David Price centerpiece of Red Sox efforts to improve

  • Boston Red Sox's David Price pitches to the Pittsburgh Pirates during the first inning of a spring training baseball game Wednesday, March 30, 2016, in Bradenton, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) Chris O'Meara

  • Boston Red Sox starting pitcher David Price delivers to the Pittsburgh Pirates during the first inning of a spring training baseball game Wednesday, March 30, 2016, in Bradenton, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) Chris O'Meara

Associated Press
Published: 3/31/2016 9:55:16 PM

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox finished in last place during the last two seasons and three of the last four.

President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, who joined the team in August, made several moves this offseason with the goal of ensuring it doesn’t happen again.

The Red Sox signed left-hander David Price to a seven-year, $217 million deal in December and acquired Craig Kimbrel from the Padres for four prospects. Price, who came in second in the AL Cy Young Award voting last season, will be the ace the Red Sox so desperately lacked and Kimbrel will replace the aging Koji Uehara in the closer’s role.

Other things to watch as the Red Sox open the 2016 season:

PITCHING QUESTIONS: Clay Buchholz has been on the disabled list in the last six seasons and seven of the last eight. Rick Porcello had a disappointing season in his first year in Boston after being acquired in a trade and signing a four-year, $82.5 million contract, going 9-15 with a 4.92 ERA. Joe Kelly entered camp as the leading candidate for the fifth spot but was upgraded when left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, one of the few bright spots for Boston last season, suffered a subluxation of his right knee early in camp and will start the season on the DL. Knuckleballer Steven Wright won the No. 5 spot.

The bullpen also has some concern with Carson Smith starting the season on the DL. The Red Sox will rely on Uehara and Junichi Tazawa in set-up roles. Uehara, who will be 41 on April 3, made just three Grapefruit League appearances while he dealt with general soreness. Tazawa posted a 4.14 ERA in 61 appearances after a 2.86 mark in 71 games in 2014.

NEEDING MORE: The Red Sox need to see significant improvements from third baseman Pablo Sandoval and first baseman Hanley Ramirez.

Sandoval, who is entering the second year of a five-year, $95 million contract, lost his opening day job to Travis Shaw, who made his big league debut last season. Sandoval caused some controversy when he reported for camp appearing to be well over his listed 255 pounds. The Red Sox said they were not concerned about his weight and principal owner John Henry said Sandoval’s 17 percent body fat ratio is below the 21 percent of last season.

Ramirez will be attempting to play another new position for the second straight season after an abysmal performance in left field in 2015. He appeared adequate at first base in spring training but will be closely watched during the season.

Rusney Castillo, who is entering the third year of a seven-year, $72.5 million contract, entered spring training as the left fielder. But at the end of the spring, manager John Farrell said Brock Holt, Boston’s only All-Star last season, would get the majority of at-bats there against right-handers in a platoon with right-handed hitting Chris Young, leaving Castillo in a bench role.

HOT SEAT: Farrell will feel the heat this season after his team’s performance in the last two years. He missed six weeks last year while being treated for cancer, leaving behind a record of 50-65. In his absence, bench coach Torey Lovullo led the team to 28-19 record. If the Sox stumble, don’t be surprised to see Lovullo, who was given a two-year extension and raise to keep him from interviewing for other managerial jobs, back in the job.

The Sox have other questions looming also: How will the David Ortiz retirement tour affect their slugger? How will Dustin Pedroia rebound after appearing in just 93 games last season because of injury? Can center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., figure out major league pitching?

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