What teams already have a strong start to contending in 2024?

A thought came to me recently when I heard Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak state that his team wants to add three starters for next season because I already knew the Mets will be looking for three as well:

Just how deep is the need for rotation help among teams that will be trying to contend in 2024?

Remember how difficult teams found it to land a starter at the trade deadline — and how many contenders failed to land an arm because of it. That was, to some degree, a preview of how difficult a task it will be to bolster a staff. The enlargement of the playoff field to 12 teams has more clubs imagining they could make the postseason and, thus, there are fewer tankers.

In the world of supply and demand, that leaves fewer sellers at the deadline. And it leaves fewer teams in the offseason not trying to upgrade — and most need starters. Note the plural — many clubs with hopes to contend need more than one starter.

The inventory already has taken a hit with Shohei Ohtani being diagnosed with a torn UCL and, thus, unlikely to pitch next season. Max Scherzer also removed his opt-out after this season as a condition of his trade to the Rangers.

There are going to be appealing free agents such as Sonny Gray, Jordan Montgomery, Aaron Nola, Hyun-jin Ryu, Blake Snell, Julio Urias and Japanese star Yoshinobu Yamamoto, whose combination of talent and youth (he only turned 25 two weeks ago) is sure to generate a bidding war. But that is the point. The jockeying is going to be intense across the board for starters because so many clubs will hunger for a group of finite top-end possibilities.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto #18 of Team Japan pitches in the eighth inning against Team Mexico during the World Baseball Classic Semifinals at loanDepot park on March 20, 2023 in Miami, Florida.
Japanese pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto will be a much sought-after prize this winter among many MLB suitors.
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Want to dig deeper on why demand is going to be great? The only starter among MLB.com’s top 19 prospects is Paul Skenes, who was the first pick in the draft in July and might be talented enough to reach Pittsburgh next season. No. 20 is Kyle Harrison, who was recently promoted to the Giants. The next pitcher on the list is Philadelphia’s Andrew Painter, who underwent Tommy John surgery and is not expected to pitch next season. So it is not like there are many elite pitching prospects about to solve problems for teams.

Thus, clubs that are well-stocked with starters and can avoid (or even mostly avoid) the market are going to be in a hugely advantageous position. So here is one person’s view of the teams best positioned as far as starting pitching from 1-to-30 — Mariners to Rockies — as they build a 2024 roster. The proviso, of course, is this season is not done and — as seen with Ohtani — there will be more injuries as part of the well-earned baseball adage that you can never have too much starting pitching:

1. Mariners: With Luis Castillo, George Kirby, Logan Gilbert, Bryce Miller, Bryan Woo and Emerson Hancock, they look well-stocked for years to come with lots of youth and control. Plus, there’s Robbie Ray, who underwent Tommy John surgery and a flexor tendon repair in early May and should be a second-half consideration in 2024.

2. Guardians: Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie, Cal Quantrill, Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac combined for 137 Cleveland starts last season. They made just 52 this season. Bieber (elbow), McKenzie (elbow) and Quantrill (shoulder) have served long IL stints, Plesac struggled and was designated for assignment and Civale was traded to the Rays.

Yet, the Guardians’ pitching machine had Logan Allen, Tanner Bibee and Gavin Williams come up to make their major league debuts, and (through the weekend) they had combined to make 53 starts with a 3.34 ERA. McKenzie, Quantrill and Bieber are still under team control. But Bieber will be in his walk year in 2024. He is the type of starter that Cleveland has historically traded — someone on a club-friendly deal not signed long term and nearing free agency.

Shane Bieber #57 of the Cleveland Guardians throws a pitch during the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Progressive Field on July 4, 2023 in Cleveland, Ohio.
Shane Bieber’s name was widely circulated among the top trade targets this summer before he was sidelined with an elbow injury.
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But Bieber’s stuff was down even before his injury. The market will be hungry enough that teams will make attempts to obtain the righty. But will Cleveland try to build up his value toward a ’24 trade deadline deal?

3. Astros: Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier are a strong front three. Hunter Brown, J.P. France and Brandon Bielak have done well with their first opportunities to be regular major league starters. Jose Urquidy remains for depth. Can Lance McCullers Jr. make it back from flexor tendon surgery and missing all of 2023?

