The baseball offseason has begun. So has a practice that’s become a rite of autumn: MLB owners tempering their fans’ expectations through the media.Just this week, reports out of Chicago and St. Louis suggested the Cubs and Cardinals won’t use the coming months to out-bid each other for star free agents Anthony Rendon or Gerrit Cole. By now, such headlines barely register as news. Baseball rivalries aren’t often measured in raw dollars and cents.The Padres and Phillies emerged as the winter’s big spenders each of the last two years. Last time, it was Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, respectively. The year before, San Diego signed Eric Hosmer for $144 million, while Philadelphia shelled out almost as much ($135 million combined) to Jake Arrieta and Carlos Santana. Meanwhile, the Dodgers and Yankees – baseball’s preeminent free agent freewheelers most of this century – supplemented their homegrown cores with second-tier free agents.Now, free agents are seldom baseball’s most intriguing figures in the months between the World Series and spring training. We need to expand our scope. With that in mind, here are 10 people who will chart the course of the offseason, for richer and for poorer. 9 and 10. Rob Manfred and Tony ClarkFor much of last winter, the health of the free-agent market was a frequent topic of discussion for the commissioner and the head of the MLB Players’ Association. It will be again, though Manfred will have more on his plate this time around.The league is investigating the death of Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs. It has commissioned a new study into the composition of the baseballs, which contributed to a record number of home runs in 2019. Umpires will have plenty to say to the commissioner about the encroachment of technology on their job description, and pace of play will likely grind Manfred’s gears after the average time of game reached 3 hours and 10 minutes, a record.Stay tuned. The offseason will feel much longer. Angels offense breaks out to split doubleheader with Astros Dodgers’ Will Smith: ‘I feel like it’s been five years’ since his 2019 debut Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error Jose Suarez’s rocky start sinks Angels in loss to Astros Harvard-Westlake alum Lucas Giolito throws no-hitter for White Sox Angels’ Shohei Ohtani spending downtime working in outfield Would the Dodgers be willing to part with a young, high-end pitcher or catcher for one year of Betts? Could a team on the fringes of contention, such as the Diamondbacks or Indians, find a way to tempt the Sox with prospects? Only a handful of players can mushroom a team’s fortunes like Betts. Chaim Bloom, Boston’s recently-appointed GM, will face pressure to receive a large haul in return.3. Arte MorenoRare is the owner in 2019 who publicly states his payroll will go up. There are many ways the Angels’ owner can add to his roster, and perhaps it’s too soon to rule out Betts after the Angels declined right fielder Kole Calhoun’s option for the 2020 season earlier in the week.More likely, however, the Angels will use the bulk of their resources to sign a starting pitcher or two. That means Cole or Strasburg, ideally. If not, the second tier of free-agent starters is robust. Ryu, Keuchel, Madison Bumgarner, Zack Wheeler, Rich Hill, and Cole Hamels all represent upgrades for a team that couldn’t coax 100 innings from any of its full-time starters in 2019. Former Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal would help any team, including the Angels.4. Joe WestThe head of the MLB Umpires’ Association is about to face a challenge unlike any levied by a manager: the electronically defined strike zone. It’s coming to minor league baseball in 2020, according to Commissioner Rob Manfred, leaving MLB as the last bastion for human error when it comes to balls and strikes.The technology debuted in the Atlantic League and the Arizona Fall League this year. The adjustment process for pitchers and catchers wasn’t always smooth. The bigger adjustment will be for MLB’s unionized umpires, who have vociferously resisted calls for an electronic strike zone in the past. For now, the burden of proof lies with the “Hawk-Eye” camera technology (which will replace the Statcast system in 2020) to prove it’s more accurate and reliable than a human umpire.5. Harold BainesWhen the latest veteran’s committee considers a group of 10 men for induction Dec. 8, it must adjust to a new precedent. Harold Baines fell short of 3,000 hits and 400 home runs. He spent most of his career as a designated hitter. He led his league in a major category once in 22 seasons. As of July, he’s a Hall of Famer.Now, the statistical bar for induction is lower than it’s ever been. Some BBWAA voters believe this can only improve the chances of Don Mattingly, Steve Garvey, Tommy John and others on this year’s ballot.6. Travis WilliamsOnly one team still needs to hire a manager and a head of baseball operations this winter. The man with all the hiring power is Pittsburgh Pirates president Travis Williams, who’s been on the job less than two weeks and spent the previous 12 years as a National Hockey League executive.The Pirates are at a similar juncture to the Astros and Cubs 10 years ago, with little to lose and much to gain as Williams charts the direction his franchise will take in the 2020s. The Astros and Cubs tore down their payrolls, then built homegrown rosters into champions. Williams will try to do the same with fewer financial resources and two massively important hires to come.7 and 8. Gerrit Cole and Anthony RendonWe can’t ignore free agents altogether, and these two will set an important precedent for future free-agent pitchers and hitters, respectively. Their fortunes are linked.If last year’s contracts for Harper and Machado are any indication, Rendon can expect to command a six-year contract worth $25-30 million per year. His postseason exploits can only push those numbers higher.Cole’s case brings to mind that of Zack Greinke – a right-handed pitcher coming off a Cy Young-caliber season with the Dodgers in 2015. Greinke was 32 when he signed for six years and more than $206 million with the Diamondbacks, establishing a record for average annual value. Cole is 29, three years younger than Greinke was then. But can he beat Greinke’s contract? The answer to this question will offer a gauge of the health of the free-agent market.Related Articles 1. Scott BorasThe agent for Cole, Rendon, Stephen Strasburg, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Nicholas Castellanos, Dallas Keuchel and Mike Moustakas (deep breath) will have a busy winter negotiating new deals for his clients. But when will they get around to signing?Boras reportedly waited until the Dodgers and Giants joined the bidding for Harper last winter before accepting the Phillies’ final offer of 13 years and $330 million. By then it was February. The popular metaphor for free-agent signings is that of dominoes: the biggest (Cole, Rendon and Strasburg this year) topple first, followed by the lesser pieces. Ideally, for agents, the best players set the market for the rest of the group. A better metaphor in 2019 is earthquakes. There are foreshocks, and aftershocks, and The Big One. No one really knows when they’ll strike, save the one man whose hand is on the seismometer.2. Mookie BettsBetts would become the best player to change teams this offseason if the Red Sox decide to trim payroll at the cost of their star right fielder. The 2018 American League MVP is a career .301 hitter who should be in his prime at age 27. Betts is projected to make $28 million in salary arbitration, still an affordable sum for many clubs.