New York Yankees v Toronto Blue Jays
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Spring training is well underway, and soon, Cactus League and Grapefruit League games will begin. Exhibition games are fun in their own way, but let's be real here: they get boring pretty quickly. We all crave high-stakes baseball, as the stakes are never higher than in the postseason. And with the 12-team format, there have never been more postseason games.

Last year, six teams qualified for the playoffs after failing to reach the postseason in 2022, including the World Series champion Texas Rangers and National League champion Arizona Diamondbacks. Under the old 10-team postseason format, roughly half the field changed from one year to the next, so last year's six new postseason teams had the same turnover rate.

R.J. Anderson already looked at the five 2023 postseason teams most in danger of missing the 2024 postseason. We're here to do the opposite. We're going to look at the five teams best positioned to make the 2024 postseason after failing to make it in 2023 because they improved their roster over the winter, are healthier, face less stiff competition in their division, etc.

Here, ranked in order of most likely to make the postseason after missing last year, are the five teams in the best shape to make the 2024 postseason after spending last October at home.

1. New York Yankees

Including a team with a $300 million payroll is not exactly going out on a limb, but the Yankees had their worst season in three decades last year, finishing at 82-80. They weren't particularly close to the postseason either. They finished 19 games out in the AL East and seven games back of a wild-card spot, despite a strong finish that saw them go 17-10 in September.

That 82-80 finish prompted the Yankees to attack their weaknesses in a meaningful way. Juan Soto was the best hitter to change teams this offseason, and New York also added Alex Verdugo to improve an outfield that was very weak in the two non-Aaron Judge spots last year. Also, they are two high-contact lefty bats, something the Yankees sorely lacked. Marcus Stroman provides stability in the middle of the rotation and the ability to keep the ball in the park at homer-happy Yankee Stadium.

There is also the reasonable expectation of better health. Judge missed two months after slamming his toe into a small unpadded portion of the Dodgers' outfield wall. Anthony Rizzo suffered a concussion when a throw took him into the runner's path. Those are bad luck injuries. Nestor Cortes (shoulder) and Carlos Rodón (forearm, back) suffered typical baseball injuries. They carry more injury risk than Judge and Rizzo, who got hurt on unfortunate plays rather than during the normal course of baseball.

Ultimately, there are six postseason spots per league, four of which are available to the Yankees (spoiler alert: they won't win the AL Central or AL West). They didn't just add good players over the winter. They added good players who do the things the Yankees didn't do well in 2023. They addressed their needs well. That the Yankees went 82-80 despite so much going wrong last year speaks to their resilience. The Yankees refuse to be bad. Like bad bad. Discount them at your own risk.

2. Seattle Mariners

The Mariners have had an active offseason, albeit an unusual one. Cutting down on strikeouts was clearly a priority, hence the decision to move on from Teoscar Hernández, Jarred Kelenic, and Eugenio Suárez. Mitch Garver and Jorge Polanco provide higher contact rates, and Mitch Haniger and Luke Raley should bring more thump to a lineup that lacked it a year ago.

Seattle made all those moves without raising payroll -- their projected Opening Day payroll is down a few million from last year, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts -- which, frankly, calls into question ownership's commitment. Why is the 2024 payroll lower than the 2016-19 payrolls? Credit to GM Jerry Dipoto for remaking his offense while being hamstrung financially.

Few teams can match Luis Castillo, Logan Gilbert, and George Kirby atop the rotation, and the Matt Brash/Andrés Muñoz tandem at the end of games is as fearsome as it gets. Each posted strikeout rates north of 30% last season. The question is whether the offense will support the pitching better than it did last year. Cutting down on hitters who strike out excessively should help.

Seattle missed the postseason by one stinkin' game in 2023. They had a chance to clinch a spot going into the final week and fell short. The Rangers have major questions in the rotation and the Houston Astros are already dealing with pitching injuries in camp. That, plus the less-than-stellar AL Central, helps pave the way for the Mariners to at least get a wild-card berth.

