This week, the Cleveland Indians announced that they had re-signed Grady Sizemore to a one-year, $5 million million deal for 2012 (plus incentives that could push his salary to $9 million). It looks like a great move—if he ends up injured again the Indians could regret the deal, but the risk seems well worth the potential reward.
It looks great from a subjective standpoint, too. Fan sentiment had largely turned against Sizemore by the end of the season—he’s no longer the face of the franchise and most Tribe fans agreed that picking up his $9 million option would have been a mistake—but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t still have a place in Clevelanders’ hearts. As a fan, I’m thrilled to know that he’ll be back in an Indians uniform next year, in large part because it would be heartbreaking to see him regain his MVP-caliber form with another team.
But emotionally, the best part of this news is what we learned about Grady Sizemore: he truly is one of the classiest, most loyal players in all of Major League Baseball.
A lot of players talk about how much their fans mean to them. Whether or not it’s genuine, pretty much every free agent expresses a desire to return to his former team, and they’ll all at least pay lip service to the idea of re-signing. But most players don’t end up taking hometown discounts when it’s time to put their money where their mouths are (or, more accurately, to leave it on the table).
Five million guaranteed is a pretty good haul for a player who’s missed 220 games in the last two years hasn’t stayed healthy for a full season since 2008. But while we’ll never know exactly how much he would’ve gotten somewhere else, it almost definitely would’ve been more. Sports Illustrated‘s Jon Heyman said Sizemore was looking for a deal similar to the one-year, $10 million deal Adrian Beltre signed with Boston two years ago, and FoxSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal said he expected him to get about $9 million from another team.
At least eight other teams had been connected to Sizemore before he signed, including the spendthrift Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies; had the situation evolved into a bidding war based solely on cash, the Indians assuredly would have lost. In re-signing, Sizemore definitely gave Cleveland a sizable hometown discount.
It’s not as if Sizemore had any obligation to come back. Manny Ramirez and LeBron James (different sport, but still) skipped town as soon as they got more attractive offers. CC Sabathia didn’t even pretend the Indians had a chance of keeping him once his contract expired. Even Jim Thome, one of the nicest guys in all of baseball, left when he got a bigger contract from the Phillies. In today’s game, no one could have a legitimate beef with a guy who wants to maximize his paychecks.
We Tribe fans can pretend that Sizemore owed us his loyalty. We’ve spent the last eight years wearing (and buying) his jerseys and waited patiently for him to make a comeback for the last three, and if he found success somewhere else we’d have pits in our stomachs until the end of his career. That’s true. But there’s no way we could have reasonably blamed him for preferring a change of scenery and a salary bump. He didn’t and doesn’t owe us anything—which makes it that much more incredible that he came back.
If Sizemore ends up on the disabled list for most of the season again, you’ll have a hard time convincing Cleveland fans that he did us a favor by signing for $5 million. But by taking the Indians’ lower offer, he demonstrated without question that loyalty to the team he’s spent his whole career with matters more to him than money. If that doesn’t make him a class act, I don’t know what does.