MLB roundtable: Who’ll sign Juan Soto? Better core, Astros or Yankees? Snell or Cease?

Three games on FOX networks, three bubbling rivalries, storylines for days.

The first slate of FOX Saturday Baseball in 2024 is must-see TV, as the Phillies host the Braves (FS1, 4:05 p.m. ET), the Astros and Yankees square off in Houston (FOX, 7:15 p.m. ET), and the Padres welcome the Giants (FOX, 7:15 p.m. ET). All six teams have serious postseason aspirations, but which of them are best positioned for October glory after a dizzying winter across MLB? And who is most likely to land superstar Juan Soto after he plays out this walk year in New York?

FOX Sports MLB experts Rowan Kavner and Deesha Thosar tackle those topics and more in this week’s roundtable.

1. Which quintet do you believe in more for 2024: The Astros’ (Yordan Álvarez, José Altuve, Kyle Tucker, Alex Bregman and Justin Verlander) or the Yankees’ (Juan Soto, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Anthony Rizzo and Gerrit Cole)?

Thosar: The Astros’. The big four of Alvarez, Altuve, Tucker, and Bregman have more of a recent track record of getting it done both in the regular season and in the playoffs. Plus, this could very well be the final year we see that group playing together, as Bregman hits free agency in the offseason. There really aren’t any question marks within that Astros offensive unit, whereas Stanton and Rizzo both have a lot to prove this year. As for the pitching side, it is, of course, easier to believe that Cole’s younger arm, which has significantly less mileage than Verlander’s, will bounce back quickly. But Cole is dealing with an elbow issue, and that is much more unpredictable and concerning than Verlander’s shoulder injury. Cole is still shut down from throwing, and Verlander is already close to beginning minor-league rehab starts. So, through and through, Houston’s quintet looks stronger at this early juncture of the season.

Kavner: The Astros’ group. Verlander’s health is obviously a question, but the same goes for the majority of the Yankees on that list. Alvarez is one of the most feared hitters in baseball, Altuve is one of the most clutch postseason performers in the game, Tucker is a top-10 outfielder and Bregman is perennially one of the best players at his position. I expect a big year from him in a contract season, and as incredible as I think Soto and Judge are and will be, I’ll favor the consistency of the Astros’ offensive quartet. 

2. After an eventful offseason for both the Giants and Padres, which of them is the more legitimate NL contender?

Kavner: While the Giants did more this offseason to better their cause, I’m going with the Padres. Their record last year was 82-80, but their pythagorean was 92-70. They went an unsustainably bad 9-23 in one-run games. That they were barely .500 despite outscoring their opponents by more than 100 runs and posting the second-best ERA in the sport demonstrated some serious unluckiness. Dealing away Juan Soto doesn’t make them better, but Dylan Cease and Michael King raise the ceiling of the rotation, and there’s enough established talent remaining on this roster that it’s not hard to envision a playoff run, especially if Manny Machado stays healthy and Fernando Tatis Jr. gets back to his previous offensive production. 

Thosar: The Giants. They have far fewer question marks now than they did last year, and if all goes right with their rehabbing starting pitchers, they have the opportunity to display one of the scariest rotations in the league. Logan Webb and Blake Snell are co-aces, and Alex Cobb and Robbie Ray are expected to return from their injuries in the summer. If Jordan Hicks can find success as a starter, and top prospect Kyle Harrison is as electric as the organization believes he’ll be this year, then the Giants’ pitching will lead the way. A dominant Giants pitching staff, combined with a potentially dangerous offense led by Jung Hoo Lee at the top of the lineup and Matt Chapman in the mix, has the edge over the Padres.

3. After two playoff series upsets in two years, do you think the Phillies are in the Braves’ heads? How much of a chance do you give Philadelphia of topping Atlanta in the regular season?

Thosar: All the Braves have to do is look around the clubhouse to remind themselves how talented they are. Atlanta has arguably the best lineup and rotation in baseball, and is only a few months removed from a 104-win season and its sixth consecutive NL East title. So no, I don’t think the Phillies are in the Braves’ heads, because the Braves are without a doubt the better, well-rounded team. But, for two years in a row, it has become abundantly clear that the Phillies have been the hotter team in October, when it matters. I still think the Braves will easily take the division, and this year I’m expecting Atlanta to topple Philadelphia in the playoffs, too.