4. Braves: Max Fried, who will be in his walk year, is joined by Spencer Strider, Kyle Wright and Bryce Elder. Atlanta has a $20 million club option on Charlie Morton, which is a no-brainer for the team, the only question being if Morton wants to continue to pitch. If so, that is the five-man unit with Mike Soroka, AJ Smith-Shawver and Jared Shuster for depth.

5. Marlins: Even in a two-step down season from his NL Cy Young 2022, Sandy Alcantara remains the foremost workhorse in the game. You wonder, though, if he is wasting his big-innings prime with a meh team — Alcantara has thrown 52 ⅓ more innings than any other pitcher over the last three seasons. Eury Perez has looked like a breakout star this season. Edward Cabrera (if he can stay healthy), Braxton Garrett, Jesus Luzardo and injury returns from Max Meyer (in 2024) and Trevor Rogers provide lots of prime-aged depth. They used a starter (Pablo Lopez) last offseason and turned him into offense (Luis Arraez). Do they have to do that again this offseason?

6. Brewers: This ranking can change depending on how Milwaukee plays the market. Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff will both be in their walk years in 2024. The Brewers traditionally try to juggle the present and the future. So, in this market, would they be offered so much for, particularly, Burnes that they have to blink and deal him … or Woodruff? It not, that duo would return with Freddy Peralta.

Corbin Burnes #39 of the Milwaukee Brewers pitches against the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on August 11, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois.
Corbin Burnes has pitched the Brewers into first place in the NL Central, but his impending free agency after next season may have Milwaukee willing to hear out trade offers for him.
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Adrian Houser remains for depth, Wade Miley has a mutual option. Aaron Ashby should be a factor after missing most of this season with a shoulder injury and prospect Jacob Misiorowski should be in play in ’24.

7. Blue Jays: Kevin Gausman, Jose Berrios, Chris Bassitt and Yusei Kikuchi provide a strong front four. The wild card is Alek Manoah. Can he be fixed after falling from third in the 2022 AL Cy Young voting to a 5.87 ERA and a minor league demotion? Prospect Ricky Tiedemann is on the radar.

8. Rangers: Nathan Eovaldi, Max Scherzer, Jon Gray and Dane Dunning offer a returning quartet. Will Andrew Heaney opt in to his $13 million 2024 option (it is not likely he will get to 150 innings to make it worth $20 million)? The bigger question: Do the Rangers believe they will get Jacob deGrom (Tommy John surgery) back for the ’24 stretch run?

9. Yankees: Simply having Gerrit Cole and his durable excellence is a strong starting point. The variability and volatility come from Nestor Cortes and Carlos Rodon. They were All-Stars in 2022 and injury-wrecked disappointments in 2023. Clarke Schmidt has demonstrated enough to be viewed as a back-end piece for 2024.

And then?

Do the Yankees even tender a contract to Domingo German or has their goodwill/patience run out with the righty?

And what if Luis Severino’s last two strong outings are the launch of a strong seven-ish-start run to finish his season? The qualifying offer is due to be around $22 million, perhaps more. Severino will be just 30 next year. Would he be worth a one-year gamble that might chill his market enough that he would accept and try to use 2024 to launch himself more positively into free agency? If he rejects, the Yankees would receive a compensation draft pick after the fourth round.

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 11:  Corbin Burnes #39 of the Milwaukee Brewers pitches against the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on August 11, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois.
Luis Severino’s up and down 2024 isn’t making the Yankees’ decision on whether to keep him easy.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Or would the Yankees feel that Severino has had too many injuries and offered up too much bad pitching this year to risk another season?

In that case what about Frankie Montas? The Yankees should know his health situation well (at last). If they like his medicals, and Montas is willing to take a one-year offer for, say, $6 million with incentives, should they try to finally get something out of him? Or is there just too much negativity there?

The Yankees like prospects Chase Hampton and Drew Thorpe and think they could become factors sometime next year. Luis Gil will be back from Tommy John surgery and join Will Warren, Jhony Brito and Randy Vasquez for depth. But if not Severino or Montas, they will have to find at least one more veteran starter they trust.

