A couple of observations/revelations from putting together one of my favorite recurring projects here, the preseason ranking of each player on the Red Sox roster from 25 to 1.
(I'll pause here while you complain about it being in gallery form. Hey, probably not my first choice either, but these are the days.)
Anyway, the one thing that jumped out at me in pulling this together and trying to decide the rankings was just how interchangeable some of the spots on the back of the roster are. I'm not saying this is a bad thing or a good thing (though I probably lean toward the former), but it's tough to gauge right now whether Vicente Padilla, Felix Doubront or Andrew Miller is the favorite to become the fifth starter, or whether Darnell McDonald deserves a roster spot, or how to estimate the intriguing but underachieving Ryan Sweeney.
And it is sort of weird to not have Jason Varitek or Tim Wakefield around to consider. Weird, but appropriate. The possibility of spring training invites, especially for Wakefield, is probably too deferential.
It does appear to be a top-heavy roster, with three players who finished in the top nine in the 2011 AL Most Valuable Player voting finishing in my top three spots. I had a hard time deciding between Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury for the No. 1 spot.
Ellsbury's all-around monster numbers and his ability to play a key defensive position well and Gonzalez's potential to win a batting title or a home run crown are enough qualifications for either to be tops on the list. But I went with Pedroia, an extraordinary producer and superb defensive player whose personality is going to be essential in the transition from Terry Francona to Bobby Valentine. If you want to argue that, well, OK, it's a heck of a fun argument to have.
The top three starters -- Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, and Clay Buchholz -- take the Nos. 4-6 spots, accenting how imperative it is that all three have big seasons if the Sox are going to match up to the Yankees and the Rays on the mound. It's absolutely necessary for Buchholz, who made just 14 starts last year and did not throw a pitch after June 16, to stay healthy and pitch to the standard he set in 2010 when he won 17 games with a 2.33 ERA.
As for a sleeper among the 25, I had Mike Aviles at No. 15, but I think Ben Cherington has genuinely high hopes for him. It's debatable whether he has the range to handle shortstop every day, but his bat could be sneaky-good -- this is .288 career hitter who once hit 17 home runs in a season and has an .814 career OPS against lefthanded pitching. I'm not saying that with good health that he will be an upgrade on dependable Marco Scutaro. But I think there's a chance the Red Sox have a better player in Aviles than we realize.
Over the course of the season, I'll reshuffle the deck a couple of times here, and I'm sure a few names at the back end of the 25 will fall out while the season is still new. (I'm kidding myself with AnDrew Miller at No. 21, aren't I? I am.) With that in mind and just for the sport of it, here are the the next 10 on the list:
26. Daisuke Matsuzaka: Probably should have been in the top 25, because the plan seems to be to get some mileage out of one of the retreads before he returns midsummer.
27. Felix Doubront: Would love to see him seize the fifth starter spot, but after showing up out of shape last year, he has to prove he wants it.
28. Ryan Lavarnway: He'll be a factor before the season is through, probably as a bat off the bench, but he should start at Triple A to continue to work on his catching skills.
29. Darnell McDonald: Good story, good guy, but erratic all-around play last year revealed why he spent so many years on the fringe.
30. Aaron Cook: Let's put it this way: In his best season in Colorado, he led the National League in hits allowed.
31. Junichi Tazawa: All of the hubbub that accompanied his signing in December 2008 feels like a long time ago, but he's a bit of a sleeper coming off Tommy John surgery. Deep repertoire, just with he had a little more oomph on his fastball.
32. Ryan Kalish: In an ideal world, he'd be the starting right fielder. But his health record recently is anything but ideal; the versatile outfielder missed all but 24 games in the minors last year with injuries. He's expected to miss at least a good chunk of the first half after having shoulder surgery in December.
33. Michael Bowden: It's damning with faint praise, but couldn't he give them essentially what Tim Wakefield has the past two seasons?
34. Jesse Carlson: Non-roster invitee was a pretty decent lefty out of the 'pen once upon a time (2.25 ERA, 1.03 WHIP for the '08 Blue Jays).
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.