Grady Sizemore. The name alone likely causes Chris Antonetti the type of shivers one normally experiences after a particularly long pee. While most of the baseball world focuses its attention on the Atlanta Braves, Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, Tampa Bay Rays and John Lackey’s soon to be ex-wife, the Cleveland Indians General Manager will be preparing to make one of the toughest decisions in baseball.
Sizemore has missed more than 200 games over the last two years, and this season will also end with him not playing and possibly requiring more surgery on his knee. However, an $8.5 million team option for 2012 at the conclusion of the six year, $23.5 million deal he signed with Cleveland ahead of the 2006 season, means that Sizemore could hobble onto the free agent market this coming off season.
Normally, it would be a no brainer on whether or not to bring back a player at that price with his extensive injury history combined with a seeming inability to minimize wear and tear while playing. However, this is Grady Sizemore, a ball player who at age 25 and 26, had career numbers that most resembled Barry Bonds’ stats at that age. In his first four full seasons in the league, Sizemore collected more than 100 home runs and 100 stolen bases. When healthy, he’s a premier player.
Unfortunately, that qualifier is massive.
As much as we ooh and ah at Sizemore’s incredible offensive numbers, such a large chunk of his value is derived from his one-time incredible range in center field. Although he’s played every single defensive inning of his career in center, a move to right or left field might be necessary to extend his career, and by so doing diminish his value to a team.
And this is why the Indians are in such a tough position in deciding their future with Sizemore. They know what he’s capable of producing, and his recent play certainly doesn’t represent his true talent level, but the injuries and the toll that they’ve taken on a player who uses his legs as much as Sizemore does can’t be overlooked.
In a world in which emotions and unspoken codes didn’t exist, the solution would be simple for Cleveland. Pay Sizemore the $500,000 and don’t pick up his option. Let him shop his services elsewhere, and when he finds out that he’s unable to demand the type of money that he was scheduled to earn, come in with a new contract offer at a reduced rate.
I might not even have a problem with offering Sizemore another multi-year contract, if the money is right. Such conditions would allow Sizemore to fully recuperate into next season, with no reason to rush a return to the lineup. Indians management would have to then look at the deal with higher expectations for the second year of the contract than the first, and be willing to tolerate the potential embarrassment that would come from giving goods that are known to be damaged more time and money.
In the meantime, Sizemore should be able to take some encouragement from Carlos Beltran. The San Francisco Giants outfielder (for the next few days anyway), isn’t as sprightly and quick as he once was (thanks to knee surgeries), but has still found a way to contribute. After missing more games than he’s played over the previous two seasons, Beltran stormed back this year on a repaired knee that, yes, pushed him into a corner outfield spot, but also allowed him to become a 5 WAR player.
Given his younger age, extending a little bit more patience to Sizemore could go a long way.
At the very least, it could provide for some good jokes:
Q: Hey, what has five knees and sucks?
A: The Indians’ outfield.