10. Dodgers: Lots of upside. Lots of uncertainty.

Clayton Kershaw and Julio Urias are free agents. Kershaw answers the same question annually now — return to Los Angeles on another one-year contract, sign with the Rangers to finish out his career close to home or retire?

The Dodgers have long been associated with Ohtani, but now he probably will not pitch next season. So would that push them to re-up with Urias, who turned only 27 this month?

Lance Lynn has been a quality innings-eater for the Dodgers since being obtained at the deadline from the White Sox. Picking up his $18.5 million option would provide Los Angeles some stability.

Walker Buehler still might make it back from Tommy John surgery to pitch this season, but he will be lined up as a key starter in his 2024 walk year. Will he return to be a top-of-the-rotation force?

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Walker Buehler (21) walks in the dugout prior to a regular season game between the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Dodgers on May 16, 2023 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, CA.
Walker Buehler likely will need some time to become the dominant starter he once was before he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery last summer.
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Dustin May needed elbow surgery and will not be a factor until the middle of next season, at the earliest while Tony Gonsolin will miss the entire 2024 season after needing Tommy John surgery. Bobby Miller has established himself best out of a young group that includes Michael Grove, Ryan Pepiot, Emmet Sheehan and Gavin Stone. And with the Dodgers there is always more help coming, such as Nick Frasso.

11. Rays: If Tampa Bay had good rotation health, it is the kind of organization that would seize the moment and trade Tyler Glasnow, who is due $25 million in his 2024 walk year. And since these are the Rays, they still might.

But the near certainty that ace Shane McClanahan (Tommy John surgery) will not pitch next year and uncertainty about when/if Drew Rasmussen and Jeffrey Springs will return in ’24 makes it a tougher choice for the Rays.

Glasnow, Civale and Zach Eflin offer Tampa Bay a strong lead three. The return of a healthy Shane Baz also would help. Taj Bradley, though, has endured an uneven rookie season, and the pitching prospect ranks are not deep for the Rays. But Tampa Bay is great at creating answers out of nowhere and perhaps is doing that with Zack Littell, who’s had a 3.97 ERA in six starts since transitioning from a reliever into a starter.

12. Phillies: There were a lot of stunned responses when Zack Wheeler received a five-year, $118 million free-agent deal in 2019, but with it coming to an end next season, the pact has been a great success. Wheeler has been durable and excellent.

Long-time co-ace Aaron Nola, though, is a free agent — albeit off of arguably his worst season. He will have to be re-signed or replaced behind Wheeler and in front of Taijuan Walker, Ranger Suarez and Christopher Sanchez. Painter will not be a factor in 2024, but the Phillies hope that Mick Abel and perhaps Griff McGarry will be. They are the kind of organization now that will try to secure at least one more veteran starter to be sure — perhaps impending free agent Michael Lorenzen, whom the Phils traded for at the deadline.

Zack Wheeler #45 of the Philadelphia Phillies pitches to a Washington Nationals batter during the 2023 Little League Classic at Bowman Field on August 20, 2023 in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
Investing in Zack Wheeler has paid off for the Phillies, who have seen their ace compile a 40-25 record and a 3.02 ERA in his four seasons with the club.
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13. Twins: Minnesota has Sonny Gray and Kenta Maeda entering free agency, but Pablo Lopez, Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober remain. And Chris Paddack, after missing this season following Tommy John surgery, should be a full go.

14. Reds: So much attention (rightfully) has been placed on the Reds’ rookie positional squadron of Elly De La Cruz, Matt McLain, Spencer Steer and Christian Encarnacion-Strand, that first-year starters Andrew Abbott and Brandon Williamson have gone a bit under the radar. But there is a chance that pair, plus Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo and Graham Ashcraft could form a capable, young rotation.

15. Diamondbacks: Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly are a high-end rotation 1-2. Brandon Pfaadt was showing late signs of honoring his prospect pedigree, but Tommy Henry and Ryne Nelson need to take a step (or two) forward. The Diamondbacks still owe Madison Bumgarner, whom they released in April, $14 million for 2024 to close an ill-fated, five-year, $85 million pact. That is the second most Arizona had ever given a free agent. The Diamondbacks probably can’t be gun-shy. They have to go back into the market and find a strong starter.

