Pitcher Curt Schilling is also making the trip overseas, but does not count toward a roster spot because he is on the 60-day disabled list with a right shoulder injury.
Due to an abbreviated Spring Training and early start date, Major League Baseball is slightly bending its roster rules for the first two games of the regular season. The Sox will have a regular 25-man roster, plus three players who will be considered inactive, and two additional players who can be available for the two exhibition games.
"It's a little complicated," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein on Tuesday after camp games at the Minor League complex. "Normally, you have your 40-man roster and you have to get down to 25, under normal circumstances. In Tokyo, you have to take your 40-man roster and by [March 25] you have to get down to 28."
When Boston takes the field on Opening Day, three players will be declared inactive but haven't been optioned to the Minors, added to the disabled list or sent to the Minors, said Epstein.
The Sox will employ a nine-man bullpen in Japan. Wakefield and Buchholz will start the first two exhibition games in Japan, with Matsuzaka and Lester starting the regular-season games against the A's. Wakefield, Buchholz and Bartolo Colon, who will stay behind in Fort Myers, are likely to start the three exhibition games in Los Angeles. Josh Beckett will not travel to Japan, staying in Fort Myers to continue his preparation after back spasms set him back.
The three inactive players are not interchangeable and must be the same three for both regular-season games.
"The purpose of the inactive players is because Major League Baseball considers it not fair for us to have to get down to 25 a whole week earlier than everyone else," Epstein said. "So, instead, we have to get down earlier -- but only down to 28. So we can still assign three players in that last week of Spring Training -- and that's something that we'll probably end up doing."
The Sox return to the U.S. for three more exhibition games against the Dodgers in Los Angeles March 28-30, before resuming the regular season in Oakland on April 1, when the roster must be set at 25.
"Technically, it could be anybody, but if it's somebody that you previously assigned, like let's say we optioned somebody to get them back, there would have to be a DL [move], so you can bring them back off their option early," Epstein said.
What happens if a player gets hurt while overseas?
"We have to make a true roster move at that point," Epstein said. "So we'd have to [put that player on the DL]. And then someone who's either an extra player or inactive could be brought onto the roster. But it's not simply a matter of making one player inactive and another active. There [would have to be] a real roster move."
Epstein acknowledged the logistics of the trip and starting the season, while trying to maintain a training schedule, can be daunting.
"We've tried to take the approach that even though these games count, it's still March 25 and 26," Epstein said. "We haven't rushed our starting pitchers, for example, to be ready to go deep in the game. They're going to do what they can do and what they normally would do on March 25. Our bullpen guys, we're not going to ask them to go multiple innings [and] we're not going to ask them to go back-to-back [games] if they're not ready to go back-to-back. We're still really getting ready for the grind of the season that starts in April."