The top 50 people who will impact the 2024 MLB season: Nos. 25-1

This is a list not of the 50 best players in MLB — Rob Manfred is not a better baseball player than José Ramirez — but, rather, of the top 50 people set to influence the 2024 MLB season. At least for this exercise, think of these folks as the characters in your favorite TV show, not numbers on a box score.

The criteria is subjective and the ordering imperfect, but the pudding is in the process. On this list are All-Stars, prospects and people you’ve maybe never heard of — not to mention owners, agents, managers, one former interpreter and three guys named Jackson.

May this list provide to you, the beautiful reader, a snapshot of what to know and whom to care about as the 2024 season begins. Let’s roll.

Part I: The top 50 people who will impact the 2024 MLB season, Nos. 50-26

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Rangers shortstop

The 2023 MLB postseason belonged to Seager, who went 21-for-66 with six homers and more walks than strikeouts while leading his club to the first title in franchise history. The ever-stoic Seager was the perfect frontman for the business-like Rangers, a veteran team that exemplified clichés like “taking it one day at a time” and “focused on the task at hand.” But before all the October heroics, Seager turned in a phenomenal, MVP-runner-up, 1.013 OPS regular season that might’ve gotten even more plaudits had he not missed a month due to a hamstring strain. For the Rangers to endure a loaded American League and become the first team to repeat as champs since the ‘98-’99 Yankees, Seager will have to go god-mode once again.

24. Carolyn Goodman

Las Vegas mayor

23. John Fisher

A’s owner

After five decades at the Oakland Coliseum, the Athletics will almost certainly be playing in a new home next season. Their lease for their decaying East Bay stadium lapses at the end of 2024, a reality that has motivated the organization’s rushed, still-in-process relocation to Las Vegas, Nevada. And while the club has released ballpark renderings, that new yard wouldn’t be finished until 2028 at the earliest (if it gets done at all). That means Fisher and his lieutenant, Dave Kaval, need to find a temporary home for at least the next three seasons. Meanwhile, Mayor Goodman, who in February publicly lamented the A’s impending departure from California, hasn’t exactly rolled out the red carpet for Fisher’s club. It’s all a mess, a tidal wave of unanswered questions and organizational incompetence.

22. Craig Counsell

Cubs manager

Betrayal or business? Before Shohei Ohtani and the Dodgers set the winter ablaze, Counsell and the Cubs were the sport’s most dramatic saga. After nine seasons helming his hometown Brewers, Counsell was set to hit the managerial open market, with Milwaukee and the Mets the overwhelming front-runners. But in a shocking twist, the 53-year-old skipper joined the rival Cubs on a landmark, eight-year, $40 million contract, the highest ever for an MLB manager. Former Cubs manager David Ross, still under contract at the time until his sudden dismissal, was little more than collateral damage. And now Counsell — whose high school baseball field in suburban Milwaukee was vandalized by angry Brewers fans — actually has to perform. For years, he squeezed every last drop, every last win from ragtag Brewers clubs. Can he do the same in Chicago? Is any skipper worth this much? And what type of reception will Counsell get in his return to Wisconsin?

Orioles catcher

20. David Rubenstein

Orioles owner

Good morning, Baltimore. On Wednesday, Rubenstein, a billionaire businessman and Charm City native, was officially approved as the next owner of the Orioles. And with the club coming off an invigorating, 101-win season, the optimism in Birdland is off the charts right now. The arrival of Rubenstein means (1) the end of the Angelos family’s tumultuous tenure leading the franchise and (2) an influx of cash that could increase payroll and make the O’s players in free agency again. GM Mike Elias has been incredibly adept at constructing an elite roster on a budget, but to ensure sustained success in Baltimore, the team is going to need to splash cash on extensions for cornerstone players such as Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson and Jackson Holliday. It’s Rutschman, entering his third big-league season, who has quickly become the face of this young, exhilarating team bringing Orioles Magic back to B-More. He is already one of the best catchers in baseball, and if he can tap into some of the raw power he showcased in last year’s Home Run Derby, he could ascend to an even higher tier.

Phillies first baseman

The last time Harper played a full, healthy season of games in 2021, he slugged .615 and won the NL MVP award. Since then, his Phillies have climbed the ranks of baseball relevance, thanks in large part to Harper’s seemingly endless supply of October heroics. But despite his penchant for playoff magic, there’s still no World Series ring on Bryce’s finger. It remains the only hole on an otherwise generational résumé. Still just 31, the game’s ultimate showman has ample time to find himself beneath a waterfall of confetti, especially if he continues to play at an elite level. Besides, at this point, if the Phillies make the playoffs, it’s a near guarantee that Bryce will do something unforgettable.

18. Scott Boras

President and owner, Boras Corp.