16. Orioles: The emergence of Kyle Bradish, the arrival of Grayson Rodriguez and the hoped-for return from Tommy John surgery of John Means provides a building block. DL Hall, Cole Irvin, Dean Kremer and Tyler Wells offer support. But Baltimore will want to maximize its terrific young positional group by finding at least one high-end starter.

17. Red Sox: Brayan Bello has been a revelation this season. But behind him is a mystery moving forward. Can Chris Sale stay healthy in the final season of his contract in 2024? Are Kutter Crawford, Tanner Houck, Nick Pivetta, Garrett Whitlock starters, relievers or hybrids? They will want to contend next year and that means adding, at minimum, one strong starter.

Brayan Bello #66 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after the final out of the fifth inning of a game against the Kansas City Royals at Fenway Park on August 07, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts.
With 10 wins in 22 starts and a 3.56 ERA, 24-year-old Brayan Bello has helped keep the Red Sox in the playoff race.
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18. Giants: Logan Webb and Alex Cobb (assuming the Giants pick up the team option) provide a strong 1-2. Is Kyle Harrison a real piece for 2024? Are Anthony Desclafani, Sean Manaea and Ross Stripling (if he picks up his $12.5 million ’24 option) enough veteran stability for a combined $37 million or a collective albatross — in 36 combined starts in 2023, they were 5-14 with a 5.07 ERA.

19. Padres: Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove are a fine 1-2 but then … Seth Lugo likely will opt out. There are various options that probably will keep Michael Wacha with the Padres, but it is no sure thing. Blake Snell is a free agent and their top pitching prospects, Dylan Lesko and Robby Snelling, are not on the 2024 radar. In other words, San Diego is one of those clubs expecting to contend next year that is going to need to secure multiple starters in the offseason.

20. Mets: Kodai Senga has looked like at least a quality No. 2 starter as a rookie. Jose Quintana should — health permitting — be a fine mid-rotation piece. And then … The regression of Tylor Megill and David Peterson was a contributing element to the team’s disappointing 2023. Do Jose Butto and/or Joey Lucchesi even maintain their 40-man roster spots? Does anyone emerge capable or better from the bundle of Dominic Hamel, Justin Jarvis, Christian Scott, Tyler Stuart and Blake Tidwell?

21. Cubs: Justin Steele has emerged as a top-flight starter. Drew Smyly and Jameson Taillon fall into the back-end innings-eater category. Marcus Stroman hasn’t pitched since July 6 with a rib cage cartilage fracture, but he is still probable to opt out of the $21 million player option for 2024. Javier Assad and Hayden Wesneski have not earned full-time starter status. Waiting off camera is Ben Brown, the piece the Cubs received at the 2022 trade deadline for David Robertson.

22. Nationals: This has been a year of growth for Washington, with MacKenzie Gore and Josiah Gray becoming rotation fixtures. The Nats will hope that Cade Cavalli works his way back from Tommy John surgery sometime next season to make it a young trio. Patrick Corbin and Trevor Williams provide some veteran innings. (An aside here to appreciate that Corbin has not looked for a parachute as he has generally pitched poorly since being so instrumental in the 2019 Nationals title. The lefty keeps taking the ball, racking up the sixth-most starts over the last three years despite the worst ERA (5.51) for anyone with 60 or more starts).

Patrick Corbin #46 of the Washington Nationals looks on against the Boston Red Sox during the second inning at Nationals Park on August 17, 2023 in Washington, DC.
Patrick Corbin has struggled since helping the Nationals win the 2019 World Series, but he has been one of the most reliable innings-eaters in the league.
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23. Pirates: How quickly can 2023 top overall pick Paul Skenes reach the majors? It is expected to be in 2024. Mitch Keller and Johan Oviedo assembled strong years as Roansy Contreras (a key to the Jameson Taillon trade with the Yankees) and Luis Ortiz fell apart. The Pirates at least listened on Keller at the trade deadline and — in this market and as far away as Pittsburgh remains from being a real contender — they will have to listen again in the offseason. Jared Jones and Anthony Solometo will be factors at some point next year.

