“So let’s go out for old time’s sake”
I wrote recently about what a difficult time the Indians will have replacing Grady Sizemore.
Not Grady Sizemore circa 2011, mind you. But the idea of Grady Sizemore. Someone with anywhere near his athleticism and upside simply doesn’t exist in the Indians’ system, and the thought of finding something resembling that kind of talent on the free-agent or trade markets seemed bleak, at best.
So the Indians went in an entirely different direction — one nobody, from what was being said of Sizemore behind the scenes at least, saw coming before last week’s news leak.
They’re replacing Grady Sizemore with Grady Sizemore.
Of course, that important clarifier about the idea of Sizemore belongs here, too. The Indians are banking on a notion, not a sure thing… but, of course, you already knew that from the 210 games Grady has played over the last three seasons.
Just as $5 million is an adequate investment into a back-end innings eater like Derek Lowe, so, too, is $5 million a suitable guarantee for a player who dangles on that thin line between risk and reward. And the $4 million in incentives (which, I’m told, actually max out with fewer plate appearances than Grady had in any season from 2005-08), as well as a reported $500,000 bonus if Sizemore wins Comeback Player of the Year honors, ensures that Grady can earn just as much with this deal as he would have with his option, provided he holds up his end of the bargain. This appeases those who wanted the Indians to re-negotiate the option with Sizemore in the first place — something that always seemed unlikely, given the assumption that players are always going to be prone toward feeling out their market before committing to a pay cut.
Keep in mind, of course, that the Indians already dished out $500,000 when they bought out Sizemore’s option earlier this month. As of this writing, I’m not sure if that was factored into the package or if it stands as a separate transaction entirely (if so, good for Grady).
Sizemore likely would have had to work out for other clubs to land this kind of a commitment, and his current knee condition wouldn’t have allowed such a workout until the new year. So the Indians capitalized with an aggressive approach, which, come to think of it, is the theme of their offseason at this point. They are not going to be beaten to the “diamonds in the rough” department.
Nobody knows Sizemore like this team and this medical staff, so there is clearly confidence in Sizemore’s condition. By the time Opening Day rolls around, he’ll be nearly two years removed from microfracture surgery on his left knee, and he’ll be six months removed from the decidedly more tame arthroscopic procedure performed on his right. But don’t forget that second sports hernia surgery Sizemore had performed last summer (his first came near the end of the ’09 season). I remember Torii Hunter telling me this year that it took him a full year to get back to full speed after he had a similar procedure performed at the end of ’09.
You can see Sizemore and his agent working here, as Grady’s comfort level with Cleveland and the Lonnie Soloff-led medical team will put him in the best possible position to have a comeback season and get a big payday a year from now. And you can see the Indians working. Beyond that glaring hole they’re currently filling in the outfield, there is also the distinct possibility of flipping Sizemore at the July Trade Deadline. Such a thing is always a possibility in these parts, as you well know.
But with some hefty arbitration cases coming their way in Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo, Chris Perez, Raffy Perez, Justin Masterson and Joe Smith, a limited payroll is about to get crunched, so the Indians’ ability to further augment the outfield with a right-handed bat (so clearly needed to not only balance out the bats but also stand as insurance in the event of another Sizemore setback) is in question. Sizemore has been brutal against lefties for the better part of his career, so that further clouds the picture.
The way things stand, the right-handed-hitting Shelley Duncan would again be counted on quite a bit, though his lefty splits (.245/.316/.363) are uninspiring. Perhaps you’ve seen the speculation about putting Jason Donald in the outfield against lefty pitchers because of his .886 OPS against southpaws in his decidedly brief career, to this point. That’s definitely spaghetti-tossing territory.
This team’s need for more power and run-production is evident, and going into the season with Matt LaPorta as the penciled-in option at first base would be unacceptable, considering all we’ve seen. But given the available options out there, the Tribe might be best-suited to just make Carlos Santana primarily a first baseman and add catching depth. That’s a move they were always reluctant to make with Victor Martinez, because his offensive numbers were more valuable behind the plate, but Santana, who hit 27 homers in his first full season, has the power to suit the position, with potentially more in store. Something to consider.
The Sizemore move was surprising, and it’s largely predicated on the kind of nightmare scenario that keeps Clevelanders up at night — a star talent leaving town and flourishing elsewhere. The Indians spent at least $5 million to make sure that doesn’t happen.
For now, it’s brilliant. It could very well backfire. But you can make a strong argument that the idea of Grady Sizemore is better than the reality of a lot of other options out there right now.
PS: More Wild Cards are coming to baseball. Some people are complaining about this. This column explains why they shouldn’t.