1. Josh Beckett
The starting rotation is both thin and top heavy again this season, so the Sox need Beckett perform at the top of the game. Nobody should expect a repeat of last year, when he posted a 2.89 ERA and made the All-Star team, but at the very least he needs to contrubute 200 quality innings and pitch like a strong number two behind Jon Lester. Detroit roughed him up yesterday, but he dealt with a thumb injury during camp and it was just one bad start against an elite offense. I'll wait a few more starts before I start worrying, though I must admit I'm concerned about his lack of consistency since arriving in Beantown.
2. Kevin Youkilis
Youk was never the most durable baseball player, but he's missed substantial time with injury the past two seasons, averaging just 111 games played in 2010 and 2011. When healthy, the three time All-Star can be an MVP candidate. He thrives with men on base and is a perfect fit for the fifth slot in the lineup given his monster .327/.435/.553 numbers with runners in scoring position. The fiery team leader also plays a solid third base, but looked hampered at the hot corner last year. He's 33 now and isn't getting any younger, but I think he still has one more big year in left in the tank.
3. Franklin Morales
He's pretty much the only lefty option in the bullpen. I'd say that makes him pretty important, no?
4. Daniel Bard
Texas has made the conversion of relievers to starting pitchers look easy with the successes of C.J. Wilson and Alexi Ogando, but in reality the switch rarely works. The two roles are just too different. Even though he was lights out as a reliever, he seemed to wear down last year and I'm not sure he'll be able to handle the increased workload. I don't believe he has the repertoire necessary to work through a batting order multiple times, either. His stuff is off the charts, but he failed miserably as a starter in the minors. Bard's the X-factor of the 2012 Red Sox. Best case scenario, he's an above average number four starter (he can't be any worse than John Lackey--it's just impossible) over 150 innings and Boston will have just enough pitching to make the playoffs. I think he'll be average at best, and wouldn't be surprised if he fails and ends up back in the bullpen by the summer. Then Cherrington will have to start exploring some trade options to bring in a short term fix, a la Erik Bedard last summer.
5. Mike Aviles
Boston's newest starting shortstop won't win a Gold Glove any time soon, but he's proven capable of batting .300 with double digit home runs and steals in the past. He hit well after coming over from Kansas City last year and would provide a big boost to the bottom of the lineup. The 31 year-old has never appeared in more than 110 games in any season, but I'm sure Bobby Valentine would love it if he can stay healthy and play around 130. The less Nick Punto, the better.