Can Sizemore Provide Second Half Punch?
Each week through Spring Training the DTTWLN staff will profile and break down the players in camp for the Indians at Goodyear, Arizona and examine their potential roles for the season to come. This week, we continue our Goodyear coverage by breaking down the players who are most in need of a bounce back season if the Tribe is to make the playoffs.
By Craig Gifford
If any player has ever been in more need of a bounce-back season than center fielder Grady Sizemore, you would be hard-pressed to find that guy.
The former All-Star, who spent the majority of the last three years battling injuries and the last two on the disabled list far more than on the field, was hopeful of a career resurrection this year. The Cleveland Indians were hopeful of the same.
From 2005-2008, Grady Sizemore rocked Cleveland with dazzling defense, powerful hitting and swift base running. A five-tool athlete, he was once considered the best player in the American League Central Division and one of the best in all of baseball. He was a key component to Cleveland’s run to the ALCS in 2007 and near Wild Card berth in 2005. He was the catalyst at the top of the line up on a nearly daily basis.
Sizemore, who prided himself on his physical conditioning, played every game in 2006 and 2007 and missed a combined nine games between 2005 and 2008. He could be counted on every day to deliver and usually did. An All-Star three straight years from 2006-2008, he was very deserving of the honor. His stat lines from 2005-2008 were 22, 28, 24 and 33 home runs and 22, 22, 33 and 38 steals. Take a look at the last two numbers in each category – yes, he was a 30/30 guy in 2008 and seemed to be heading into rarefied air as a truly great player.
Then 2009 hit. Injuries began to bombard a once so promising career. Sizemore injured his wrist in the spring of 2009 and played through pain all year. Despite the pain, the power numbers were decent (18 bombs, 64 RBI). However, 13 steals and a .248 batting average were low-points from the time Sizemore became an every-day player in 2005. In early September, with the Indians out of contention, Sizemore ended his season, opting for surgery on the wrist and the hope of coming back strong in 2010.
That’s when it really fell apart. In the spring of 2010, Sizemore hurt his left knee. After suffering through possibly the worst 33-game stretch of his career to start the season, the Tribe lead-off hitter underwent microfracture surgery on the left knee.
Sizemore came back on April 17, 2011 and looked strong. He resembled the Sizemore of old and helped the Indians get off to last season’s 30-15 start. However, he injured the right knee in mid-May, sliding into second base in Baltimore. Following a brief comeback, he reinjured the right knee in July. In late August, he needed sports hernia surgery and was out the rest of the way.
The 2011 season did see Sizemore belt 10 jacks in 71 games, but the injuries simply continued piling up. Add to that the blazing he speed he once possessed seemed gone as he failed to steal a base for the first time in his career (that includes his brief rookie stint in the majors in 2004 and miserable 2010).
Cleveland, as expected, did not pick up the $9 million play option it had on Sizemore for 2012. However, team management felt it prudent to keep him and resigned him on a one-year, $5 million deal. The logic was, if Sizemore could finally come back strong, he is better than any outfielder the club has, other than perhaps Shin-Soo Choo.
Sizemore came to spring training looking for a fresh start. Early signs were promising. Then, two weeks ago, it was revealed, Sizemore injured his back while rehabbing his knees. The back issue will now cost Sizemore another two or three months. A realistic time-frame for his return is some time in June.
It seems far-fetched at this point, with all the injuries the last few years, but Sizemore could still come back and salvage 100 games and be a big part of the team’s second-half push. If Cleveland can keep close with Detroit in the AL Central or even get ahead, adding Sizemore in June could be a huge lift.
The team could really use a veteran and potential bat like Sizemore in the lineup. With Sizemore out, Michael Brantley moves from left field to center. Brantley has a nice glove in the field and can hit for average. The center field position is not all that hurt. However, the left field spot took a huge hit. A host of journeymen and rookies are battling this spring to take the vacant spot that opened when Sizemore got hurt again. Players like Shelley Duncan, Aaron Cunningham, Matt LaPorta and Russ Canzler should be key contributors off a bench, not hoping to take the field on Opening Day. Still, those guys will try to fill the void while Sizemore rehabs some more.
It is not ridiculous to think Sizemore may yet turn things around and get his career back on track. At 29, (30 in August) Sizemore is far from old. He is now in the middle of what should be his prime years. If he can come back from this back injury reasonably healthy and avoids bad luck, he could still produce (though probably not at the same clip he once did) and help the Indians in their quest for the team’s first playoff appearance in five years.
Photo: Sports Illustrated
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