24. Angels: Even if Ohtani stays, he has a UCL tear and is unlikely to pitch in 2024. Thus, an Angels’ problem behind Ohtani remains a problem. Namely, that the rest of the rotation is populated by back-end types — Tyler Anderson, Griffin Canning, Reid Detmers, Patrick Sandoval and Chase Silseth.

25. Tigers: Their best starters of 2023 have been traded (Michael Lorenzen) or will almost certainly opt out of their contracts after this season (Eduardo Rodriguez). Much of the Tigers’ near-term future is based on if a quartet that has been injured a lot recently can get healthy, stay healthy and perform well: Matt Manning, Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Spencer Turnbull.

26. Cardinals: There is Miles Mikolas coming off a down 2023 and then … Jack Flaherty and Jordan Montgomery were traded in their walk years. Adam Wainwright is retiring after this season. Steven Matz is doing a now familiar tease dance — pitch so poorly as to fall out of the rotation (5.72 ERA), find himself in the bullpen and excel when he returns to start (1.82 ERA in his last seven). He is signed through 2025, so he will get another chance. Matthew Liberatore is arguably the young starter most likely to be a frontrunner for the rotation next year with Gordon Graceffo, Dakota Hudson, Michael McGreevy, Drew Rom and Zach Thompson also in that stew.

Matthew Liberatore #52 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches during a game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on August 10, 2023 in St Petersburg, Florida.
A 2018 first-round pick, Matthew Liberatore may be one of the few starters the Cardinals can pencil into the rotation next year.
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27. White Sox: They traded Lucas Giolito in his walk year and Lance Lynn, who has a 2024 option. Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech both have had regression years, but they are talented. Could a new head of baseball operations begin to rebuild their values? There is a $12 million mutual option for Mike Clevinger. Perhaps Jake Eder, obtained at the deadline from Miami for Jake Burger, could become a ’24 factor.

28. Royals: Brady Singer has been much better the last two months, but he is still having a step-back year from last season. Cole Ragans was a good upside play from the Rangers in a trade for Aroldis Chapman; he’s pitched to a 2.08 ERA in six Kansas City starts. But the lefty was available because he is 25 and already has had Tommy John surgery twice. Beyond that duo there is little to believe in now or for 2024.

29. A’s: It is hardly amazing what happens when an organization is not trying to win. Oakland’s 6.04 rotation ERA was on pace to be the worst in a 162-game season since the 2003 Rangers (6.24). The A’s have thrown a lot of arms at the wall and nothing has stuck. Can anyone emerge from this Darwinian pool that has included three starters Oakland received from the Yankees in the Frankie Montas trade (Luis Medina, J.P. Sears, Ken Waldichuk) plus Paul Blackburn, James Kaprielian, Mason Miller and Kyle Muller?

30. Rockies: After all the inquiries into German Marquez by interested teams over the years that Colorado shunned, the Rockies now face this decision: whether to even pick up his $16 million 2024 option. Since there is a $2.5 million buyout, it is actually a $13.5 million decision. Marquez underwent Tommy John surgery on May 12. It means he is unlikely to return before June ’24. Is it worth it for the Rockies to bring him back, hoping he has a strong July and they can finally trade him?

Germán Márquez of the Colorado Rockies reacts after being injured during fourth inning against the Cleveland Guardians at Progressive Field on April 26, 2023 in Cleveland, Ohio.
The Rockies have long declined trade offers for German Marquez, but with a $16 million option on the books for 2024, Colorado may be thinking differently now about their injured ace.
Diamond Images/Getty Images

Antonio Senzatela, who has three years at $36 million left on his contract, also had Tommy John surgery and will miss at least half of ’24. Kyle Freeland and Austin Gomber are the “best” of what is returning from a rotation that finished the weekend with a 5.84 ERA and an .872 OPS against. It is hard to successfully pitch at a mile high altitude. Harder still without elite starters. And it is not as if the Rockies are viewed as having difference-makers coming soon from their pipeline.