MLB: How the Tigers, Guardians, White Sox, Royals get to the postseason in 2024

November 4, 2023

At the end of each regular season in Major League Baseball, there are always teams that had playoff, or even World Series, aspirations which failed to reach the postseason. Reasons range from significant injuries, to underwhelming performance, or a combination of many. Then, there are teams who had little chance to begin the season to reach the playoffs.

In this series, we will go division by division. Dissecting each team that missed the playoffs in each division, discussing their 2023 campaigns and answering questions such as: How close are they to the postseason? Who are some key free agents they could add? What does their current payroll situation mean?

(All estimated payrolls are credited to fangraphs and do not include salaries for arbitration eligible players, AAVs for players with guaranteed contracts no longer on the 40-man roster, estimated salaries for players not yet eligible for arbitration and other players with non-guaranteed contracts, or sums of other payments.)

Detroit Tigers

What happened in 2023?

Detroit finished with a mediocre 78-84 record in a weak American League Central divison that just had one (the Twins) playoff berth. Yes, they finished second in the division, but 11 games out of a playoff spot. The offense ranked No. 27 in runs per game in the majors (4.09), although there were some key contributors to build around. Riley Greene looked the part of a middle-of-the-order bat in his 416 plate appearances with a .288/.349/.447 slashline for a 119 wRC+. Kerry Carpenter has the bat to be an everyday player and slugged 20 homers to help his case. Spencer Torkelson finally turned a bit of a corner and finished with a 107 wRC+ and 31 homers. Matt Vierling turned in an average season in the outfield with a 99 wRC+ and just a 21% k-rate. I would probably only call Greene a cornerstone, but the Tigers might disagree with Carpenter in the mix.

On the other side of the coin, Tarik Skubal started just 15 games after the injury bug bit him in 2022, leaving the rest of the work to a rotation that was going to be mediocre anyway. However, Eduardo Rodriguez pitched well to a 3.30 ERA and a 3.0 win season by fWAR and the rotation as a whole finished No. 8 in the majors in FIP (4.18). Michael Lorenzen turned himself into a valuable trade chip that was cashed in at the deadline. 24-year-old Reese Olson threw 91.2 innings in which his xFIP (3.80) didn’t match the results (4.32 ERA). But Olson looked like a solid mid-rotation option with room to improve.

What’s the fix?

The Detroit Tigers raised the floor by trading for Mark Canha earlier today (November 4). But their work on offense shouldn’t be done. The division is something to take advantage of. Add enough and they should compete for a division title in 2024. Tarik Skubal should be back for a full season with prospect arms Ty Madden and Wilmer Flores potentially up to supplement the rotation next season. Colt Keith should also be ready to contribute at the plate (we’ll see how he looks at spring training). Beyond the help coming up, the Tigers need to add at least one rotation arm, one bullpen arm and one bat via free agency or trade beyond Canha to really have a shot at the postseason in 2024.

Key free agent possibilities:

  • LHP Blake Snell
  • RHP Lucas Giolito
  • OF Teoscar Hernandez
  • C Mitch Garver
  • RHP Jakob Junis

Cleveland Guardians

What happened in 2023?

2023 served as a bit of a disappointment for the Guardians, especially offensively. They ranked No. 22 in team wRC+ in a season where Jose Ramirez and the Naylor brothers (Bo Naylor, Josh Naylor) carried the weight. But Andrés Giménez disappointed after receiving a six-year $106.5 million contract, Myles Straw was exceptionally bad at the plate, with a 69 wRC+ in 518 plate appearances and rookie Gabriel Arias scuffled to a .210/.275/.352 slashline in 345 plate appearances. Although they ranked No. 1 in limiting strikeouts as a lineup in the big leagues (17.7%), they didn’t walk much either… ranking No. 25 in walk rate at 7.7%.

The pitching staff had some nice surprises and finished top 10 as a staff in ERA (3.97). Rookie Tanner Bibee flashed top of the rotation potential sporting a 2.98 ERA in 142 IP. Aaron Civale made just 13 starts but threw to a 3.53 FIP and a 2.34 ERA. Gavin Williams, Shane Bieber (before trade) and Logan Allen all posted an ERA under 4. The bullpen with Emmanuel Clase leading the way ranked No. 10 in FIP in MLB (4.02) but were No. 28 in blown saves with 32.

