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Ranking the Red Sox in order of importance

Who could make-or-break the season?

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

We’re four games and one series into the season, which is kind of a rough time to be someone who writes about a baseball team. We’re no longer in the preseason (obviously) but there hasn’t been enough time to really analyze much of anything. Really, it takes a lot longer than four games to get into that, but we can at least fake it after a little longer. Now, we’re stuck in no man’s land. I’m not asking for your sympathy — though I’ll certainly take it if you’re willing to offer it up — I’m merely laying all this down as an explanation for why I’m about to write a post that fits better as a preseason preview. The following is something I wanted to do before the season started but never got around to it. I’m going to do it now, for the reasons above.

Specifically, I’m going to rank the players on the 25-man roster in order of importance to the Red Sox’ success this season, starting with 25 and working my way up. How do I define “importance,” you ask? Well, it’s entirely subjective and hard to articulate. It’s like that saying about porn, you don’t know how to define it but you know it when you see it. That said, I think it goes without saying that everyone in the majors has some level of importance, so don’t get too mad at me please. Alright, let’s see. I asked for sympathy in an entirely unsympathetic situation, I briefly explained a concept and I mentioned porn. I think this intro is over now.

25. Marcus Walden

Walden is almost certainly the best story on the Red Sox roster to start this season, but he’s also the last man in the bullpen and his most important role right now is to clean up in case the starters get knocked out early. If/when the rotation is at full health, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him demoted.

24. Heath Hembree

I think Hembree has more potential than he’s given credit for, but at the end of the day he’s a right-handed reliever that doesn’t have much of a chance to be a true late-inning arm. The Red Sox have enough depth in that department that Hembree not working out wouldn’t be the end of the world.

23. Hector Velazquez

Velazquez was outstanding in his first start of the season on Sunday and you never want to downplay the importance of any depth starter. That being said, when everyone is healthy he’s eighth on the depth chart and guys behind him like Justin Haley and Jalen Beeks aren’t such big downgrades that they need Velazquez to hold his own, though they’d obviously prefer it.

22. Bobby Poyner

Poyner could be a difference-maker as the guy who’s getting the first shot at being the lefty in the bullpen, but the Red Sox have also said they don’t necessarily need a lefty in their bullpen and if they do decide they need one they still have Robby Scott, Roenis Elias and Brian Johnson.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

21. Brock Holt

Holt, of course, won the battle for the final spot on the Red Sox bench over Deven Marrero, but the utility player still has his work cut out to make an impact on this roster. The early returns haven’t been great, and if he doesn’t succeed they could move on to Tzu-Wei Lin to fill a similar role. On the other hand, it would certainly help to get success from a veteran with this kind of versatility.

20. Sandy Leon

The Red Sox are carrying three catchers, and while Leon figures to be second on that particular depth chart to start the year he’s lowest on this list among the trio. No longer Chris Sale’s personal backstop, Leon lost his most important job and is now here to provide a steady presence defensively off the bench.

19. Mitch Moreland

Moreland is going to get plenty of playing time this year and his defense at first base is going to be important with the other starters being questionable with the leather. The lineup should be deep enough that his bat shouldn’t make or break that unit, though.

18. Joe Kelly

Kelly isn’t so good that you want him as one of the focal points of your bullpen, but he’s also a bit underrated in that he’s good enough to be a piece of a playoff bullpen. Anyway, he’s right in the middle of this particular group of Red Sox relievers but could provide a big spark as a groundball specialist.

17. Matt Barnes

Barnes has been the best reliever on this team to start the year, at least among those in the non-Kimbrel division. He has more upside than Kelly and I don’t think it’s all that far-fetched if Barnes is the second-best reliever on the team all year long, but he also showed at times in 2017 that he can be replaceable when he’s going poorly.

16. Blake Swihart

Swihart was the biggest story of the spring and has some relatively big hype coming into the year, but ultimately he’s just a bench player on this roster. Still, if he can be a super utility force who can provide solid offense and good-enough defense all around the diamond including behind the plate, he can make building a roster much easier.

15. Brian Johnson

Speaking of making roster-building much easier, Johnson has a chance to be the utility version of a pitcher, presumably serving as their top depth option in the rotation but also serving in a relief role when everyone is healthy.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

14. Jackie Bradley Jr.

The Red Sox center fielder is going to play most days and his defense in center field always has the chance to change games, but he’s also the most replaceable of the Red Sox outfielders and has the lowest expectations among them at the plate.

13. Eduardo Nuñez

Nuñez provided a spark for the 2017 team after joining the roster mid-year, and he has a chance to do that again. He’ll take Dustin Pedroia’s spot to start the year, but his most important role could come later as he moves all around the diamond to spell other everyday players during the dog days of summer.

12. Christian Vazquez

Good defensive catchers are game-changers, and that’s exactly what Vazquez is. As the Red Sox look for another successful season built on pitching, they’ll need strong defense behind the plate every day and Vazquez will be the biggest part of that. If he can pick up where he left off last year at the plate, he’s going to be quietly valuable for this roster.

11. Rick Porcello

When every starter on this team is healthy, I’d argue Porcello is the fifth best among them. However, he has more potential than that and if he can approach his 2016 Cy Young form then Boston could very well have the deepest rotation in all of baseball.

10. Craig Kimbrel

Kimbrel is obviously elite and we know what he can provide, which is why he’s relatively low on this list. He’s going to be pitching in a lot of big situations all year, though, and his willingness (or unwillingness) to pitch in situations other than the ninth could transform this bullpen.

9. Carson Smith

Speaking of transforming the bullpen, Smith is the guy who could take things to the next level. The righty has the talent to be a truly elite reliever, but it’s been since 2015 when he was able to show it off on a consistent basis. Now healthy again, if he can get back to that level then Alex Cora has a legitimate two-headed monster on which to lean at the end of games.

8. Andrew Benintendi

Benintendi is going to hit at the top of the lineup on most nights and switch back and forth between left and center field. If he can take a step forward from his rookie campaign, he can be a part of a group that gives pitchers fits early in games.

7. Chris Sale

This seems awfully low for one of the best pitchers in baseball. We know who he is, though, and as long as he stays healthy he is a mostly bankable asset. Still, he’s important enough to be in the top-seven because he’s, ya know, Chris Sale.

6. Rafael Devers

One of the big reasons the offense expects to improve from last year is that they’ll get a full season of Devers. He should have plenty of chances to drive in runners this year, and will find himself in a pivotal point of the lineup for most of the year.

5. Hanley Ramirez

Ramirez may not get enough playing time to justify this spot, but if he hits to his potential I’m still not sure that vesting option will be as big a deal as we expect. Either way, when Ramirez hits he lengthens this lineup significantly and gives off an irreplaceable energy.

4. Mookie Betts

Betts, like Sale and Kimbrel, is a bankable asset, but he’s more important in this writer’s opinion because the lineup is a bigger question than the pitching. Plus, Betts impacts games with his bat, his gloves and his legs.

3. J.D. Martinez

Martinez is the new face in the lineup and the guy who is supposed to take them to the next level. I’m not really worried about him not doing that, but he’s going to play a big role as the bopped in this group.

2. Xander Bogaerts

The Red Sox shortstop has the most room for improvement between his production the last few years and his ceiling. He’s shown that ceiling off to start the year, and if he can continue doing that he really takes this lineup to the next level.

1. David Price

The Red Sox lefty had a great showing in his 2018 debut and all signs are pointing towards him being a stud this year. If he can do that while staying healthy, the Red Sox have co-aces at the top of their rotation that could lead them to another division title.