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An Abundance in the Outfield

An Abundance in the Outfield

| On 09, Jan 2014

As the off-season continues, and the Indians’ activity begins to pick up with the recent signings of players such as Scott Atchison and Jeff Francoeur, a new team is starting to form to bring Cleveland into spring training. It raises interesting questions, many of which are unable to be answered immediately – what, for example, does Cleveland plan to do with their abundance of outfielders? As indicated by the Drew Stubbs trade, Cleveland is well aware that they have a few too many outfielders on the roster, thus making the Francoeur addition an interesting one.

The Indians obviously have a strong outfield on the major league roster, with names such as Michael Brantley, Michael Bourne, Ryan Raburn, and newcomer David Murphy, and they continue to have strong outfield prospects throughout the minor leagues, including players such as Carlos Moncrief and Tyler Holt. Is this abundance of outfielders a signal that someone is going to be traded? Is it a plan by the Indians to build up a new bench this season? As Francoeur has been signed to a minor league deal, there is no immediate threat that he will displace anyone on the major league stage. Yet, the question is raised, what was the motivation behind the signing? Again, the recent activity that raises questions that cannot be answered until we see how the team falls together during Spring Training.

Another question that this outfield-mania raises, however, is that of Grady Sizemore. A longtime Cleveland favorite, Sizemore was expected to have strong and lasting career as a Cleveland Indian. However, recent years plagued the promising center fielder with a number of career-derailing injuries that removed him from the Indians active roster – and from their team as a whole.

In 2012, the Indians used a “What If?” marketing campaign, begging the question of what if the team presented something noteworthy, what if they made it far in the season? Unfortunately, 2012 was not the right season to be asking, “What if?” The Indians lost a staggering number of games and ended the season as almost a joke. It does beg the question, though, of what would the team have been like if Sizemore were still there today? In his inaugural seasons as an Indian, Sizemore showed promise, skill, and likeability. He was a brilliant outfielder, wielded a strong bat, and had the appeal that started a fan base that called themselves, “Grady’s Ladies.” What more could a city want?

If Sizemore were still an Indian, would there be a contest going on right now to elect the poster-woman for a Grady Sizemore fan section? Would Brohio be wedded to Grady’s Ladies? What would the Goon Squad look like if Sizemore were still on the bench?

There are a lot of “what ifs” in baseball. What if a star player gets injured during the season? What if an ace gets traded? What if a player had never gotten injured or had remained on the team that drafted him?

These are what ifs that cannot be answered until the season begins. The Reds, however, may get to answer the “What if Sizemore ever played again” question, as they have been suggested to have approached Sizemore regarding the upcoming season. Sizemore missed all of 2013 due to injury and missed over 140 games in 2012. His seasons prior to that were just as spotty, as he has suffered injury after injury for nearly four years now. It is not to say an amazing comeback is out of the question, but it stands to reason that the Sizemore of old cannot realistically return.

If the Indians are hoarding outfielders, it would have been interesting to see what Sizemore would have been like as a returning roster addition, if for no other reason than that “what if” could have been answered. If Sizemore can, theoretically, get his game back together, he could be an asset on a bunch and serve as a worthwhile substitute player for a team. What if that team could have been Cleveland?

Francoeur has the potential to be a current-level Sizemore-esque addition for the Tribe. No, I’m not intimating that he is going to spend the season injured, but it seems that Francoeur can likely spend his time with the Indians as a decent outfield substitution player who will be well-received by fans.

In his stronger years, Francoeur did post some desirable numbers. He hit .285 in 2011 with 20 home runs and, despite only hitting .235 in 2012, posted 16 homers that year with Kansas City. He has a .263 major league average and a .725 OPS.

Compared to Sizemore, Francoeur seems to be the stronger fit for a potential outfielder. Though he has a .269 career average, the sharp dip in Sizemore’s numbers since he started in the majors give room for nothing but pause and apprehension. He’s a player who would need to stay healthy to even have a chance of regaining his former stature – and if history repeats itself, it is very clear that that is not likely to happen.

Francoeur, though, is someone Clevelanders won’t mind seeing on the field should he appear, and he will likely bring the same upbeat and positive attitude found in the likes of Terry Francona and Nick Swisher. Maybe, if fans are lucky, Brohio will even benefit from some pizza sent their way by this charismatic addition to the plethora of outfielders.

Photo: J. Meric/Getty Images