The 2015 calendar year marked the inevitable passages in baseball. Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Yogi Berra both died, leaving behind millions of grateful admirers and some indelible memories. And veteran mainstays Tim Hudson, Torii Hunter, LaTroy Hawkins, Michael Cuddyer, Dan Haren, Aramis Ramirez and Barry Zito all came to grips with the inevitable and announced their retirement.
As the Kansas City Royals' title run showed, the most compelling narratives can be team-based. But select individuals stood out from the crowd in 2015, and that's certain to be the case in the year to come. Which MLB players, executives, managers and others will capture our attention and dominate the headlines in 2016? Here's a look at ESPN.com's 16 most interesting baseball people of 2016.
1. Zack Greinke: The Arizona Diamondbacks pulled off the stunner of the offseason when they signed Greinke to a six-year, $206.5 million contract, spiriting him away from the division rival Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants. A few days later, they traded former No. 1 overall draft pick Dansby Swanson to Atlanta in a package deal for starter Shelby Miller to prove beyond a doubt that they're "all in" for 2016. Greinke, who finished second to Jake Arrieta in the NL Cy Young race despite a 1.66 ERA, is notoriously averse to media attention. But he'll be a magnet for scrutiny as the nine-figure frontman for a team with serious postseason aspirations. Pitching connoisseurs in the NL West should have a blast watching Greinke match up against Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner in the years to come.
2. David Price: While big-league teams have become increasingly wary of committing to stratospheric free-agent deals for pitchers, the yellow caution flags couldn't deter Boston from signing Price to a seven-year, record $217 million contract in November. During his introductory news conference, Price reiterated his desire to make the Hall of Fame one day. He can ingratiate himself with Boston fans by improving upon his so-so career numbers against the Yankees (13-7 with a 4.04 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP), leading the Red Sox to the playoffs and doing something to amend that 0-7 career postseason record as a starter. If Price was looking for a challenge, he came to the right place.
3. Jason Heyward: You can make a case for Arrieta, Kris Bryant, Joe Maddon, Theo Epstein, Anthony Rizzo or even Kyle Schwarber as the most entertaining storyline at Wrigley Field in 2016. But much of the focus will fall on the new guy, Heyward, who has settled with a $184 million contract while Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton, Chris Davis and the other big free-agent bats are still on the market. Though Heyward is a skilled defender, he'll be a departure from the norm as a 6-foot-5, 245-pounder playing center field. He also ranks 29th among MLB outfielders (minimum: 2,000 plate appearances) with a .784 OPS since 2010. Although Heyward is thoughtful and understated as a rule, he stirred the pot at his introductory news conference when he said he left St. Louis in part because of concerns about the Cardinals' aging nucleus. He added extra fuel to a Cubs-Cardinals rivalry that didn't need much.
4. Bryce Harper: All Harper did a year ago was become the fourth youngest MVP in history and join Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Barry Bonds and Carlos Delgado as the only players to amass 40 homers, 30 doubles, 110 runs, 120 walks and an OPS above 1.100 in a season. The performance rekindled talk of Harper and Mike Trout as the Mantle and Mays of their generation. But the Nationals were a crushing disappointment, and their season hit rock bottom when closer Jonathan Papelbon engaged Harper in a not-so-friendly discussion at the top step of the dugout in September. Can Dusty Baker bring peace and harmony to Nationals Park -- and can Harper lead an enigmatic Washington team to an extended postseason run?
5. Rob Manfred: Baseball's new commissioner hit the ground running in 2015. Manfred dealt with pace-of-play issues, made good on his promise to reach out to America's youth, and decided Pete Rose's fate in December. This year, Manfred's attention will turn to fan safety, middle infield collisions and negotiations toward a new collective bargaining agreement to maintain the momentum that has helped baseball grow into a $9 billion-$10 billion a year industry. On a more high-profile note, Manfred will oversee domestic violence cases involving Aroldis Chapman, Yasiel Puig and Jose Reyes. He has the authority to dispense punishment as he sees fit under MLB's new policy. As NFL commissioner Roger Goodell discovered, to his everlasting displeasure, that responsibility comes with a heaping dose of second-guessing on the side.
