FORT MYERS, Fla. — Last spring, as the Red Sox assembled what looked like one of the best starting rotations in baseball, manager Terry Francona endured many inquiries into who would be his Opening Day starter. It almost became a joke between him and the media, with most assuming Josh Beckett would get the nod but Francona did his best not to tip his hand.
That charade has now been transferred to the position players, as already the questions surrounding Francona's lineup are increasing by the day.
Obviously, there is no reason to fill out a lineup card before Grapefruit League play even begins. However, with talent up and down the roster, it's a natural line of questioning.
Even though he will not have any definitive answers until April 1, Francona understands the curiosity.
"One thing we do is ask players not to change their game," he said Friday in camp. "If a guy's hitting first or second or third or ninth, just play your game. We'll put you where we think it best fits."
What we do know is that Carl Crawford is going to hit "near the top of the order somewhere," Francona said. After that, it's a guessing game that has begun to dominate conversations in and around the Red Sox player development complex.
Fans and media members alike have been debating the lineup possibilities since Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez were brought aboard in that whirlwind week back in December. Seeing every player on the same field in Fort Myers has only amped up the discussions. Certainly, Francona and his staff have given it some thought as well.
The players themselves are banding together under one common theme. Put me wherever you want, Tito, and I'll make it work.
Kevin Youkilis said he would hit anywhere but leadoff.
Crawford said that "whatever's good for the team" is OK with him.
Jacoby Ellsbury: "Wherever I fall in that order, I think that’s how everybody thinks. They don’t really mind just as long as we get the best team on the field."
Dustin Pedroia told WEEI's Dennis and Callahan Show that he could hit first or ninth, if needed. "If you don't change your mindset, you'll be fine," he said. "If they want me to hit leadoff, I'll hit leadoff. It doesn't matter."
Marco Scutaro joked that he should hit "behind the pitcher" in the lineup. Then, in a more serious tone, said he just wants to get on base and "it doesn't matter where I hit."
With this collection of talent, picking names out of a hat might work from time to time. Francona will never do that, of course. He has a plan in place, and somewhere in that office in Fort Myers there may lie a pad with nine names scribbled on it. However, nobody will see it until Francona is good and ready.