FORT MYERS, Fla. -- After a few days down in Florida embedded in baseball territory, here are some thoughts, observations and impressions of what is happening here and elsewhere on the Boston sports scene:
1. Zoning in -- What a difference a year makes in terms of spring training talking points for the Red Sox. Last year, all discussion centered on "run prevention" and ultimate zone rating (UZR). Those two terms haven't been uttered at all down here.
Run production was not a problem for the 2010 Red Sox, but run prevention was. The Sox finished second in all of baseball last year in runs scored with 818 runs but allowed the eighth-most runs (744). Defensively, the Sox have a chance to be better this year in the outfield with the addition of Carl Crawford in left field and the return of Jacoby Ellsbury, who arrived in camp today, to center field.
Last year, the Red Sox cumulative outfield defense posted a negative-23.4 UZR, 28th out of the 30 major league teams, according to Fangraphs.com. Boston ranked 23d in left field UZR with a minus-8.6. The Yankees, with speedy Brett Gardner in left field, led the majors at 19.9, followed by the Tampa Bay Rays, who had Crawford patrolling left, at 19.1. Center field was even worse for the Sox. They ranked 27th with a negative-17.9 UZR, down from negative-11.4 with Ellsbury in center in 2009.
"There are not too many balls that are going to find green grass out there," said pitcher Jon Lester. "Those guys are going to run them down."
2. Speaking in tags -- It's interesting that the language the Patriots used in their release announcing they had placed the franchise tag on guard Logan Mankins was nearly identical to the verbiage they used last year in tagging nose tackle Vince Wilfork.
"....Vince is a tremendous player for our team and remains a significant part of our future plans. It is because of Vince's importance to this organization that we have assigned the franchise designation as we continue to work toward a long-term agreement. We are hopeful that Vince will remain a Patriot for many years to come.”
“Logan Mankins is a tremendous player...and he remains an important part of our future plans. Unfortunately, we have not been able to reach a long-term agreement, despite many attempts and proposals by both sides. That remains our objective in utilizing the franchise designation and we are hopeful that Logan will be a Patriot for many years to come."
Let's hope the result of the tags is the same: a long-term agreement.
There has been talk that Mankins would be unwise to stage another sit-out with an estimated $10.1 million pay day. But withholding his services is the only leverage Mankins has, and even the guaranteed $10.1 million is about 40 percent of the easily earnable money he'd set himself up for in the first three years of a new long-term deal, using Saints guard Jahri Evans (seven-year, $56.7 million deal) as a comparison. Evans got a $12 million signing bonus in the first year of his deal and is slated to earn $25.7 million in the first three years of the contract. I wouldn't expect Mankins to show up for training camp on time (if camp starts on time with the NFL labor situation) without a new, long-term deal. If he doesn't, the Patriots could rent Bobby Jenks from the Sox.
3. Trade wins? -- Far brighter hockey minds can tell you exactly what type of player the Bruins are getting in Ottawa center Chris Kelly. What they're not getting is a player who inspires planning of the rolling rally route. There are still 12 days until the NHL trading deadline for Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli to augment his team. Hopefully, Chiarelli can pry puck-moving defenseman Tomas Kaberle from the Maple Leafs. The good news is that Leafs hockey honcho Brian Burke doesn't appear to want Toronto's 2011 first-round pick -- part of the Kessel trade cache -- back. However, Chiarelli might want to consider flipping that possible top-five pick to pick up another major piece because draft analysts like Gare Joyce of ESPN have pegged this as a bit of a down draft.
4. Rooting interest -- Hopefully there is a spot on the 2011 Red Sox for amiable outfielder Darnell McDonald. McDonald, who has been with seven organizations since he was a first-round pick of the Orioles in 1997, was one of the few bright spots of the injury-plagued 2010 season. He played in 117 games and hit .270 with nine home runs. His Sox debut, which came against the Texas Rangers on April 20, was one of the most enjoyable moments of the season. The persevering journeyman hit a two-run, pinch-hit homer in the eighth to the tie the game and then won it with a Wall-ball, walk-off single in the ninth.
McDonald has a better locker (next to Marco Scutaro) this year and a better chance to stick at the start of the season as a fifth outfielder. But as usual there are no guarantees for him. With an all lefthanded starting outfield and 38-year-old Mike Cameron coming off surgery to repair a torn abdominal muscle, there would appear to be a need for a player like McDonald, who hit .294 against lefties last season.
"Yeah, I hope so," said McDonald. "The key is just being here. Everything else will take care of itself. I don't really know as far as the role, but my role, my job is just to be prepared every day and see what happens."
5. Manny being Manny -- McDonald said he spent most of his offseason in Arizona shuttling his oldest daughter to and from school and dance practice. He reported to camp in fantastic shape, and said that among his workout partners this winter were Matt Kemp of the Dodgers and one Manuel Aristides Ramirez. "Manny is good. His swing looks good," said McDonald. "He's motivated. We'll see what happens."
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.