FORT MYERS, Fla. — Payroll was never an excuse for the Red Sox finishing last in each of the last two years, but as Boston opens the 2016 season with optimism, Hanley Ramirez says the ambitious additions of David Price and Craig Kimbrel have him excited.
“We got a starter and a big closer — it’s going to be huge,” Ramirez said, hoping to help the Red Sox improve on a disappointing 78-84 record that was the worst in the American League East last year. “That will make you more comfortable to see who you have around you.”
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Price was the high-dollar addition to Boston’s lineup, signing a seven-year deal worth $217 million with the hopes that he’ll pitch in the postseason for a fourth straight year — with a fourth different team. From manager John Farrell to the fan base, there are expectations of a return to the form that won the World Series in 2013.
“The expectations that I have for myself far exceed any manager, team or fans’ expectations for myself,” said Price, who knows the division well from his time with the Rays and Blue Jays. “So I know if I can go out and throw the baseball the way I’m capable, I think everyone will be satisfied.”
A year ago, Boston was only 5 1⁄2 games out of the division lead the day before the All-Star break, but a string of eight straight losses — it scored one run total in the first three games after the break — dropped it to 12 back, and it was never a factor again.
The notion of losing 80-plus games for a third straight year — that hasn’t happened for Boston in exactly 50 years, since Carl Yastrzemski was 26 in 1966 — is unacceptable in a clubhouse that still has the core from the 2013 champs.
“We’ve got talent to boot,” said 31-year-old starter Clay Buchholz, an All-Star in 2013 who went 15-18 in the subsequent two seasons. He has confidence in a newly upgraded bullpen — closer Kimbrel, acquired from San Diego, had a 0.00 ERA late in spring training, as does reliever Carson Smith, who was Seattle’s closer before being acquired in another trade.
Offensively, players such as Ramirez — attempting a late-career shift from shortstop to first base — have to live up to their salaries. Last season, Boston had only three players total at least 54 RBIs (David Ortiz, Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts). The Yankees and Jays had seven each.
Ortiz — who will travel the retirement circuit this season — was the only Boston hitter to top 20 home runs, and Bogaerts was the only regular to hit .300 or better. Travis Shaw, who had 13 home runs after a late-season call-up, could end up at first base if Ramirez doesn’t take to the position.
Price sees the biggest improvement coming on the mound. In his first season with Boston, Rick Porcello saw his ERA rise by a run and a half to a career-high 4.92. Price said the unsung star could be Venezuelan lefty Eddy Rodriguez, who went 10-6 in 21 starts as a rookie and will be only 22 on Opening Day.
The Red Sox invested heavily — in contracts and trades — to add the talent needed to compete in the top-to-bottom tough AL East. After finishing nine games behind the Yankees for a wild-card berth last year, they’re ready to close that gap in a hurry.
Said Ramirez, “Everybody can’t wait for the season to start because of the kind of team that we have here.”