Uncertain Future Ahead for Sizemore
After a disappointing 2012 Cleveland Indians season the organization is at a crossroads to decide how to progress with the organization, not just for the 2013 season but several seasons to come. Decisions involve ownerships, the front office, managerial and coaching decisions and the players. For the month of October, we’ll look at how the Indians ended up in their current predicament, but most importantly, Where Do the Indians Go From Here. Today, we consider if Grady Sizemore should return to the Indians.
By Bob Toth
Sometimes, calculated risks pay off.
The Cleveland Indians elected to go all in and gambled $5 million on fan favorite free agent outfielder Grady Sizemore after the team declined its $8.5 million team option on him following the 2011 season. They were willing to ante up even more money, as much as another $4 million, in the event that Sizemore was able to reach several performance-based incentives in his contract.
The team and its fans lost on the bet.
Now, the Indians face the same debate again with the free agent Sizemore. Do they attempt to resign the veteran, or do they allow him to walk away?
Sizemore played the role of spectator for the 2012 season, nursing a series of injuries that prevented him from returning to the major league active roster or even rehabbing in a minor league game.
The injuries started for him before the season could even start.
Prior to the beginning of spring training, Sizemore hurt his back while already rehabbing his right knee that had kept him off the field for significant stretches of the 2011 season. The back injury led to a back surgery late in February, with the target of a midseason return for the Indians’ center fielder.
As the All-Star break crawled closer and closer, the team announced that Sizemore had suffered setbacks in his rehab and would not see action until the second half. By the end of August, Sizemore was declared done for the season due to lingering soreness in his knee.
Could the Indians possibly even give the 30-year-old Sizemore another chance at returning to Cleveland to again attempt to revive his once promising career?
The simple answer is yes.
When healthy, Sizemore is a rare talent. In his early 20’s, he played nearly every game. He was the model of reliability in the Indians’ lineup from 2005 through 2008, when he was not in the lineup for just nine games over four seasons. He played every game in 2006 and 2007 and had a streak of 382 consecutive games played end early in the 2008 season. His on-the-field efforts earned him three consecutive American League All-Star game nods from 2006 to 2008.
In the field, he never had a season with more than three errors. Fans appreciated his all-out effort as he sacrificed his body on a nightly basis with reckless abandon making acrobatic diving catches or running full speed towards the wall. He regularly ranked amongst the top center fielders in the AL in putouts, defensive games played, fielding percentage, and range factor. He was recognized for his defensive contributions with Gold Glove Awards in both 2007 and 2008.
Offensively during his healthy years, Sizemore hit no worse than .268, had no fewer than 34 doubles, 22 home runs, and was a threat on the bases. While his strikeout totals were higher than desired of a leadoff hitter, he had started to develop a better eye at the plate, improving his on-base percentage significantly. He led the league in doubles and runs scored in 2006. He was frequently amongst the leaders in the same categories, as well as plate appearances, triples, home runs, times hit by pitch, and total bases. He was a 20 homer / 20 stolen base player from 2005 to 2007 and in 2008, he entered more elite company as a 30 homer / 30 stolen base player. That season, he won the Silver Slugger Award as one of the top offensive outfielders in the league while ranking sixth in the AL with 33 home runs.
The Indians have invested millions of dollars in Sizemore, far beyond the $5 million that offered no return last season. Rather than cut its losses, the team could opt to spend a little more money on him, hoping that the money that funded his rehabilitation and time with the team trainers and doctors was not money wasted.
Small market teams notoriously spend millions of dollars on player development, only to see their investment walk out the door a few years later with little to nothing to show for the years invested in the player. Would the team be comfortable knowing that a player with so much potential, when healthy, rehabbed on the Indians’ dollar, only to go to another team and resuscitate his career? What if the team that took a gamble on Sizemore was an AL Central foe and the Indians would have to see his promise suit up against them for a half-dozen series a season?
Will the potential upside and the millions already invested in Sizemore be enough for the club to bring him back for 2013? Is there a scenario where the team and Sizemore, who have been loyal to and patient with one another throughout the last four injury-plagued years, elect to part ways and opt for a fresh start?
The current investment in Sizemore has now exceeded ten years, with almost nothing to show for the last four.
Sizemore was part of the overwhelmingly successful haul of prospects acquired by the Indians from the Montreal Expos on June 27, 2002, in the trade of Bartolo Colon. Coming to town with Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips, and Lee Stevens, Sizemore was an unknown commodity at the time, a 19-year-old low A-ball player in his third season in the Expos’ system. He was a light-hitting outfielder with some extra base potential and speed on the base paths.
Within the Indians’ organization, Sizemore’s stock rose quickly. His defense improved. His batting average increased, and he began showing signs of developing power. By the middle of 2004, he had made his major league debut, and by the beginning of the 2006 season, he was rewarded with a six-year contract worth $23.45 million.
The everyday hustle and effort that merited the long-term contract may have taken a permanent toll on Sizemore’s body.
Over the three-year span starting in 2009, Sizemore missed more games (276) than he played (210). He saw absences in 2009 due to a groin injury and then had left elbow surgery in September. Shortly after the elbow surgery, he had a hernia surgery that was related to the previous groin injury. He was lost in 2010 to a left knee injury and the microfracture surgery that followed, limiting him to just 33 games. A third injury-plagued season saw Sizemore miss time with right knee injuries and a second hernia surgery.
Whether he was playing through injuries or was just struggling, those last three partial seasons were lackluster at best at the plate. The best of the bunch was in 2009 when he batted .248 and had an on-base percentage of .343 while hitting 18 home runs, but he batted .211 and .224 the next two seasons with more than four strikeouts per every walk. He was a non-factor on the bases.
Sizemore is a hard worker and despite all of the injuries, he has not at any one point given up on his pursuit of a return to the field. But how long will it be until he finally has an ailment that is too difficult to overcome?
If the Indians were able to sign Sizemore to a low-risk minor league contract, with an invitation to spring training, the potential benefits of him returning to his glory days could outweigh the prospective costs of a minor league deal.
If another team wants to offer him a major league contract, it could spell the end of the Sizemore era in Cleveland. Last season, holding a roster spot and not pursuing other options in free agency significantly impacted the club throughout the entire season. The team may not want to devote a roster spot and money in 2013 on a risk and an unknown when there are so many other holes on the roster to fill.
With his future in Cleveland and in the major leagues uncertain, hold on to your Sizemore t-shirts and jerseys, because there is still a chance he could be back.
Photo: Rob Carr / Getty Images