FORT MYERS, Fla. — David Price is settling in with his fourth clubhouse in two years, but he didn’t need long to see how motivated his Red Sox teammates are to improve on back-to-back last-place finishes in the American League East.
“They never view themselves to be a last-place team,” said Price, 30, a five-time All-Star lefthander signed in December to a seven-year contract worth $31 million a year. “We scored the fourth-most runs in baseball, and to think we scored that many runs and were still last place in the AL East, it kind of lets us know what we need to really do better.”
Upgrading Boston’s pitching staff, which finished sixth-worst in the majors with a 4.31 ERA, was a major offseason priority. The Red Sox won the World Series in 2013, but that was bookended by three last-place finishes in four years after finishing last just one in the previous 79 seasons.
“When you come in last in any division, in any sport, your sole purpose in the offseason is to be better,” said starter Clay Buchholz, 31, limited by injuries to 18 starts last season as the Red Sox finished 78-84. “Losing’s no fun, but losing in Boston is a little bit different than losing anywhere else, because you’re expected to win.”
Price, a former Cy Young winner with the Rays, was the headliner in Boston’s additions, but they traded prospects for Padres closer Craig Kimbrel, who has averaged 45 saves the the last five years, and dealt starter Wade Miley to Seattle for 26-year-old Carson Smith, who had 13 saves and a 2.31 ERA for the Mariners last year. Those two join returning relievers Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa in a bullpen that has the potential to challenge the Royals and Yankees among baseball’s best.
“If there was ever a question about our bullpen, I don’t think there will be this year,” Buchholz said. “We’ve got basically four closers in the back side of the bullpen. As a team as a whole, we got a lot better in one day with the signing of DP.”
Price has pitched in the postseason with three different teams during the last three years. He is hopeful about his chance to make it four in four, saying the depth and talent of Boston’s pitching compares with his last few stops.
“If everybody throws the baseball the way we’re capable of throwing,” Price said, pointing to 22-year-old lefty Eddy Rodriguez, who won 10 games in 21 starts as a rookie and is “just scratching the surface.”
“With the bullpen we’ve got, with Kimbrel and Carson and all these guys coming in to slam the door on a game, as a starting pitcher, that feels good.”
Boston’s potent lineup returns nearly intact. The Red Sox added outfielder Chris Young from the Yankees and expect more from younger players such as 25-year-old Travis Shaw, who had 13 home runs, all after Aug. 1 as a late-season call-up.
“We’re really happy to be where we’re at right now. I think we’ve fixed some little pieces. We’re looking much better,” said Hanley Ramirez, a longtime shortstop who will make the transition to first base this season after playing outfield last year. “We’ve got talent, but talent doesn’t mean anything. You have to show it on the field.”
Another part of that winning is chemistry. Price has joined his last two teams in trade-deadline deals, so he’s looking forward to getting to know his new teammates under less stressful circumstances. In addition to long toss and bullpen sessions this past week, that included poker night on Wednesday and the first team dinner out on Thursday.
“We’re doing stuff the right way to make sure everybody feels part of the team,” Price said. “That’s what you need. We’ll break camp with 25 guys, but there are going to be moving pieces throughout the season, guys that will come up and help us. You want those guys to feel comfortable and enjoy being here. That’s a big part of what we do on the field.”