The End of Grady Sizemore?
By Craig Gifford
Grady Sizemore‘s third trip the disabled list this season may well signal the end of an era for the Cleveland Indians. Frankly, it may be time for the Tribe to start thinking about life without its one time star center fielder.
From 2005-2009, Sizemore was one of the top players on the team. He was arguably the best center fielder in the game during that stretch and one of the top handful of players in the American League. When Sizemore was at his peak, he was one of the best to ever wear the Wahoo red, white and blue.
Sizemore’s best year came in 2008, when he joined an elite class of players to join the 30-30 club. He hit a career-high 33 home runs and nabbed 38 stolen bases. He finished 10th in the AL MVP voting that year, while going to a third straight All-Star game. The only question seemed to be just how good could he get. With the Indians controlling his rights through 2012, Sizemore appeared to be the guy the team would build its team around for years to come.
Then, in 2009, the wheels began to fall off. Through 109 games, Sizemore had, for him, a down season. He hit only 18 home runs, with a career low .248 batting average. We learned in September that he had played the entire season with a sore elbow. He shut it down a month early, with the Tribe out of contention. At the time, it seemed like a typical down year for superstar. More importantly, the injury did not seem very serious.
Then, knee troubles began in 2010. In the final exhibition game, Sizemore hurt his knee, sliding into second base. He struggled mightily for 33 games before another slide in Baltimore re-injured the knee. The second breakdown led to micro fracture surgery. The Tribe center fielder did not return until two weeks into this season. He was coming into form until injuring, this time, his right knee sliding into a base May 16 in Baltimore. After another two week stay on the DL, Sizemore again returned. This time Sizemore struggled out of the gate, but before Sunday’s injury, seemed to be turning the corner at the plate. For a third time in little over a year, Sizemore injured a knee in Baltimore.
So, where does the Tribe go from here?
Initial outlooks are not good. Sizemore said the injury to his right knee now feels like the left one did last year before the micro fracture procedure. If that’s the case, Sizemore would definitely miss the rest of 2011. The team did state Tuesday, an MRI revealed things to be, “not as bas as originally feared,” according to Manny Acta.
Looking at a worst case, Sizemore on the shelf for a year, the Indians certainly need to find a replacement in the line up and outfield as they hope to continue to contend this year. Ezequiel Carrera, recently called up from AAA Columbus, is a decent stop-gap, but you probably don’t win with him as the every-day Center Fielder.
The Indians would be wise to try and find a solid, middle-of-the-order corner outfielder and play Michael Brantley in center. Travis Buck and Austin Kearns can continue to keep the other outfield spot warm until Shin Soo Choo returns from his thumb injury.
Best case scenario, Sizemore is out 2-4 weeks. Still, the Indians should find a replacement. For one, there is no guarantee Sizemore stays healthy upon return and, two, Choo is no guarantee to come back guns a-blazing.
Either way, the Indians have an $8.5 million option they will have to decide whether or not to exercise for next year. At this point, that is too much to pay a player who is fast becoming today’s version of Ken Griffey Jr. (great player, can’t stay healthy). If he is willing to come back at an extreme discount, the Indians should do it. If he gives them anything beyond, it is a bonus. It would be nice to keep him and give him one last chance to rebound. If nothing else, maybe he becomes a utility outfielder down the road, to save wear and tear. He is popular enough in Cleveland to consider that for the future.
It is sad for Indians fans to see a player who was once considered a once-in-a-generation talent go so far south so fast. Still, with the injuries, the Indians have to begin looking at other alternatives for this year and beyond.