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Red Sox spring preview: Boston looks for another last to first

By Mike Shalin, The Sports Xchange   |   Feb. 20, 2016 at 2:14 PM

BOSTON -- In 2013, the Boston Red Sox managed to turn a last-place 2012 finish into another World Series title.

Last year, they tried to do it again, only this time things went terribly wrong and the club finished last for the third time in four years.

Moves had to be made, and those moves started with the hiring of Dave Dombrowski, fired by the Detroit Tigers, to run the show. That meant changes, and Dombrowski's hand led to a busy offseason that saw the Red Sox land ace David Price and closer Craig Kimbrel.

"When you combine the arms that Dave's been able to bring in (with the offense), now it's a team that projects to be very strong offensively and on the mound," manager John Farrell said as the team was showing up in Fort Myers, Fla.

Farrell missed the last 48 games of last season after being diagnosed with lymphoma. That diagnosis may have saved his job, but he is back and healthy after treatment and has a team many feel will win it all -- another last to first, and this one in the final year of David Ortiz's career.

But there are questions, starting with Hanley Ramirez making the move to first base. He has always had good hands but hasn't always had a good head when it comes to things he might not want to do. He says he wants to do this and showed up in shape. The guess here is that the switch will work out.

"Last year was a horrible year," said Ramirez. "Not for me. We didn't go to the playoffs. Like I always say, it's not one person."

The rotation behind Price, who signed a seven-year, $217 million contract? Well, last year, Farrell said he thought he had "five number ones." Now he has an ace, so someone, be it Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello or even young left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, has to fall in as No. 2. Regardless of who it is, and regardless of his own shaky postseason record, Price is not a bad way to lead off.

Another question concerns the outfield. Barring changes, Mookie Betts is fine in right, and that leaves Rusney Castillo in left and Jackie Bradley Jr. in center -- neither a sure thing in terms of all-around play. Bradley has hit for a month in the big leagues and Castillo is wildly inconsistent.

One more issue? How about keeping second baseman Dustin Pedroia on the field?

NOTES, QUOTES:

POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH: While just about everything was set for the Red Sox entering spring training, there could be a battle for the starting catcher's spot, with Blake Swihart getting the bulk of the time last year, with Christian Vazquez down following Tommy John surgery. Vazquez, the superior defender, could force Swihart to another position and said in early February he was ready to go, saying he learned a lot watching the game during his recovery. The Red Sox are likely to want Vazquez to start the season in Triple-A, with veteran Ryan Hanigan a capable backup to Swihart.

ROOKIE WATCH: With the starting pitching still having question marks after David Price, left-hander Brian Johnson will be looking to force his way into the picture. A sore elbow ended his season early last year, but he was 9-6 with a 2.53 ERA in Triple-A and had an audition in the majors before getting hurt. He and fellow lefty Henry Owens join Eduardo Rodriguez to give the Red Sox three quality young left-handed starters.

COMEBACK TRAIL: The Red Sox had a late addition to spring training, inviting former Cubs right-hander Carlos Marmol to camp for a look. If the move works out, the staff will only get deeper by adding a guy with 117 career saves.

PLAYER NOTES:

--LHP David Price went for the money when he signed a seven-year, $217 million deal with the Red Sox, spurning the St. Louis Cardinals and joining his third AL East team. He was 18-5 with a 2.45 ERA last year and while no one will ever question his talent or his leadership abilities, his postseason resume isn't great. That leaves him with something to prove -- besides living up to that contract.

--RHP Rick Porcello had a dismal first season in Boston and is just now starting his five-year, $82.5 million contract. New president Dave Dombrowski traded Porcello once -- to Boston -- and is now again his boss, and it's clear Porcello has to win more than the nine games he won last season.

--RHP Carson Smith didn't come to Boston with as much fanfare as Price or closer Craig Kimbrel, but this guy can throw heat and should give the Red Sox the power arm they need in the setup role. Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa are still around, and Carlos Marmol may force his way into the mix, but Smith will be a valuable addition.

--1B Hanley Ramirez tried playing left field last season and was a disaster. Now, he starts camp as the Red Sox first baseman and he was talking like he is fine with it. He showed up in shape, albeit without his first baseman's mitt, and also knows he can switch to DH in 2017 with the retirement of David Ortiz. "It's too early for that," Ramirez said of 2017. "I think what David did in that position is going to be hard to cover. I just try to copy him and the good things he does on and off the field. If I win a Gold Glove, what's going to happen next year? It's too far. I don't make those decisions. I've got a boss."

--INF/OF Brock Holt started spring training without a starting position penciled in for him. But that doesn't mean this valuable chip won't play in a ton of games for the 2016 Red Sox. Holt has shown he can play all seven infield and outfield positions and play them well and was even an All-Star last season.

--RF Mookie Betts and SS Xander Bogaerts have been in all kinds of Red Sox trade rumors early in their careers. But the Red Sox refused to trade either one of them and now both appear on the brink of stardom. Bogaerts hit .320 with 81 RBIs and played great defense, and Betts batted .291 with 18 homers and 77 RBIs, surviving some scary wall collisions at Fenway Park.

--3B Pablo Sandoval had a terrible year last year and his power numbers continued to drop. But he reportedly was in better shape and ready for his second season in Boston. The club owes Sandoval and Ramirez a lot of money and Sandoval has to drive in more than 47 runs to help this team.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Clinch as early as we can. That's my goal. Clinch and go from there." -- 1B Hanley Ramirez, on the 2016 Red Sox.

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