6. David Ortiz: Ortiz's farewell season will mark the most momentous retirement tour since ... well ... Derek Jeter shut it down in 2014. Be prepared for video tributes, the usual array of rocking chairs and oil paintings and (most likely) a grudging display of respect when Big Papi makes his final appearance at Yankee Stadium in late September. Ortiz enters his final season with 503 home runs, nine All-Star appearances and a higher career OPS (.925) than Mike Piazza, Mike Schmidt and Ken Griffey Jr. amassed in their careers. If the Red Sox can bounce back and make the playoffs after 78 wins and a last-place finish in the AL East, Ortiz will try to build on a postseason resume that's a linchpin to his Hall of Fame case.
7. Barry Bonds: After eight years as a baseball pariah, Bonds is back in uniform as Don Mattingly's hitting coach in Miami. Will the old, contentious Bonds be replaced by a more patient and nurturing Barry? Will his approach to teaching resonate with Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich et al and coax maximum production from a young Marlins lineup? Or will Bonds find, like George Brett, Jeff Bagwell and other big-league stars-turned-hitting coaches, that countless hours of soft-tossing and flips in the cage sap his enthusiasm for the job? As Bonds' new life chapter unfolds, he'll be making his fifth appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot. Mark McGwire failed to benefit from the publicity accompanying his return to the playing field, but Bonds is hoping the increased exposure gives his stagnant candidacy a boost.
8. Carlos Correa: Ever since the Astros selected him with the first pick in the 2012 draft, Correa has been hailed for his Jeter-like maturity and work ethic. Houston second baseman Jose Altuve was ahead of the curve in March when he christened Correa the team's best player in spring training. The Astros summoned Correa from Triple-A ball in June, and he showed what all the fuss was about by hitting .282 with 19 homers to win the AL Rookie of the Year award at age 21. Correa's designer wardrobe and 15 fedoras are testament to his sense of style and flair, and he is polished and accommodating in media interviews. As a young, bilingual star on one of baseball's rising teams, Correa has the potential to be a marketer's dream and one of the biggest draws in the game.
9. Aroldis Chapman: As an early test case for the efficacy of baseball's new domestic violence policy, Chapman would have been a lightning rod for controversy even if he had stayed in Cincinnati. Now that he's a Yankee, the attention and public backlash could increase exponentially. If the Yankees stick with their plan to stand pat at the back end of the bullpen, Chapman, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances have a chance to supplant Cincinnati's "Nasty Boys" and Kansas City's Kelvin Herrera-Wade Davis-Greg Holland contingent as the most dominant bullpen trio in history. In the meantime, the Yankees will have to navigate a likely suspension for Chapman and some negative fallout from domestic violence advocacy groups. "Certainly there are some serious issues here that are in play," general manager Brian Cashman said in announcing the trade. "I acknowledge that's an area of concern."
10/11. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion: Josh Donaldson is the reigning AL MVP, and new club president Mark Shapiro has a major challenge in store taking over for executive of the year Alex Anthopoulos and trying to build on the Blue Jays' first postseason berth since 1993. But much of the attention in Toronto will focus on Bautista and Encarnacion, who combined for 79 homers and 225 RBIs and helped scare the daylights out of visiting pitchers at Rogers Centre in 2015. Both sluggers are eligible for free agency in November, and their hazy futures will be an inevitable piece of the narrative this summer in Toronto. The buzz is already building that one of the two will eventually land in Boston as Ortiz's DH heir at Fenway.