It was quite a disastrous offseason for the game’s highest-profile agent. His four most prominent free-agent clients — reigning NL Cy Young Blake Snell, Gold Glove third baseman Matt Chapman, former MVP Cody Bellinger and workhorse starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery — all received less lucrative contracts than expected. Boras’ tried and true strategy of waiting teams out backfired in spectacular fashion, with all four of his big horses settling for short-term deals with opt-outs after year one. There’s a reason Boras is the most successful agent in MLB history: He has an amazing track record of getting his clients every last dollar. But between his rough winter and the ongoing drama with the Players Association, many around the game are wondering whether the 71-year-old is losing his fastball.

17. Nez Balelo

Agent, CAA

Balelo, the string-pulling dealmaker behind Shohei Ohtani, finds himself in a peculiar spot this Opening Day. After orchestrating the most anticipated and lucrative free agency in MLB history, the 61-year-old agent is now responsible for ushering his cash cow and biggest client through the most significant MLB gambling scandal in decades. Ohtani’s current situation — allegedly the victim of theft at the hands of his former interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara — is already a massive stain on Balelo’s record. That such an outrageous thing was able to happen under the agent’s nose shows, at best, an embarrassing level of incompetence. Balelo’s overprotective, bubble-wrapped approach to handling Ohtani has come back to bite everyone involved and sapped his star player of some of the agency he needs to fight back. How Balelo and Ohtani’s lawyers, who are surely working in tandem, chose to play things moving forward will remain a major story.

Mets first baseman

Nobody on planet earth has bopped more long balls than Alonso since his MLB debut in 2019. Even last season in a relative “down year,” Queens’ favorite polar bear blasted 46 homers. That makes Alonso’s contract status — he’s an impending free agent at the end of this season — all the more compelling. The three-time All-Star and Mets owner Steve Cohen have been vocal about wanting to keep the bulky slugger around long-term, but the clock is ticking. Plus, Alonso’s decision to switch agents to Boras only adds to the tension, considering the polarizing agent’s famous disdain for extensions. A bad Mets season could see the cornerstone slugger dealt at the deadline, while a breakthrough in negotiations could see him in Citi Field for another decade.

Diamondbacks outfielder

Mariners outfielder

Royals shortstop

These three players, all signed with their current teams for the foreseeable future, could each realistically win an MVP award in this or any of the next 10 years. Carroll, Arizona’s swashbuckling catalyst, helped carry his club to October glory as a rookie last season but came up just short. Rodriguez sleepwalked through the first four months of 2023 before a supersonic August catapulted him into the non-Ohtani MVP conversation. Witt, extended over the winter until 2034, is somewhat less polished than the other two phenoms but still stole 49 bags and smashed 30 homers last year. Take notice; the future of baseball is also the present of baseball.

Pirates shortstop

Reds shortstop

The world is a weird place. That some higher power created two 6-foot-7, sinewy, Dominican shortstops with otherworldly talent at the same time in the same division with shockingly similar last names is just … freaky. So are these two. Both have the potential to be the best player in the game, capable of outrageous feats. Cruz missed last season due to a torn ACL but looked magnificent in spring training and still holds the Statcast record for the hardest hit ball. De La Cruz came up last season and wowed the masses with his lighttower power and electric baserunning, but his production tailed off as the season wore on. If these two reach even 60% of their ceilings, they’re two of the most must-see attractions in all of sports.

Yankees outfielder

It’s simple: When Judge stays healthy, he’s one of the five best players in baseball. But the gargantuan outfielder spent two months of his first year as Yankees captain on the injured list after tearing a ligament in his toe against the Dodger Stadium fence. That moment has been referenced by so many around the 2023 Yankees as the turning point that sent a promising team hurdling into the abyss. Fast-forward to today, and a robust Judge is the key to this, and any, Yankees season. Remember, this guy is liable to mess around and hit 65 homers.

Braves outfielder

How do you follow up the performance of a lifetime? Acuña’s 2023 was a season for the ages, a 73-steal, 41-homer jaunt that earned the convivial outfielder his first MVP award. But while Acuña loves the accolades and the fame (by his own admission), he yearns to shine when it really matters: in October. He was sidelined by an ACL tear when his Braves won it all back in 2021, and so he sees that trophy as something to which he did not fully contribute. Whether Acuña’s encore lives up to the original will be fun to follow, but the true measure of his 2024 will be how he and the Braves fare in the playoffs.

Yankees starting pitcher

Shelved by elbow inflammation until at least late May, Cole’s absence is by far the sport’s most significant. For years the epitome of reliability, the Yankees ace was an annual lock to make 30 starts and throw 200 innings. Now, the range of possibilities with his injury is huge. Cole, who is set to resume throwing in a few weeks, could reappear in late May and not miss a beat. Or he could suffer a setback, need surgery and miss the season. When the reigning Cy Young winner returns from the IL and how effective he is upon that return will have enormous repercussions for the Yankees’ season and, by proxy, the entire American League.

