Who are the 20 most important people in the Red Sox organization? It’s a question with no right answer but fun to consider given all the alternatives.
This is an exercise we’ve done for several years and there are only a few rules. Any employee of the team is eligible, from principal owner John Henry down to the batboys in the Gulf Coast League.
When making your own rankings — and all comments are welcomed — consider long-term worth and how easily that person could be replaced.
With that said, here’s one opinion on the most important Red Sox:
1. John Henry: Everything comes back to money, and since Henry and Co. took control of the team in 2002, the Sox have had one of the highest payrolls in the game and invested heavily in the farm system. Henry authorized the highest payroll in team history for the coming season and recently said he had no plans to sell the team.
(Yes, he also owns the Globe. But it’s not like he would be 17th otherwise. Let’s be real.)
2. Dustin Pedroia. He is signed through 2021 and has become one of the team leaders after all the changes in recent seasons. Because of injuries, Pedroia had the worst offensive season of his career in 2014, but has vowed to come back better than ever. The coming season will be revelatory one way or another.
3. Ben Cherington: The GM was dealt a losing hand in 2011 when he was promoted amid organizational chaos. His teams have finished last, first, and last. Through it all, Cherington has maintained the same even temperament and held the trust of ownership. Now the Sox need to get off the roller coaster and move steadily forward.
4. David Ortiz: He’s 39 and at some point it’s going to end and probably badly. But for now, he’s the best designated hitter in the game and the most popular player on the roster. Ortiz has a 156 OPS+ the last four seasons. Only Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout, Joey Votto, and Jose Bautista reside in that ritzy neighborhood.
5. Mookie Betts: This could be a little too high. But if the Sox have a superstar player waiting to emerge, it’s the 22-year-old Betts. He had an .812 OPS in 52 games last season and made an almost seamless transition to the outfield from second base. The Sox will have mismanaged their roster if Betts isn’t in the lineup to start the season.
6. John Farrell: Farrell is the team’s third manager in the last five years, so placing him higher would be a risky proposition. He also is 168-156 in two seasons. But Farrell has an excellent relationship with Cherington and assistant GM Mike Hazen and figures to be around for a while.
7. Larry Lucchino: The team president is a polarizing figure. For reasons that are unclear, he seems to get scant credit for good moves and full blame for the bad ones. What can’t be disputed is Lucchino has turned the team and Fenway Park into a hugely lucrative business. Good players aren’t that hard to find but good executives can be.
8. Hanley Ramirez: At four years and $88 million, he is the team’s highest-paid player. Bringing him back to Boston could be a risky move, however. Ramirez will be playing outfield for the first time in his career and hasn’t made the All-Star team since 2010. Will he be as elite a player as his salary suggests he should be?
9. Rusney Castillo: He is signed through 2020 at $72.5 million. The Sox are clearly counting on the Cuban star outfielder to be a centerpiece kind of player. Castillo has looked good so far in small sample sizes. Now comes the real test.
10. Xander Bogaerts: A big drop from No. 4 last season. Bogaerts had a poor rookie season at the plate and in the field. Part of the fault is with the team for constantly changing his position. At 22, Bogaerts still has a bright future and he looks ready to go after changing his offseason workout routine. But whether he’s the shortstop of the future remains a question.
11. Henry Owens: The lefty from California is the team’s best pitching prospect. He figures to start the season on Triple A, but could get a quick call if one of the starters can’t cut it. Some scouts see Owens as a potential ace; others question his fastball. After the loss of Jon Lester, his importance has magnified.
12. Pablo Sandoval: The Sox paid a hefty price ($95 million over five years) for the third baseman to improve their anemic lineup. The Panda was a lovable figure in San Francisco, supported even when he did not perform on the field. Now the pressure will be on in Boston. How he holds up will be an ongoing story.
13. Michael Gordon: Casual fans may not know who this is. But he now owns the second-largest chunk of the team and is increasingly influential within the structure of the team and Major League Baseball. If Henry ever does sell the team, Gordon could become principal owner.
14. Tom Werner: The team chairman made a bid for commissioner and, if nothing else, helped push baseball to think more about attracting younger viewers and improving the pace of the game. They should keep listening to him.
15. Blake Swihart: The Sox must believe in the 22-year-old catcher, otherwise he would have been traded to the Phillies for Cole Hamels by now. Swihart could be the next Buster Posey, an athletic catcher who provides top-shelf offense and team leadership.
16. Rick Porcello: He is signed for one year, so Porcello’s stay with the Sox could be brief. For a team in search of an ace, he could be the answer if he continues a recent upward trend.
17. Sam Kennedy: The chief operating officer is one of those in the room when any big decision is made. Now in his 14th season with the Sox, Kennedy runs Fenway Sports Management and oversees any non-baseball events at Fenway.
18. Mike Napoli: The first baseman enters the final year of his contract coming off several injuries that held him back in 2014. A healthy and motivated Napoli could be a wrecking ball this season. Bonus points for living in Boston all winter.
19. Brian Butterfield: A third base coach is this valuable? You bet. Butterfield is one of the best infield coaches in the game and sets up the defensive shifts. At a time when defense has become increasingly important around the game, a coach like Butterfield is crucial.
20. Clay Buchholz: The spindly righthander enters the final guaranteed year of his contract with a big question to answer. Is he content with two titles and a fairly decent career, or does he want something more? Buchholz has never quite fulfilled what is estimable talent because of assorted injuries. Maybe someday it will happen.
Honorable mention: Catcher Christian Vazquez, assistant GM Mike Hazen, third base prospect Garin Cecchini, vice president of amateur and international scouting Amiel Sawdaye, mental skills coach Bob Tewksbury.