MLB's most interesting people in '15

Rob Manfred will be baseball's man on the spot as he takes over as the sport's 10th commissioner. AP Images/Gene J. Puskar

Derek Jeter relinquished his Yankee Stadium locker stall to Penn State kicker Sam Ficken for the Pinstripe Bowl. Paul Konerko, an under-the-radar icon for years in Chicago, vacated the premises at U.S. Cellular Field. And as Bud Selig's 23-year run as commissioner winds down, he'll soon be free to tend to his memoirs and any other items on the "honey-do" list of his wife, Sue.

In 2014, the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals showed once again that nothing resonates more with baseball fans than an uplifting team achievement. But as faces come and go, there's still lots of room in an eight-month season for individual stories to dominate the news cycle.

Which executives, managers and players will drive the MLB narrative in the coming season? Here's a look at the 15 most interesting people in baseball heading into 2015:

1. Rob Manfred
After an extended run as Bud Selig's most trusted aide, Manfred takes center stage in late January as baseball's 10th commissioner. He'll try to maintain the momentum that has made baseball a $9 billion industry while setting an agenda on pace of play, changes in the draft and free-agent compensation system, and MLB's efforts to reach out to a younger fan base. Manfred also needs to connect with Tony Clark and the players' association while navigating the usual array of ownership labor hawks and doves in negotiations toward a new collective bargaining agreement in 2016.

2. Alex Rodriguez
Where do we start? A-Rod, who missed the entire 2014 season with a drug suspension, turns 40 in July. He's six homers shy of tying Willie Mays' total of 660 and collecting a $6 million bonus on top of the $61 million the Yankees already owe him. But the Yankees just signed third baseman Chase Headley to a four-year deal -- yet another sign that they want Rodriguez to go away. Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter were universally revered at the end of their runs in the Bronx. The reception won't be quite as fawning when the most polarizing figure in baseball reports to Steinbrenner Field for duty in February.

3. Joe Maddon
Maddon ended his introductory news conference by offering to buy a shot and a beer for everyone in the press room. Now the real work begins. The Cubs, fresh off their fifth straight losing season, will pay him a reported $5 million annually over five years to bring a championship to the North Side. Maddon's innovative ideas, fondness for rock lyrics and everyman persona are sure to resonate with the die-hards at a refurbished Wrigley Field. But the Cubs had better become contenders in a hurry, or the lovefest could be brief.

4. Giancarlo Stanton
Stanton will be the focus of some intrigue early in spring training when he steps in the batter's box looking to shed the ill effects of a Michael Fiers fastball that rearranged his face last September. After that, he'll try to show he was worthy of that record $325 million contract the Marlins gave him in November. Miami management has fulfilled its pledge to improve the roster by adding Martin Prado, Dee Gordon and Mat Latos in trades this winter. But it all revolves around Stanton in Miami.

5. Mike Trout
It's time to cue the "Jeter has retired, so Trout takes over as the new face of baseball" storyline. Last year Trout became the first player since Ty Cobb to amass 100 stolen bases, 300 RBIs and 500 hits by his age-22 season. With an MVP award and two runner-up finishes on his résumé and a $144 million contract extension that will keep him in Anaheim until age 29, he's entrusted with leading the Angels to their first postseason series victory since 2009.

6. Andrew Friedman
Friedman consistently built winners with smart, cost-efficient moves in Tampa Bay. He's operating under a dramatically different set of circumstances in Los Angeles, where the Dodgers paid him a reported $35 million over five years to bring home a title. Friedman was a busy man at the winter meetings, sending Matt Kemp to San Diego and acquiring Jimmy Rollins, Howie Kendrick and Brandon McCarthy through trades or free agency. The Dodgers' president of baseball operations has a lot more moves in store while putting his imprint on the proceedings at Chavez Ravine.

7. Madison Bumgarner
How does a 25-year-old lefty ace follow up on one of the greatest postseason performances in baseball history? Bumgarner dominated the baseball landscape with a brilliant run of pitching in October, but he logged a whopping 270 innings between the regular season and the postseason and won't have much time to recover from that onerous workload. Bumgarner and catcher Buster Posey will be the centerpieces to a San Francisco team that lost out on free-agent pursuits of Pablo Sandoval and Jon Lester and has been bedeviled by odd-year blues during its run of three titles in five seasons.

8. Clayton Kershaw
How does a 26-year-old lefty ace follow up on one of the most disappointing postseason flameouts in memory? Kershaw generated Sandy Koufax comparisons on his way to winning MVP and Cy Young awards in 2014. But until he finds a way to upgrade those sorry October numbers (1-5 with a 5.12 ERA in 11 playoff appearances), there'll be a big, fat blemish on his career profile.

