4. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pittsburgh Pirates once challenged the Cardinals and Cubs for the division crown for about half of a decade. However, recent teams haven't been as kind to the Pittsburgh loyal. This year, the Pirates have surpassed the Cardinals in the division. However, their current lineup, history of spending, and prospects leave a little to be desired.
For the 2023 season, the Pirates have a total payroll just under $69 million. They have $20 million on the books for 2024, per Spotrac. Pittsburgh's front office's penchant for saving money doesn't spell a spree this offseason. The Pirates do have 6 players in the top 100 of MLB's prospect list, including this year's #1 overall pick, Paul Skenes. This youth infusion will do them well for the next 5+ years.
While the Pirates have an exciting farm system and plenty of payroll space, they don't appear to be a major threat in the NL Central just yet. It is unlikely the Pirates contend for top free agents in the 2024 offseason; furthermore, the players who are currently starting for the Pirates aren't top-end talents. It is more likely that the Pirates pose a greater threat in 2025 and beyond for the Central crown.