A week ago, there were plenty of arguments to be made in favor of either Jackie Bradley Jr. or Grady Sizemore as the Red Sox opening day center fielder. Analysts across New England and the nation debated the merits of each, coming to their own conclusions. It was always clear, though, the decision would come down to Red Sox manager John Farrell. Friday morning, Farrell made his opinion known, and named Grady Sizemore the starter.
This news obviously is great news for Sizemore, who is on the comeback trail after missing years of his career due to injuries. It is less obvious, but this is also good news for the 23-year-old Bradley Jr. He has played only 80 games at the triple-A level, with only 374 plate appearances. For a guy who was manning Boston’s center field on opening day a year ago, that’s not much.
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It is possible Boston’s hand was forced last season due to Jacoby Ellsbury’s injury and Bradley Jr.’s strong spring. Heading into 2013, he hadn’t played above double-A. The expectation was Bradley Jr. would be ready after spending 2013 in Pawtucket, but perhaps rushing him to the majors last April threw off his development timetable, and he is not where he needs to be, yet.
That’s where Grady Sizemore comes in. Sizemore is an established major league hitter. Even if it is unreasonable to expect Sizemore to replicate his MVP-caliber seasons when he was in Cleveland, it is not far-reaching to say he will hit better than Bradley Jr. would have. Sizemore is likely not in Boston’s long-term plans, especially if he is only a fraction of what he once was. Bradley Jr. remains the center fielder of the future, it’s just a matter of when that future is.
Grady Sizemore would like nothing more than return to the player he was in 2005-08. If he is 80 percent of that, the Red Sox just won the lottery. If he is 60 percent of that, he’s still a very solid player, and one the Red Sox will be happy to have. Even if Sizemore gets hurt again or stops hitting, the Red Sox are still in a great position. If May rolls around and Sizemore is underperforming, it would not be shocking to see him benched, putting the Red Sox in the same situation they were in before his phenomenal spring.
Bradley Jr. should not feel bad about being demoted. Like any young player trying to break onto a World Series-winning roster, he was going to have to work for it. He worked hard, but he has not earned it yet. However, that is not to say that Bradley Jr. would not have made the roster if Sizemore was not around. In fact, if Mike Carp wasn’t so versatile, Bradley Jr. would have made the team. Additionally, with the injury questions with Sizemore and Shane Victorino, it may not be very long before Bradley Jr. is playing with a “B” on his hat.