12. Dave Roberts: Amid multiple reports that Gabe Kapler was a sure thing to succeed Don Mattingly as Dodgers manager, Roberts came out of nowhere and wowed club management with his job interview. Roberts' many supporters in the game think he has the people skills and baseball acumen to be a success. But he inherits a team with monstrous expectations, a coaching staff assembled primarily from other people's choices, and a clubhouse with its fair share of dysfunction. Remember Andy Van Slyke's comments about Kershaw wanting Puig gone from Los Angeles? Maintaining team harmony is Roberts' problem now, and he will not have the luxury of easing in slowly.
13. Vin Scully: When the Los Angeles Times posted a survey in June asking readers to name the greatest Dodgers of all time, almost 15,000 fans responded. They voted Sandy Koufax first, Jackie Robinson second and Scully third. So when the greatest broadcaster in baseball history revealed that his 67th season in the Dodgers' booth will most likely be his last, it was a big deal. At age 88, Scully will continue to entertain and inform viewers with a style that a New York Times writer described as "Mr. Rogers goes to Chavez Ravine." He is not the only familiar voice making a farewell tour this summer. Hall of Fame broadcaster Dick Enberg, the play-by-play voice of the San Diego Padres since 2010, also plans to retire after the 2016 season.
14. Matt Harvey: After a lengthy debate about his workload that inflamed passions in New York and put him on the defensive, Harvey made his final appearance of 2015 one to remember. He dazzled the Kansas City Royals for eight innings and talked manager Terry Collins into coming out for the ninth before everything unraveled and the Mets lost the fifth and deciding game of the World Series. When pitchers and catchers report for spring training, the Dark Knight will be 2 1/2 years removed from Tommy John surgery, sans limitations, and driven to re-establish himself as a Cy Young candidate. Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard are terrific, but Harvey's backstory and star appeal make it inevitable he will be the most closely-watched Mets starter.
15. Mike Piazza: While Griffey is a lock to make the Hall of Fame next week, Piazza has been making a strong push in the early ballot count. Piazza and Jeff Bagwell, two Hall candidates who've been subjected to their share of steroid speculation, could open the door to other players with PED baggage if they cross the 75 percent threshold. As the lines continue to blur and the debate rages, their respective candidacies could have ramifications to other players in the performance-enhancing gray area.
16. Eric Hosmer: Alex Gordon, the longest-tenured member of the Kansas City Royals' championship team, appears to be on his way out the door through free agency. Someone needs to step forward if the Royals plan to make a third straight World Series appearance, and Hosmer has both the talent and leadership skills to be the guy. He logged a career-high .822 OPS in 158 games last season, then padded his franchise postseason record RBI total to 29 in October. Hosmer is eligible for free agency after the 2017 season, so the clock is ticking on his tenure at Kauffman Stadium.
Others to watch
Tony Clark: Clark has stayed below the radar for the most part since replacing the late Michael Weiner as executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association in December 2013. He's in for an eventful year trying to represent a wide range of player interests in baseball's CBA negotiations.
Mike Trout: He has a Most Valuable Player award and three second-place finishes on his resume, and will begin this season at age 24. Ho hum.
Lazaro Armenteros: Armenteros, 16, stands 6-2, 205 pounds and has been hailed as the next Cuban star-in-waiting. He established residency in Haiti in May and will attract a crowd when he begins auditioning for teams in showcases and private workouts in the coming months.
Amanda Hopkins: Say hello to baseball's latest trail blazer. The daughter of long-time MLB scout Ron Hopkins is believed to be the first female scout since Edith Houghton held the position for the Philadelphia Phillies from 1946 to '51. She'll cover Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah as an area scout for the Seattle Mariners.
Sandy Alderson: All of baseball is wishing the best for Alderson, who began treatment in December for an undisclosed form of cancer. He'll return to a Mets team facing high expectations in the aftermath of a division title and its first World Series appearance since 2000.
Yu Darvish: Darvish will be a year removed from Tommy John surgery in March. Once he returns to the mound, he'll join Cole Hamels and Derek Holland atop a starting rotation that makes the Texas Rangers a serious threat to defend their AL West title.