Dodgers shortstop

Having to learn a completely new job that’s pretty similar to your old job but somewhat harder just a few weeks before the new job starts doesn’t sound like a good time. But for Mookie Betts, it’s just another day at the office. For the first time in his accomplished career, Betts is going to be an every-day shortstop — for the most hyped team in baseball, no less. Although he came up through the Red Sox farm system as a second baseman, Betts spent the first nine seasons of his career almost exclusively in the outfield. Then last year, when the Dodgers were short-handed at second base, the seven-time All-Star moved back to the keystone without missing a beat. And when Gavin Lux, who missed all of last year due to an ACL injury, struggled at shortstop this spring, the Dodgers felt comfortable enough with Betts’ athletic competence to move him to the infield’s most important position. As star-studded as the Dodgers are, as incredible as their lineup might be, their defense could be a devastating Achilles’ heel. Betts exemplifies that dynamic perfectly.

Dodgers starting pitcher

This winter, the Dodgers bestowed unto Yamamoto, a pitcher who’d never thrown a pitch in the major leagues, the single largest contract ever given to a pitcher. That alone is newsworthy for its risk. The advent of pitch-tracking technology made the Dodgers particularly comfortable with their investment because they believe the 25-year-old’s arsenal will translate smoothly to the bigs. Well, in Yamamoto’s first MLB start against the Padres, things went rougher than a sandpaper tissue, with the right-hander allowing five earned runs in just one inning of work. It’s an ominous beginning to his stateside career, though not a damning one. This is still a comically talented individual with the opportunity to become one of the best hurlers in the world — or his 12-year, $325 million deal could be the biggest waste of money in league history.

5. Rob Manfred

Commissioner of MLB

Saying that Manfred will impact MLB is like saying the president of the United States will impact American society. And that’s how it goes; for better or worse, Manfred dictates the league’s direction, policy and priorities. That’s the gig. But with Manfred’s recent announcement that he plans to step down at the end of his contract in 2027, it will be interesting to see if any buzz about his eventual successor percolates this season. Between that lurking dynamic, the Athletics’ messy move to Vegas, the Ohtani-Mizuhara gambling fiasco and 50,000 other things, Manfred is sure to have his hands full yet again.

4. Ippei Mizuhara

Former interpreter for Shohei Ohtani

After allegedly defrauding and misleading his close friend for more than a year, Mizuhara finds himself friendless and jobless, completely on an island. At this time last week, he didn’t even have legal representation. The allegations levied against the former Angels and Dodgers interpreter are serious and, if true, incredibly damning. But for now, the ball is in Mizuhara’s court. If he publically corroborates what Ohtani claimed at Monday’s news conference, it simplifies things moving forward. But if Mizuhara pivots once more and decides to deny and fight back, well, this thing could somehow get even uglier. Either way, expect to hear Mizuhara’s name time and time again as the season unfolds.

Braves starting pitcher

With Gerrit Cole down, it’s Strider’s moment to elevate himself to his rightful place as the Undisputed Best Pitcher in the World. He was arguably baseball’s unluckiest pitcher a year ago, and he finished fourth in Cy Young voting despite a 3.86 ERA because he punched out a whopping 281 batters in 186 ⅔ innings. Strider’s success his first two seasons came despite throwing his fastball and slider 93% of the time, but after adding a sparkly, new curveball to his already improving changeup, Strider has a chance to somehow get even better. If the 25-year-old flamethrower can replicate last year’s performance, he should be much more fortunate when it comes to batted balls, and he could end the year with a truly historic showing.

Yankees outfielder

The Yankees spent a king’s ransom in the offseason to acquire Soto, even though the 25-year-old slugger has just one season left before free agency. It was, as Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner put it, the type of deal you just have to make. And he’s right; Soto is that kind of difference-maker — a menace in the batter’s box, a terror and a chore for opposing pitchers. He is equal parts violence and intelligence, a PhD with a shotgun, a preternatural hitter with an otherworldly feel for the strike zone and the rotational force to do serious damage. Soto seems like a perfect fit for the bright lights of the big city, but could the Yankees cut bait if they collapse out of the gate? That seems unlikely, especially because the Yankees would love to keep Soto around for the long haul.

1. Shohei Ohtani

Dodgers designated hitter

Look, even before the highest paid player in the history of the sport was suddenly embroiled in a massive gambling scandal, Ohtani was slated to be the story of the season. Now, it’s just a lot more complicated. During his Angels tenure, Ohtani was often framed as a laser-focused baseball robot who cared about nothing but ball and the playing of it. His world is much bigger now, with myriad worries — legal, emotional and otherwise. It’s doubtful the extracurriculars will distract him enough to really sully his first year in Dodger blue, but fair or not, Ohtani has work to do in regaining the trust and unadulterated love of many baseball fans. At this point, there is little doubt about his immense talent, so the real question is whether Ohtani has the charisma, wherewithal, perspective, independence and social tact to navigate a challenge much more difficult than hitting or pitching: Winning over the haters.

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