every team has some reasons to be optimistic. The best teams in baseball get most of the headlines as the season progresses. Divisions are won, wild cards are secured, and MLB’s 12-team playoff takes the stage in October. These 12 teams can be optimistic about their October futures while the other 18 must look to 2024.
Let’s flip the standings over for a moment. The six cellar-dwellers took strange paths to get there. While four are deep in their rebuilding phases, the other two were popular playoff picks – and one was favored to win its division in March.
The season did not go to plan for these teams, but let’s take a look at one reason each last-place finisher should have some optimism moving into 2024, starting with the AL cellar-dwellers.
All stats are compiled as of September 30.
Reasons to be Optimistic: Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox have been no stranger to last place in the AL East in recent years. However, they have a host of young talent that could push this middling roster into playoff contention faster than some of the other teams in this group.
The star of the show is Rafael Devers, a holdover from the 2018 World Series run who will turn 27 in October. Jarren Duran, also 27, enjoyed a nice breakout season with a 121 OPS+ in 102 games. Alex Alex Verdugo and Masataka Yoshida will fill in the corner outfield slots for the next few years.
The second level of young talent comes in Triston Casas and Brayan Bello. Casas clubbed 24 home runs for a 129 OPS+. He should get some down-ballot Rookie of the Year votes (alongside Yoshida). Bello led the Red Sox in starts, and he posted solid across the board with a 4.24 ERA and 107 ERA+.
However, the real excitement comes from Boston’s pipeline. They have four prospects in MLB’s top 82 including #11 Marcelo Mayer. Mayer could factor into Boston’s MLB plans as soon as next year, joining #72 prospect Ceddanne Rafaela. The Red Sox have the young core to slip into the playoffs as soon as 2024.
Reasons to be Optimistic: Kansas City Royals
It has been a year to forget in western Missouri. Through 160 games, the Royals have their lowest winning percentage in franchise history. However, they have found cornerstone pieces at the plate and on the mound in Bobby Witt Jr. and Cole Ragans.
After a solid rookie season, Witt has turned into one of the better players in baseball. He should receive some down-ballot MVP support, and he is on the cusp of a 30-50 season – at 23 years old. He has made major strides in all facets, becoming a dominant base runner, strong fielder, and productive hitter. He raised his OPS by nearly 90 points, cut his strikeout rate, and raised his walk rate. Witt is 11th in fWAR among position players – the top hitter in the AL Central.
Ragans has flashed in his first 71 innings in Kansas City. He has a 2.64 ERA, 2.49 FIP, and a 168 ERA+. The southpaw is striking out over 11 batters per nine innings, a sizable increase from his Texas Rangers tenure. His Statcast profile is filled with red, and he appears to be – at worst – a terrific No.2 pitcher moving forward. He has three above-average pitches, and the future is bright. Kansas City’s farm is on the bleaker side at the moment, but having two potential franchise cornerstones is plenty of reason to be optimistic moving forward.
Reasons to be Optimistic: Oakland Athletics
The A’s were the worst team in baseball in 2023, but they avoided posting a historically horrible season on par with the 2003 Detroit Tigers and 1962 New York Mets. Considering the pitching staff, a 49-111 start is something of an accomplishment. The likes of Ryan Noda, Zack Gelof, and Brent Rooker kept the offense frisky at times while young catcher Shea Langeliers blasted 21 home runs.
However, the team itself did not make the most headlines this year. Instead, the franchise’s relocation saga took the bulk of the space. The A’s will spend at least one more season in Oakland – 2024 is the final year of their lease in the Oakland Coliseum – but their proposed move to Las Vegas might not be finalized until 2027.
The roster does not have much in the way of positives, and the farm is quite barren, but it is good that Oakland and their fans will get at least one more season of A’s baseball. 2024 will be the franchise’s 57th in Oakland, and it would be a great opportunity to honor the legends who brought four World Series titles and countless memories to the city before the team departs for Las Vegas. With the present and future not looking great, the A’s should look to the past.Main image credit Embed from Getty Images