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The Red Sox Top 20

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  April 1, 2011 10:50 AM

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Here's an interesting question to ask a Red Sox fan: Who is the most important person in the organization?

We had some fun with this last year and now seems like a good time to try it again.

One rule: Anybody you pick must work for the team in some capacity.

Here's my list:

1. John Henry: He was the choice last year and there's no reason to change it. If anything, Henry solidified his status by giving the go-ahead to acquiring Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. You would have to be a fool to question his commitment to winning and many were exposed as such when they fretted about his purchase of Liverpool.

2. Jon Lester: A young, affordable lefthanded ace is the kind of player every organization wants to build around. Lester is one of the top 10 starters in the game, he turned 27 in January and is signed through 2013 for only $25 million.

3. Adrian Gonzalez: The Sox have wanted him for years and parted with three top prospects to pry him away from San Diego. A contract extension is on the horizon that will keep him around for a long time. A Triple Crown is possible with how well Fenway Park suits his swing.

4. Carl Crawford: Any time a team makes a seven-year commitment to a player, that speaks to his importance. As baseball moves away from the Steroid Era, Crawford is the kind of multi-dimensional player who will be critical to success. After playing in sleepy St. Pete, he's on the big stage now.

5. Dustin Pedroia: His value became painfully apparent last season when he went on the disabled list for three months and the team plunged out of contention. Pedroia also plays a large role in promoting the winning culture that exists in the clubhouse.

6. Theo Epstein: The Red Sox have won 34 postseason games since he became the GM in 2003. They had won 22 postseason games in the previous 83 years. So there's that. He's also not afraid to hire smart, ambitious people. Not every GM is that confident.

7. Terry Francona: He has been the Sox manager longer than anybody since Joe Cronin (1936-47) and has created a clubhouse culture that values preparation, playing hard and playing right. If that was easy to do, every manager would.

8. Daniel Bard: Relief pitchers are rarely this valuable. But there aren't many 25-year-old, cost-controlled set-up men who can throw like he does. Bard in many ways is more valuable than he would be as a closer because he can be used with the game is on the line and not saved for a contrived statistic in the the ninth inning.

9. Kevin Youkilis: An underrated player nationally, but not in Boston where his every move draws a blast of "Youuuuuuuuuks" from the faithful. His versatility enabled the team to trade for Gonzalez.

10. Clay Buchholz: Only 26, he blossomed into a top-tier starter last season and could challenge Lester for staff supremacy in time. That's how talented he is. The Sox will almost certainly try and sign him to a long-term deal.

11. Larry Lucchino: The team president has succeeded in getting Fenway Park refurbished and a new spring training facility is under construction. The Sox have been a model franchise from the business side under his stewardship.

12. Josh Beckett and John Lackey: They are each signed through 2014 at big dollars and in their early 30s. How they perform going forward could determine whether the team is a contender or a champion.

14. Jose Iglesias: The 21-year-old defensive wizard can give the Red Sox something they have lacked since the acrimonious departure of Nomar Garciaparra a first-class shortstop. He starts this season at Triple-A and could soon be banging on the door.

15. Jacoby Ellsbury: The unpleasantness of last season has been forgotten. Now the question is whether Ellsbury becomes a star in Boston or is biding his time until Scott Boras takes him to free agency.

16. Jarrod Saltalamacchia: This is a little high for such an unproven player. But the Red Sox believed in skills and makeup enough to make him a starter. If they're right, what a steal. If they're wrong, it could derail the season.

17. Jonathan Papelbon: The tightly wound closer may hold the keys to this season. If he returns to form, the Sox could have one of their best bullpens ever. If last year was only the start of his decline, a trade might be in order.

18. Ben Cherington: He is on the short list of GM candidates around the game but could rise to the top in Boston if Epstein ever seeks a career change. There would be great value in that kind of continuity.

19. Anthony Ranaudo: Perhaps the steal of the 2010 draft at 39th overall, the 6-foot-7 righthander was third in the nation in strikeouts as a sophomore at LSU before running into elbow issues. If healthy, he could move quickly through the organization.

20. David Ortiz: This season could well be his last. But as Ortiz drops down the lineup, he remains at the center of fan and community consciousness. His presence in the clubhouse is significant.

Think I forgot somebody? Leave a comment with your list.

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