3. Cincinnati Reds

I love this team's young talent. Andrew Abbott, Will Benson, TJ Friedl, Matt McLain, and Spencer Steer combined for 14.4 WAR last season and are a heck of a foundation. The Reds have more young talent coming too. Elly De La Cruz, Noelvi Marte, and Christian Encarnacion-Strand all figure to have full-time roles in 2024, and with any luck, Hunter Greene will stay on the field.

Cincinnati's postseason hopes could hinge on De La Cruz. He's so incredibly talented. He's electric. He's the kind of player you can see breaking out and becoming a top-25 player in the sport. You could also see De La Cruz playing his way back to Triple-A. It's a very boom-or-bust profile. If De La Cruz booms, the Reds go to the postseason. If he busts, they go home.

The Reds had an active offseason that raised the team's floor more than its ceiling. And that's fine. Veterans like Jeimer Candelario and Nick Martinez will stabilize things, and Frankie Montas offers an upside with a healthy shoulder. Mostly though, the Reds are here because of their young talent. There's a lot of it, and teams with a lot of young talent can emerge quickly.

Cincinnati went 56-47 in their final 103 games last season -- that's just short of two-thirds of a 162-game schedule -- and they finished only two games out of a wild-card spot. The NL is top heavy. It might only take 84 wins to get a wild-card spot again this coming season, and that is well within reach for a Reds team that has high-end young talent all over the field.

4. St. Louis Cardinals

So much went wrong for the Cardinals last season. Willson Contreras needed half a season to really settle in as Yadier Molina's replacement, Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt had their worst 162-game seasons, the rotation couldn't miss bats at all, so on and so forth. A 10-24 start buried them. There was no climbing out of that hole.

I don't love the Kyle Gibson and Lance Lynn signings -- they're fine -- but they should give the Cardinals innings, something they did not get often enough from their starters last season. Sonny Gray, the AL Cy Young runner-up, is a difference-maker. With Corbin Burnes traded, he is arguably the best starter in the division. It has been a few years since St. Louis had a starter as good as Gray.

Jordan Walker's rookie season was sneaky good. His defense was poor overall, though it went from unplayable early on to adequate by the end of the year. He made strides and figures to be even better in 2024, which will still be only his second season as a full-time outfielder. Masyn Winn will improve the defense at short and bring much-needed athleticism.

The Milwaukee Brewers said goodbye to Burnes (and Brandon Woodruff before reportedly re-signing him to a two-year deal, though he'll likely miss most or all of 2024 anyway after shoulder surgery), and the Cardinals are the most improved team in the division, at least on paper. As with the Reds, St. Louis has a chance to be in the postseason race because it might only take 84 wins to get a wild-card spot. There is serious age-related risk with this group. There are also reasons to believe they'll be better.

5. Chicago Cubs

The final spot was a tough one. The Cleveland Guardians have a strong case to be here. So do the San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants, and we could even include the New York Mets. I was hesitant to include three NL Central teams here, though that's a me problem. If three NL Central deserve to be here, then three NL Central teams should be here.

It feels like the Cubs still have a major move coming, with re-signing Cody Bellinger most likely. They have not made that major move yet, however, and they missed the postseason last year even while getting an All-Star level performance from Bellinger. Truth be told, Chicago needed another bat last season and that was with Bellinger. Now he's a free agent.

Even without Bellinger, the 2024 Cubs can be better than the 2023 Cubs. Seiya Suzuki had a monster second half last year (.938 OPS), and while expecting that over a full season is a stretch, the hope is he can more consistent from Game 1 through Game 162. Michael Busch offers more upside than anyone Chicago had at first base last year, and some in the game love Shota Imanaga

The Cubs missed the postseason by one game last season and they have young talent coming (Pete Crow-Armstrong, Ben Brown, etc.), and it feels they'll do something impactful before Opening Day. Right now, their chance at a postseason berth has more to do with an ostensibly weakened Brewers team and a wide open wild-card field than it does their offseason improvement.