BOSTON — Another big splash in the free agent market.
Another new position for Hanley Ramirez.
Another short leash for manager John Farrell.
Maybe it will work this time.
The Red Sox are heading back to spring training after a second consecutive last-place finish. Their formula for getting out of the AL East cellar this year is the same as last year’s, when Ben Cherington signed Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval but was unable to complete another worst-to-first turnaround like the one that brought the World Series title to Boston in 2013.
With Dave Dombrowski now in charge of the baseball operations, the Red Sox signed free agent David Price to a seven-year, $217 million contract. The former Tigers boss also sent a package of prospects to San Diego for closer Craig Kimbrel. After the failed left-field experiment, Ramirez will move to first base.
But with David Ortiz planning to retire after the season, the Red Sox rallying cry is expected to be "Win one for Big Papi."
"He’s trying to go out on top," outfielder Mookie Betts said last month. "That’s our goal: to help him go out on top."
Here are some things to look for from the Red Sox in spring training:
THE PRICE IS RIGHT: The Red Sox tried to get by without a legitimate No. 1 pitcher last season, and the lack of a proven ace was one of their biggest weaknesses. Wade Miley (11-11, 4.46 ERA, 193 2/3 IP) led the team in wins and innings, but he was traded to Seattle in December.
With Price (18-5, 2.45) at the top of the rotation, the Red Sox now have someone who can not only stay in the rotation for a full year but have a good chance to win — "a true No. 1," Dombrowski said.
BYE-BYE BIG PAPI: Ortiz announced on his 40th birthday that this would be his last season. The Dominican designated hitter has hit more than 500 homers in his career and brought three World Series titles to Boston, batting .688 against the Cardinals in ’13 to earn World Series MVP honours.
"If you’re a fan of the game of baseball; if you’re a fan of the Boston Red Sox or a player for the Boston Red Sox, it should be pretty apparent what he’s meant to this ballclub," general manager Mike Hazen said last month, acknowledging that another last-place finish would be a less-than-fitting tribute. "Nobody wants to watch somebody like that finish up their career that way."
MOVING: Ortiz’s departure will allow Ramirez, who has three years and $66 million left on his contract, to move into the DH role that he is best suited for (and is already campaigning for). Until then, the Red Sox have to find a spot for him in the field.
Left field didn’t work, so first base is now the preferred hiding spot for a player who once was the organization’s top prospect at shortstop.
"I’ve always been an infielder, so it’s going to be easy," Ramirez said last month. "I think I know more territory and I’m going to feel more comfortable at first."
Ramirez played 91 games in left last season before a shoulder injury — the result of a crash into the left-field wall in May — shut him down in September. A lifetime .300 hitter when he arrived in Boston, he batted .249 with 19 homers and 53 RBIs in 105 games.
FULL RECOVERY: After presiding over the 2013 World Series championship in his first year as Red Sox manager, Farrell had a 71-91 record and a last-place finish in 2014. Boston was 50-64 — and again in fifth place — when he was diagnosed with cancer and left the team in the care of bench coach Torey Lovullo.
The team went 28-20 the rest of the way.
So when a fully recovered Farrell returns to his office this spring, he will be expected to produce quickly. If not, Lovullo will make a prophet of Farrell when he said, "It’s a matter of time before he’s got his own team to manage,"