When the Boston Red Sox signed Grady Sizemore in late January, it was a depth move. A one-year, $750,000 contract with up to $6 million in incentives was about what could be expected for a player who last saw regular playing time in July of 2011, almost three years ago.
Although the Red Sox opened camp with the expectation that prospect Jackie Bradley, Jr. would be manning center field following the departure of Jacoby Ellsbury, those expectations have changed. A year ago, it was Bradley Jr.’s hot spring that forced the Red Sox hand, and allowed him to start the season in the majors. Now, it’s another new face’s strong spring that is complicating John Farrell’s opening day roster.
The Red Sox signed Sizemore with the intention of stashing him in triple-A, or possibly keeping him as the fifth outfielder, should they move Mike Carp or someone got injured. Having not played baseball in over two years seemed reason enough to not expect the former MVP-candidate to make much of an impact. But then spring training started.
As of March 19, Sizemore was hitting .381 in 21 at-bats. He’s already made highlight reels with two athletic catches in a nationally televised World Series spring rematch with the St. Louis Cardinals. He’s played on back-to-back days, something management and the coaching staff did not exactly expect. With his success and seemingly seamless transition back to playing on a daily basis, Sizemore has changed the center field picture for the Boston Red Sox.
The recent announcement that Sizemore would play in five games over six days suggests John Farrell and Co. are at least considering keeping Sizemore around, perhaps even as the everyday center fielder.
If this experiment with playing Sizemore on an everyday basis works out, he will have answered the biggest question that has been on Sox fan’s minds: Can he play every day?
If Sizemore can play every day, it will be difficult to stop him from doing so. Before 2009, Sizemore played four seasons of MVP-caliber baseball, never missing more than five games. However, injuries have plagued his career since then, and he has played just 210 games over the past five years, including two seasons of not playing at all.
The Red Sox have three pieces for two roster spots in Sizemore, Bradley, Jr. and Carp. Sizemore and Bradley, Jr. each could be optioned to triple-A, while Carp would need to be traded to keep the other two on Boston’s roster. There are teams who have asked on Carp, such as the Astros, and Bradley, Jr.’s development wouldn’t necessarily be hurt by more time in the minors. Sizemore’s contract was originally signed with the intention of using him as organizational depth, and he could still be used in that capacity, should Farrell decide to go that way, as well.
Farrell and Co. have been pretty tight-lipped about their plans with the Sizemore situation, but using the final games this spring to test him on a regular basis suggests they’re open with Sizemore as the starting center fielder.
The “injury-prone” label will continue to follow Sizemore, even if he does make the Red Sox roster. If he makes the team as the everyday center fielder, don’t be surprised if he gets a day or two off each week. While his spring has suggested that nothing is impossible, it is still improbable that Sizemore will play a full season (140+ games) in 2014.
If Sizemore has the ability to play almost every day, the Red Sox would be making a mistake to have him playing those days in triple-A. If Sizemore can do it, the starting job should be his. Jackie Bradley, Jr. is a great prospect, but Sizemore is more technically sound in every category. Having too much depth is a desirable problem, and Farrell is sure to find a creative way to deal with this “issue.”
By experiment’s end, don’t be surprised if you see Grady Sizemore manning center field for the Boston Red Sox.