None of our usual goofing off before we dig into the batterís box today ó letís get right to it. Hereís our completely subjective, not at all scientific, yet absolutely inarguable rankings of the 25 most important Red Sox entering the 2009 season, from worst to first.
Knowing full well youíll argue with us anyway, letís go . . .
25. Julio Lugo
Unless he miraculously channels Barry Larkin this spring, heís poised to become a $9 million-a-year utility player/pinch runner. Tell us again what you saw in him, Theo.
24. Josh Bard
Back for another shot at catching Tim Wakefield? Thereís something to be said for having a masochist on the roster.
23. Manny Delcarmen
We donít mean to suggest that the pride of Hyde Park is disposable. Itís just that despite his overpowering repertoire, heíll fall into a middle relief role while the likes of Ramon Ramirez and
Justin Masterson handle the later innings.
22. Tim Wakefield
Although there is tremendous value in having a pitcher gobble up 150 to 180 innings at a league-average ERA, he has become injury-prone in his 40s, and the Sox may have better options, such as . . .
21. Brad Penny
Heís essentially had the same career as A.J. Burnett, but he had the misfortune of suffering his injury in a contract year.
20. Rocco Baldelli
With Mark Kotsay injured, J.D. Drew sending off warning signals regarding his back, and Brad Wilkerson officially useless since 2004, the Sox may be counting on 300 at-bats from the former Ray. He could be a huge asset if ó yes, thatís a big ďifĒ ó he is healthy.
19. Javier Lopez
Though he walks just enough batters to drive you nuts (27 in 59ā innings), the numbers suggest the slim lefty was one of the more dependable members of the bullpen in í08. What, youíd prefer Tony Fossas?
18. Takashi Saito
Heís still something of a mystery on the East Coast despite tremendous success during his three seasons with the Dodgers. How good was he? According to baseball-reference.com, the most similar pitcher to him in history is . . . Jonathan Papelbon. And he says his elbow feels great. Excited? Should be.
17. John Smoltz
Iím downright giddy about the prospect of the 20-year Atlanta mainstay joining the Sox rotation in June. He was lights-out last season even while pitching with a damaged shoulder, and there are few pitchers in baseball history youíd rather have on the mound in October.
16. Jason Varitek
Logic and history suggest he will never hit major league pitching capably again, but hey, the pitchers rave about him, and the guidance he provides retains some value.
15. Ramon Ramirez
Iím somewhat concerned about the big-market factor with the ex-Royal, but the numbers are beyond encouraging. The eighth inning may belong to him.
14. Hideki Okajima
After nearly identical seasons with the Sox since arriving with little fanfare from Japan, the deceptive left-hander might rank as Theo Epsteinís savviest signing, save for the man in the No. 1 spot.
13. Justin Masterson
If you took Derek Lowe circa í99, melded him with Bob Stanley, added a dab of the Eck, and then gave him a 96-mile-per-hour fastball for good measure, this versatile right-hander is what youíd wind up with.
12. Jed Lowrie
The jury is still out on how productive he will be, but at the least heíll provide steady defense at shortstop.
11. Mike Lowell
Of course everyone is hoping the dependable third baseman can come back from his hip problem. But if he struggles, chances are a suitable replacement will be available at or before the trading deadline.
10. Daisuke Matsuzaka
You know youíre blessed with a deep starting rotation when your No. 3 starter wins 18 of 21 decisions and finishes fourth in the Cy Young voting. Now, if he could just become more efficient.
9. Jacoby Ellsbury
In 544 plate appearances as a leadoff hitter a season ago, he had just a .324 on-base percentage and a .696 OPS. He must be better in í09.
8. J.D. Drew
Sure, itís worrisome that the enigmatic outfielder arrived in camp complaining of the back injury that cost him 33 games a season ago. The Sox need him to produce the way he did last June (.337, 12 homers).
7. Jonathan Papelbon
Heís such a rock that itís easy to take him for granted, so letís take a moment to note that his statistics through three-plus seasons (1.84 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 254 ERA+) have him on a path toward Cooperstown, N.Y.
6. Jason Bay
It did not take him long to win over the faithful after arriving in the Manny deal, but the pressure may be on him even more in his first full season in Boston. Thirty homers and 100 RBI are a minimum requirement.
5. Kevin Youkilis
He won the Hank Aaron Award last season as the best hitter in the AL, and his versatility provides invaluable flexibility for Terry Francona. Not even Billy Beane thought heíd become this good.
4. Dustin Pedroia
The parallels to Nomar Garciaparraís glorious first two seasons with the Red Sox are remarkable, not only in terms of production but in his universal admiration from fans. The difference is that Pedroiaís public face is real, while Nomarís was insincere at best.
3. Josh Beckett
He never really caught up last year after suffering a back injury in camp, and he seems to be intent this year on proving that last yearís inconsistency was an aberration. A motivated Beckett is usually a dominant Beckett.
2. Jon Lester
There is some concern that his leap in innings a season ago will have a lingering effect this season (see: Carmona, Fausto). But heís built to handle the workload, and the hunch here is that this is the season when he suggests that the Andy Pettitte comparison actually undersells what he might accomplish.
1. David Ortiz
Because itís simple: If he finds something resembling his form of 2007 (.332, 35 homers), the Sox should have a deep and potent offense. But if heís no longer the big bopper of his heyday, they will struggle to produce enough offense to hang with the other elite teams in the division.
OT columnist Chad Finn is a sports reporter for Boston.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org