Grady Sizemore: Face of the Franchise to Financial Burden

It’s winter, 2006. I was on a bus filled with strangers, in a strange land, and I screamed with joy when I heard the news.

I was in my second semester at The University of Toledo, and still didn’t have many friends, so I was riding a bus to my next class alone, and I heard over the bus radio that the Indians had signed Grady Sizemore, the Tribe’s dynamic center fielder, to an extension that could keep the future face of the franchise with a ‘C’ on his cap through the 2012 season. A joyful scream was definitely in order.

It was 2006, and the future of the Indians was filled with hope. The Tribe won 93 games and narrowly missed the playoffs in 2005. Sizemore was at the heart of the offense, and now Tribe fans didn’t have to worry about him going anywhere for six seasons.

Now it’s 2011, and the Indians are facing a choice that seemed like a no-brainer almost six years ago: they must decide whether to pick up Sizemore’s $9 million option for the 2012 season, or pay him a $500,000 buyout and move on from the past.

How did we go from “sure-fire face of the franchise” to “the Indians might be better off without him”? And what does the Tribe do from here? The former question is much easier to answer than the latter, so let’s start there.

From 2005-2008, Sizemore played in at least 157 games each season, and appeared in all 162 in 2006 and 2007. He posted at least 5.8 wins above replacement every season, and he was a legitimate MVP candidate in 2008 with 7.4 fWAR.

Then, in 2009, the injuries started, and he’s appeared in only 210 games since. In 2010 came the microfracture surgery on his left knee. And in 2011, when the Indians desperately needed a steady, everyday bat to stabilize an ever-changing lineup, Sizemore was a non-factor due to a sports hernia and surgery on his right knee. He’s expected to be ready for Spring Training…yada, yada, yada. We’ve heard it before.

I’m not questioning Grady’s injuries or toughness, but I wouldn’t be willing to gamble $9 million that he can be an everyday center fielder again. It’s too much to ask, and far too much to pay.

Yes, there are issues with the outfield that could make the Tribe inclined to play it safe and pick up the option; maybe Shin-Soo Choo isn’t an All-Star, maybe Michael Brantley isn’t really an everyday player, maybe Shelly Duncan is just a Quad-A player.

And it’s not that Grady can’t produce when healthy. The power is still there (32 XBH in just 71 games this year), but the speed and plate discipline are not. The Indians would love it if Sizemore could sustain that over an entire season. But that’s the problem—he can’t.

This is where the Indians stand. Torn between Sizemore’s tantalizing talent and the stark reality that the guy hasn’t been healthy since 2008, torn between saddling the payroll with a potential $9 million dollar albatross for the year and other players to extend, or seeing a healthy Grady Sizemore terrorize the league, only in another uniform.

Fans would be crushed. Another player bolting Cleveland. And all those “Sizemore” jerseys would now be useless. But this has to be a business decision for the good of the club, and Grady Sizemore hasn’t played a full season since 2008. You don’t guarantee him $9 million dollars if you don’t have to do so.

Both Paul of The DiaTribe and Terry Pluto of The Plain Dealer have suggested an incentive-based contract extension. I’m all for this (but not holding my breath). But you can’t just write a check for $9 million payable to Grady Sizemore and call that sound baseball strategy. Asdrubal Cabrera and Justin Masterson are among several players eligible for arbitration this year and due hefty raises. The money that would go to Sizemore would be a big help for signing those players.

Face of the franchise to financial burden. Baseball is a cruel game. But I love the Indians, and I’d rather see them play it safe with an extra $9 million instead of gambling big on a guy who’s barely played the past two seasons.

I’m prepared for the Cleveland Indians to move on without Grady Sizemore. Three days after the World Series ends, the question will be: are the Indians?

Tags: Grady Sizemore

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