This is the most important hitter on the 2023 Boston Red Sox

Masataka Yoshida Boston Red Sox Press Conference
Masataka Yoshida Boston Red Sox Press Conference / Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/GettyImages

Japanese outfielder Masataka Yoshida agreed to terms of a 5-year contract with the Boston Red Sox during the 2022 Winter Meetings.

Yoshida, who posted a .449 OBP and 1.008 OPS in the JPPL in 2022, wasn't the only player in the team's sights on December 7, 2022. The Red Sox also reached an agreement with closer Kenley Jansen on a 2-year contract.

The total value of Masataka Yoshida's deal is $105.4 million, which includes his base salary ($87 million), signing bonus ($3 million), and posting fee ($15.4 million). With an average annual base salary of $15.6 million, his salary is the 18th highest among MLB outfielders.

After finishing last in the AL East in 2022 and losing Xander Bogaerts to free agency, the Red Sox organization has come under immense scrutiny by the fanbase and the media for every dollar spent (and not spent) this off-season.

Public speculation regarding the organization's short-term and long-term plans varies widely depending on who you ask, but there is a clear, undeniable theme for the immediate months ahead: next year's team will be nothing like its predecessor.

The Red Sox had the third-best team batting average in all of baseball last season. However, the team ranked only 9th in total runs scored. This lower-than-expected production can be attributed to the roster's struggles with prolonging at-bats, earning walks, and manufacturing runs in critical situations.

The goal of getting on-base more consistently will be a priority this season. Players will be expected to work counts, cut down on swinging at pitches outside the strike zone, and have a more fundamentally sound approach at the plate in general.

Masataka Yoshida will be expected to set the tone for the Red Sox offense.

Plate discipline is a major strength of Masataka Yoshida's game. He worked 80 walks and struck out only 41 times across 508 plate appearances in the JPPL last season.

Some are skeptical of how quickly Yoshida will adapt to the caliber of pitching he will face on a daily basis in Major League Baseball, but scouts seem to have a high-degree of confidence that his elite bat-to-ball skills and keen eye for the strike zone will translate.

Alex Cora seems to be confident, as well. During Winter Weekend (also called Fan Fest), he shared during a Town Hall that he is planning to go against the standard convention of alternating lefties and righties in the batting order. Instead, he believes that Yoshida (a lefty) and Rafael Devers (also a lefty) would be best suited for leadoff and the 2-hole, respectively.

Way-to-early lineup projections also have Masataka Yoshida batting leadoff for the Red Sox on Opening Day, followed by Rafael Devers and Justin Turner.

The most important player for the long-term future of the Boston Red Sox franchise is Rafael Devers, which is reflected by the 10-year, $313.5 million commitment that the team made to the All-Star third baseman this off-season (which will go into effect in 2024 following his final year of arbitration in 2023). However, he's arguably not the most important player on the team (at least on offense) in 2023.

For the Red Sox to be competitive this season, it is pivotal for Masataka Yoshida to be an effective leadoff hitter and table-setter for Rafael Devers. Yoshida's ability to get on-base will put pressure on opposing pitchers to face Devers (as opposed to pitching around him).

If pitchers are forced to attack Devers, it increases the likelihood that batters 3-6 in the lineup will come to the plate with traffic on the bases and will get a good pitch to hit. Yoshida will ultimately set the tone and dictate how good this team can be offensively.