BALTIMORE — This is a fun exercise that is sure to spark some debate. Simply put: Who are the 20 most important people working for the Red Sox?
Anybody is eligible, from owner John Henry on down. There are no rules, necessarily. But consider overall worth to the team beyond this season and how easily (or not) they could be replaced.
Here is my list:
1. Ben Cherington
The general manager inherited a dilapidated house in October 2011. The Red Sox had just suffered a historic collapse that led to the ouster of manager Terry Francona. The payroll was top-heavy and the farm system fallow. Two years later, the Red Sox were celebrating a championship and appear to be a well-managed, fiscally responsible franchise. He’s the man directly responsible.
2. John Farrell
You want to cross the guy? Farrell sets expectations for the players and holds them to it. The coaches work cohesively and administer to their own areas of expertise almost like football coordinators. The Sox play hard, play fundamentally well, and don’t embarrass the uniform. It’s hard to ask much more than that.
3. John Henry/Tom Werner
Heard any stupid Liverpool comments lately? Probably not. The owners stepped back and allowed Cherington to fix their franchise while at the same time making sure cornerstone players such as Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz will stay in town. Jon Lester is next in line. Now that Fenway is fully renovated, what’s the next project?
4. Xander Bogaerts
He’s 21, very talented and the starting shortstop. As other key players get older, Bogaerts could become the centerpiece player on the roster. His personality is such that stardom will be comfortable. The Red Sox very much need him to be as good as everybody thinks he will be. What Bryce Harper is to the Nationals is what Bogaerts can be to the Red Sox.
5. Dustin Pedroia
He is signed through 2021 and widely beloved in a city that is hard on its stars. Pedroia has shown loyalty to the Red Sox and will be part of the fabric for years to come. The tone in the clubhouse is set by his personality, and his relationship with Farrell is important. Pedroia’s influence is felt in the front office, too.
6. Jon Lester
He is signed only through the end of the season, but that may be temporary. As the Red Sox transition their rotation to younger arms over the next two years, Lester needs to be the guy who leads them. Every contending team needs a stopper, and he’s the man. He has come to grips with Boston, and a long-term deal makes sense.
7. Clay Buchholz
Somewhere in that skinny body is a Cy Young Award winner waiting to emerge. Buchholz is signed through 2015, with the team holding two options (for $13 million and $13.5 million) that will seem laughably inexpensive by then. If he lives up to his talent, the Sox have a co-ace for at least four more seasons.
8. David Ortiz
A 38-year-old DH should be lower on this list. But Ortiz is still the face of the franchise, a productive hitter, and has the swagger to snap a selfie with the president. His value, while somewhat intangible, is more based on piles of extra-base hits. Designated hitters are easily replaced, but Ortiz is unique.
9. Mike Napoli
He’s only signed for two more seasons. But the first baseman provides a lot of entertainment value with his big swing and light-tower power. He added a needed dose of professionalism in the clubhouse, too. He deserved a Gold Glove at first base last season.
10. Henry Owens
The 21-year-old lefthander starts the season in Double A Portland but will be a major leaguer before too long thanks to an array of pitches including a fastball he can get into the mid-90s. Of all the pitching prospects, Owens is the one with the best chance of stardom. That he’s a young lefty only adds to his value.
11. Jackie Bradley Jr.
He hasn’t hit in the majors yet (albeit over a grand total of 108 plate appearances) but he was ultra-productive in the minors and in college. The defensively gifted center fielder has many fans in the organization who believe in him. The Sox are short on good young outfielders in the minor leagues and need Bradley. This season is an important one for him.
12. Will Middlebrooks
He’s 24 and has righthanded power. There’s not a whole lot of that in the drug-testing era. Middlebrooks has been, literally, a hit-or-miss player for two years. But if he can figure it out, the Sox have an inexpensive middle-of-the-order hitter. His defense improved significantly over the course of spring training.
13. Larry Lucchino
The team president gets blamed when they lose and no credit when they win. The truth, as usual, is somewhere in the middle. He has proven adept at hiring smart people who keep the cash coming in. Now 68, this looks like his final job in baseball. For all his critics, Lucchino’s sensibilities in building and maintaining ballparks mark him as a key figure in baseball history.
14. Blake Swihart
The Double A catcher is a former first-round pick who has the athleticism to play almost any other position but is committed to catching. If he stays on his current path, the Red Sox could have a long-term All-Star behind the plate. In Swihart and Christian Vazquez, the Red Sox have catching prospects other teams covet.
15. Brandon Workman
Farrell loves this righthander and wants him in the rotation. Workman proved himself in the postseason last fall, throwing 8⅔ scoreless innings, including the eighth inning of Game 6. All success in baseball starts with pitching, and he’s a big part of the future. The only question is whether he might one day be better as the closer.
16. Brian Butterfield
Can a third base coach and infield instructor really be this valuable? Butterfield is. He coaches third, he works with the infielders, he coordinates the running game, and he helps set the defensive shifts. He also is a master communicator between the coaches’ room and the clubhouse. If you liked the chemistry of the 2013 team, know that Butterfield was in the middle of it.
17. Sam Kennedy
The chief operating officer is the man who gets things done at Fenway Park. The Red Sox are part of a company that makes boatloads of money thanks to people like Kennedy. If you don’t think that matters, consider that 26 other teams have lower payrolls. Improving revenues has been a key to the team’s rise over the last 10 seasons.
18. Trey Ball
The lefthander was the seventh overall pick of the 2013 draft, the highest the Sox had in years. He’s only 19 and fresh out of high school in Indiana, so it will take a while. But they think he will be a No. 2 starter. The Red Sox put a lot of time and thought into that draft pick and Bell will be developed carefully.
19. Garin Cecchini
The polished infielder is in Triple A at the age of 22. He needs to show more power to find a place in the majors, but his disciplined approach at the plate draws raves from coaches and scouts. If Middlebrooks finds his way at third base, Cecchini may have to change positions.
20. Dan Dyrek
His title is “director, sports medicine service.” His role is helping to prevent and manage injuries via physical therapy. A few years ago, the Red Sox had a medical staff the players didn’t trust. Dyrek is one of the people who fixed that. Grady Sizemore signed with the Sox, in part, because he believed in what Dyrek could do for him.
Assistant GM Mike Hazen, LHP Felix Doubront, amateur scouting director Amiel Sawdaye, ownership partner Michael Gordon, RHP Anthony Ranaudo (pictured), OF Shane Victorino, RHP Matt Barnes.