9. A.J. Preller
Preller, operating on a fast-food diet and four hours of sleep a night, dominated the baseball news cycle before the holidays with trades for Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Derek Norris and Will Middlebrooks -- prompting Kemp to label him a front-office "rock star." His acquisitions of pitchers Shawn Kelley and Brandon Maurer in separate trades this week showed that even the traditional holiday break can't stop him. With his bold decision-making and unlimited energy, Preller has brought a buzz to San Diego baseball that hasn't been seen since the Padres' last trip to the World Series in 1998.

10. Matt Harvey
After six straight losing seasons and some serial belt-tightening under the Wilpon family, the Mets have legitimate reason for excitement behind their young pitching nucleus. A lot hinges on the performance of Harvey, who displayed ace-caliber stuff and serious star quality before blowing out his elbow and undergoing Tommy John surgery in October 2013. He'll try to return to top form amid a Stephen Strasburg-type innings watch this season.

11. Pedro Martinez
Martinez and Randy Johnson will headline what is almost certain to be the largest Baseball Hall of Fame induction class since Nolan Ryan, George Brett and Robin Yount entered Cooperstown as a group in 1999. It will be the highlight of an eventful year for Martinez, who will publish an autobiography in May ("Pedro," with the Boston Herald's Michael Silverman). Judging from his brutally candid postseason studio work for TBS, Martinez won't be shy about sharing opinions in print or on the big stage in Cooperstown.

12. Max Scherzer
Most of the big offseason moves are out of the way, which means that Scherzer and agent Scott Boras will dominate the Hot Stove conversation in January -- and possibly February. Boras has dropped abundant hints that he expects Scherzer to command a payday above and beyond Clayton Kershaw's record $215 million deal for a starting pitcher. Prepare for a heaping dose of speculation and rumor-mongering about the Yankees, Tigers and the inevitable array of "mystery teams" between now and Valentine's Day, or St. Patrick's Day.

13. Bryce Harper
Harper was headed for a grievance hearing with the Washington Nationals in December before reason prevailed and he agreed to a two-year deal. As alarmist as this sounds, Harper has reached a bit of a career crossroads at age 22. Two surgeries in five months put a crimp in his 2014 production, but he regained his swagger in October with an impressive performance in Washington's division series loss to San Francisco. A monster season from Harper will go a long way toward helping the Nationals get over the hump and finally make a deep run in October.

14. Kris Bryant
Bryant, the second overall pick in the 2013 draft, reigns supreme as the most highly touted prospect on the horizon. The Cubs passed on a September call-up even though he led the minor leagues with 43 homers and posted a 1.098 OPS during stops with Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa. If Bryant mashes in Mesa in spring training, the Cubs will be hard-pressed not to put him into the lineup for their 2015 season opener against St. Louis on April 5 at Wrigley.

15. Pete Rose
After 26 years in the baseball wilderness, Rose has finally reached make-or-break time. Bud Selig gave him the perpetual stiff-arm, but Rose is hoping for a chance to plead his case to Manfred. Coincidentally, with the All-Star Game on tap at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, there's sure to be a spirited debate over how prominent a ceremonial role the Hit King will play in the week's activities.

Others To Watch

Cole Hamels: The Phillies began their revamp by trading longtime fixture Jimmy Rollins in December. The organizational makeover will be ratcheted up exponentially if general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. finds a way to deal Hamels.

Tony Clark: It takes two to make a labor agreement, and Clark, in his second year as executive director of the players' association, will continue to carve out his niche and try to build a productive rapport with Manfred along the lines of the one enjoyed by his predecessor, the late Michael Weiner.

Yasmany Tomas: The scouts agree that he's no Jose Abreu. Can he justify the $68.5 million the Arizona Diamondbacks spent in hopes that he'll be the latest impact player out of Cuba?

Brady Aiken: The Astros chose him No. 1 overall in the 2014 first-year player draft, but talks broke down after a failed physical and a deal never came to fruition. Aiken is likely to attend a junior college in the spring and will be eligible to re-enter the draft in June.

Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez: Boston shook up its offense by acquiring two new wingmen for David Ortiz, who is 34 home runs short of the 500 mark. Can Sandoval and Ramirez thrive in their new environs?

David Price: With Justin Verlander slipping and Max Scherzer probably headed elsewhere, Price will play a major role in trying to lead Detroit to its fifth straight postseason appearance. And then, barring a surprise contract extension, he'll chase the big bucks as the marquee pitcher in next winter's free-agent crop.