Kavner: Even if they won’t say it, it has to have some kind of impact, right? Both years, the Braves beat the Phillies by 14 games in the division. Both years, the Phillies beat them in the NLDS — decisively. That the Braves won just one game in each series has to linger somewhere in the psyche. Now, that doesn’t change the randomness of the playoffs, or that it’s completely possible the Braves follow up one of the greatest offensive seasons ever with another, considering the vast majority of their players are returning and are under the age of 28. The Braves  are a juggernaut. For that reason, I’d be stunned if Atlanta doesn’t win the division. But if they met again in October, it’s anyone’s guess. 

4. Which acquisition will be more impactful for this year, Dylan Cease or Blake Snell?

Kavner: I just heaped praise on the Cease trade above, which I think will work out well, but Snell is the more impactful add. I know some teams were scared off signing him long term, and it might take a bit of time for him to find his form after the long layoff, but this is the reigning Cy Young Award winner we’re talking about. He’s coming off a season with the best ERA in the majors. In fact, if you doubled Snell’s last season, it would still be better than the number Cease posted. He also had better whiff and strikeout rates. He can be volatile from year to year, and you can feel much more confident in Cease posting, but a 1-2 of Logan Webb and Snell has massive potential. 

Thosar: Blake Snell. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has another Cy Young caliber season in him for this year, particularly because he didn’t get the overall value and long-term contract he wanted in free agency. Snell will once again hit the market in the offseason, and it would behoove him to pair a couple of strong seasons together to allay the concerns about his inconsistency. Plus, Snell does have two Cy Young awards so he gets the upper hand. Cease, on the other hand, is under Padres club control through 2025, so he can afford some time to settle in.

5. What’s your initial guess on where Juan Soto signs next winter?

Thosar: I think it still largely depends on how much the Yankees actually win this year, but if they can pull off more victories like their Opening Day comeback against Houston, then that’s a good sign for the relationship between Soto and the club. So far, the star slugger has looked comfortable and confident with the Yankees. If Soto wants to stay in New York, and Hal Steinbrenner opens his checkbook to dish out what could very well be half a billion dollars, then I think he signs with the Yankees. If not, it’s all too easy to envision ultra-wealthy Mets owner Steve Cohen — who has no need to duck under the luxury tax — paying Soto whatever he wants. The battle for Soto will come down to the crosstown rivals.

Kavner: I agree with Deesha here. Whether it’s the Yankees or the Mets — whose only outfielder signed long-term is Brandon Nimmo — I see Soto sticking in New York. I think he will be so good this year for a Yankees offense that was so bad last season that they will do what it takes to keep him around. 

Bonus: What is currently the best rivalry in baseball?

Kavner: Considering how last year went, I’d go with the Rangers and Astros. In years prior, the hatred between the Texas clubs was mostly based on proximity and disdain between fan bases, but last season a true rivalry was built. The Lone Star showdown started sizzling before the playoffs with a benches-clearing incident, continued building with a division race decided on the last weekend of the season and reached new heights with an incredible back-and-forth seven-game playoff series. There was also plenty of banter in between. The typically mild-mannered Corey Seager said Alex Bregman’s celebratory comments after the Astros won the division served as motivation for the Rangers on their World Series run. Certainly, it was still in his head during his mic-drop moment at the parade. Yeah, this is just the start between these teams. 

Thosar: There are so many to choose from, but I’ll go with Rangers-Astros for the moment. The in-state rivalry went the distance last year, all the way to an ALCS Game 7, and the series was chock-full of drama. The Rangers and Astros brought out the competitive juices in their best players (Adolis García homering, then getting hit by a pitch, then Altuve blasting a three-run homer to take the series back to Houston) and each roster is hardly unchanged this year. The rivalry should only reach new heights this year.

Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets as a beat reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Deesha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.

Rowan Kavner is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the L.A. Dodgers, LA Clippers and Dallas Cowboys. An LSU grad, Rowan was born in California, grew up in Texas, then moved back to the West Coast in 2014. Follow him on Twitter at @RowanKavner.

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