The Cardinals can make a compelling counter argument, but I believe the Red Sox have the deepest 40-man roster in baseball.
Just look at the depth on the big-league roster — through the lineup, rotation, and bullpen — or even down to Pawtucket, where the rotation is made up entirely of legitimate prospects.
Heck, even the catching depth chart behind A.J. Pierzynski and David Ross is something to admire — Christian Vazquez is already a defensive whiz, Dan Butler is unsung, and the most promising of the lot, Blake Swihart, is chasing all of them.
And the debate in center field? It’s not a debate at all. It’s a fascinating combination of potential riches. The Red Sox should find out what they have in Grady Sizemore, who was once one of the league’s elite. This is not a small-market move; it’s a high-reward shot that a big market team should take. Behind him there is Jackie Bradley, a spectacular defender who still has only a year’s worth of at-bats above Single A.
All of this makes paring down the roster to the best 25 a fun but challenging task. In my first 2014 incarnation of this column, which ran in gallery form in February, Bradley was ranked 12th. Bound for Pawtucket as of today, he’s no longer on the list. But he will be, this season, and for a long time.
Also dropping out from February’s version 1.0 are Craig Breslow, 18th then and on the disabled list now, and Ryan Dempster, who retired in the early days of camp, leaving a nice parting gift of his $13.25 million salary for Ben Cherington to spend as he sees fit.
The first player, No. 25, on our countdown, was brought here in direct relation to the Dempster departure …
25. Chris Capuano
Previously: unranked and not yet acquired
The 34-year-old lefty was signed as the designated Veteran Pitcher Who Brings A Veteran Presence Or Something after Dempster abruptly retired. While he’s had his moments during his 9-year career — he won 18 games for the 2005 Brewers — his top career comps included the likes of Odalis Perez and Jeremy Guthrie. He’s a placeholder until one of the various pitching prospects in Pawtucket is ready.
24. Jonathan Herrera
Previously: unranked because of a desperate, pathetic hope Stephen Drew would return
He’s reputed to be an above-average defensive shortstop who can hit you a single (.292 average last year with Colorado) at a decent rate but won’t provide much else offensively (.658 career OPS). Only Herrera’s agent and relatives are interested in watching him get 400 plate appearances — the Red Sox finally have an infielder who won’t take Will Middlebrooks‘s job.
23. Mike Carp
I might put him higher if not for the suspicion that he’ll be playing first base every day for the Pittsburgh Pirates before April is through. He was so valuable last year — he hit .296 with an .885 OPS and nine home runs in 243 plate appearances — but he’s caught in a bit of a roster crunch because of his defensive limitations and the Red Sox’ lefty-heavy outfield situation.
22. Brandon Workman
He’s worked as primarily a starter this spring, which seemed an indication that his trip north would take him to Pawtucket rather than Boston. But with Breslow on the DL, his spot on the roster seems more secure, as it should be. John Farrell had the faith to pitch him in the eighth inning of the clinching game of the World Series, and he delivered. He should be done with the minor leagues for the next half-dozen years, minimum.
21. Burke Badenhop
The sinkerballing former Brewer has one of the chief skills Ben Cherington is emphasizing in his pursuit of relief pitchers: he rarely gives out a free pass to a hitter. Badenhop walked just eight batters unintentionally in 62.1 innings last season.
20. David Ross
The personable catcher doesn’t seem to have stopped smiling since last October, and he’s the ultimate pro behind the plate. It will be interesting to see how Farrell deploys him. A.J. Pierzynski hasn’t played fewer than 128 games since 2001. But Ross is much more than a standard backup, and he should get 60 to 70 games if healthy.
19. Felix Doubront
The good news regarding Doubront this spring: He showed up in shape and ready to go. The bad news: He still hasn’t gotten going, putting up a 9.64 ERA in four starts. Given his youth (26), knack for striking out nearly a batter per inning, and comparatively limited workload last season — he threw 169.2 innings, including October — I suspect his lousy spring will be forgotten soon enough.
18. Andrew Miller
Before suffering a season-ending foot injury in July, the lanky lefty was fulfilling many of the tall expectations that have accompanied him since he was the sixth pick in the 2006 draft. Miller whiffed 48 in 30.2 innings last year. With Breslow beginning the season on the DL and the likelihood that Koji Uehara will be given a break from time to time, will be the primary late-inning lefty and perhaps even pick up a few saves along the way.
17. Jonny Gomes
I like him. Far more importantly, the players in the Red Sox clubhouse do too. But I don’t want to hear from him anymore about how winning follows him or what the Red Sox’s record was last postseason with him in the lineup. It’s unbecoming, and it masks the truth: Over the haul of the regular-season, especially with a righthander on the mound, Daniel Nava deserves more at-bats. Can Gomes deal with that, or will he become Kevin Millar ’05?
16. Jake Peavy
Peavy’s first full season in Boston is one of the underrated subplots on this team. I’m looking forward to watching him pitch — he’s still a league-average starter who will occasionally show flashes of that ol’ Cy Young form, and that’s a very valuable asset at the back of the rotation. I’m also looking forward to the comedy that comes from watching him pitch, whether that means yelling at himself, the baseball, the rosin bag, the peanut vendor, or especially A.J. Pierzynski. If you don’t get a kick out of Peavy, you’re not paying attention.
15. Grady Sizemore
Previously: unranked and recovering
Heck with it. I’m crossing my fingers and buying in. If you can’t believe in and root for a story like this, what’s the point of following sports? After 2 1/2 years away, and six years removed from his last excellent season, Sizemore doesn’t just look like the marquee star he used to be, he’s playing like him. I have no idea how he’s doing it — he didn’t swing a bat in 2013 — but he has somehow shaken the rust off his talent. The Red Sox might as well get all they can from him now.