Cleveland finished 76-86 and 13.0 games behind a wildcard birth.

What’s the fix?

The pitching staff is good enough to compete within the division and ultimately in the postseason. Cleveland needs to add two or more everyday players to the lineup who can provide consistent impact offense to win the division in 2024. They have solid prospects ready on offense in Brayan Rocchio, Kyle Manzardo, George Valera and Angel Martinez, but can’t count on prospects to provide the impact they need. Go get some bats, Guardians.

Key free agent possibilities: 

  • OF Hunter Renfroe
  • OF Cody Bellinger
  • OF Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
  • INF Gio Urshela
  • OF/DH Jorge Soler

Chicago White Sox

What happened in 2023?

The White Sox are in trouble. The core they planned around outside of Luis Robert Jr. is not panning out. Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez and Andrew Vaughn all posted pedestrian years at the plate, with none of the three hitting over a 105 wRC+. Gavin Sheets and Tim Anderson each posted a wRC+ under 70 and the White Sox opted to trade plus bat Jake Burger at the deadline who posted a 113 wRC+ for the year.

In the rotation, Dylan Cease posted another solid season with a 3.72 FIP in 177 IP. However, the rest of their rotation that performed well (Lucas Giolito, Mike Clevinger and Lance Lynn) arent expected to be back in 2024 after entering free agency. This leaves Michael Kopech, Touki Toussaint and Jesse Scholtens to really analyze for the future. Unfortunately, all three disappointed. Kopech finished with a 6.46 FIP (ouch), Toussaint a 4.95 FIP (sheesh) and Scholtens a 5.31 FIP (I want off this ride).

The White Sox somewhat unexpectedly finished with a 101-loss season and are looking forward to the draft lottery.

What’s the fix?

Contending seems very far off for the Chicago White Sox, even in this division. Without a complete turnaround from the aforementioned core (Moncada, Jimenez, Vaughn), the correct course of action should be to reset and rebuild this thing from the ground up. They are off to a good start acquiring Jake Eder in the Jake Burger trade with Miami. However, if the White Sox do decide to push forward with the current roster, the lineup should be the priority with at least one rotation addition not far behind. This may be a tempting route, given the winner of their division won just 87 games this year and second place won 78 games, I just fear the hole being dug deeper and the path to contention being pushed out further if indeed they attempt to compete in 2024.

Key free agent possibilities:

  • SS Amed Rosario
  • OF Joey Gallo
  • RHP Kyle Gibson
  • RHP Tyler Mahle
  • 2B Tony Kemp

Kansas City Royals

What happened in 2023?

Let me get this out of the way, the 2023 Kansas City Royals might be my favorite 100+ loss team of all time. They gave contending teams like the Seattle Mariners and the Houston Astros fits towards the end of the regular season, and Bobby Witt Jr. has the chance to be a future MVP candidate. Nelson Velazquez lit the league on fire in his 147 plate apperances for the Royals and Cole Ragans and Brady Singer look to be solid mid-rotation options over the next five to six years. None of this means they didn’t have an atrocious season, but the future seems bright if good baseball decisions are made moving forward.

The offense ranked No. 23 in runs per game (4.17) and No. 29 in BB% (6.9%). As a result of that BB%, the OBP was third-worst in the majors at just .303. There is room for hope, as the hard hit percentage was top-7 in the majors at 40.9, and they limited strikeouts to a No. 13 ranked 23.3%.

From the mound, the starting rotation ranked No. 27 in ERA at 5.12 (hello Jordan Lyles, we see your 6.28 ERA in 177.2 innings) and need to improve the bullpen as they ranked second-to-last in bullpen ERA in the majors.

What’s the fix?

Continue to develop their young players, and add supplementary short-term contracts to the roster. A lot of the Kansas City farm talent is still in lower levels and two years from contributing, but Tyler Gentry looks to be an intriguing bat that could be ready for the 2024 season. If the Royals can add two impact bats to the lineup, and a rotational piece that gives them workhorse like innings, this would be my pick for the next Arizona Diamondbacks type cinderella team.

Key free agent possibilities:

  • OF Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
  • INF Jeimer Candelario
  • RHP Lucas Giolito
  • RHP Jack Flaherty
  • OF Harrison Bader
Casey Bellon

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