14. Junichi Tazawa
Now that Miguel Cabrera has a 10-year, $292 million deal, perhaps he’ll try to bribe Tazawa with a spare million or two just to keep the Red Sox righthander from dominating again. Tazawa had a fine if inconsistent season a year ago — a 3.16 ERA and 72 strikeouts to just 12 walks — but it was his dominance of Cabrera in the three key spots during the ALCS that truly proved his value.
13. A.J. Pierzynski
You know his deal: He’s the quintessential hate-him-as-an-opponent, love-him-if-he’s-on-your-team player. He may not be as popular as Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but he should be able to match his production. He has 44 homers over the past two seasons, though, curiously, none in his career at Fenway Park.
12. Edward Mujica
Opening Day at Fenway might be awkward for the 29-year-old righthander — after all, he pitched last season for the Cardinals, the team the Red Sox vanquished in the World Series. Otherwise, he should be a perfect fit with the Sox. He walked just 5 against 46 strikeouts and had 37 saves for the Cardinals last season even as an injury limited his effectiveness in September and rendered him an afterthought in October.
11. Daniel Nava
Nava, who at age 31 and after a long, winding baseball journey is finally getting his due as a productive major leaguer, should be the Red Sox’ leadoff hitter this season against righthanded pitching. He hit .322/.411/.484 against righties last year, and John Farrell has indicated he’ll have the role. What he should not be is the center fielder at any point in time.
10. Will Middlebrooks
A lot of potential, and a lot to prove. He could do anything from hitting 35 homers to spending the summer in Pawtucket and it wouldn’t be a surprise. He has 32 homers in 660 career plate appearances, but last season he hit just .227 with a .696 OPS and fell into some old bad habits late in the season. This much is certain: The Red Sox are counting on him, because unlike last year, there’s no one around to seize his job if he falters.
9. Mike Napoli
There will be staggering peaks — he’s always a beast in September, with 39 homers in 519 plate appearances and a .298/.403/.631 career slash line that month. And there will be valleys during which he strikes out so often that you’re pretty sure Rob Deer is lurking beneath that beard. In the end, though, it usually adds up to a very productive season, and given his surprisingly adept defense, good nature, and ability to hit quality pitching, he’s a tremendous asset.
8. Xander Bogaerts
Bumped him down a spot just to cool off the hype a little. Oh, who am I kidding — back to the hype! Bogaerts had a slow start to the spring — cut him some slack, Ft. Myers might as well be the Cape in January compared to Aruba — but he still has a couple of homers and a .761 OPS. If he has a .761 OPS during the regular season and hits one out every 25 at-bats like he has this spring, he’ll be the rookie of the year and an All-Star. After what I saw last October, I’m not hoping for it. I’m expecting it.
7. John Lackey
Maybe that contract wasn’t such a bad one after all, eh? The No. 2 starter and winner of the World Series clincher is a bargain next season at $500,000, and after recovering from Tommy John surgery that cost him the ’12 season, he’s every ounce the semi-ace he was during his Angels heyday. Admit it: You kind of like his attitude now, too. He’s from Texas, but he’s got that New Englander, likable-grouch thing going on.
6. Clay Buchholz
He’s beginning the season as the fifth starter, which really is just a matter of semantics and matchups. If Buchholz is healthy, he has the ability to be one of the premier starters in the American League. But every Sox fan familiar with his enigmatic ways knows that’s a huge if. Buchholz has had just one complete, excellent season — 2010, when he went 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA in 28 starts. He was brilliant last year, going 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA, but again, there’s that qualifier — when he was healthy. He remains one of the few wild-cards on this roster.
5. Shane Victorino
Was there a Red Sox veteran, save for maybe Lackey, who exceeded your expectations more than Victorino a season ago? The argument can be made that he was their most valuable player. He played a brilliant right field, winning a Gold Glove. He whacked 15 homers, put up an .801 OPS, stole 21 bases, provided 5.8 wins above replacement (baseball-reference version.) Injuries are always a concern because of how hard he plays and how often he gets hit with the baseball, and he was limited to just 25 at-bats this spring. But you know how it goes. Don’t worry. ‘Bout a thing.
4. Koji Uehara
First, the obvious: He can’t possibly duplicate what he did last year. Why? Because no one — save for maybe Dennis Eckersley in ’90 and an old-timer or two I’m forgetting — has ever done what he did a season ago. Not Mariano Rivera, not Jonathan Papelbon, and definitely not Mark Clear. In 74.1 regular season innings, Uehara had a 1.09 ERA? including a yes-that’s-for-real 0.27 in the second half?and a record .565 WHIP. But that’s not to say he still won’t be very good, even entering his age-39 season, because he’s always been very good. The Red Sox will have to monitor his workload, but with a deep bullpen behind him, that shouldn’t be an issue.
3. Jon Lester
His redemptive 2013 season should lead to a new contract in the season’s early days, and that’s a good thing. Lester, the Red Sox’ Opening Day starter, doesn’t have the filthy stuff of many No. 1 starters, but what he does have is something more valuable: A impressive knack for coming through in the biggest moments. Lester would have been the World Series MVP if David Ortiz hadn’t hit .688, and he now has a 2.11 career postseason ERA in 13 games. That’s someone worth keeping around.
2. Dustin Pedroia
The heart …
1. David Ortiz
… and the soul. Any more questions?