News broke Tuesday night that center fielder Grady Sizemore will be shut down for the year. This didn’t really come as a surprise considering missed the entire season recovering from back surgery and his rehabilitation hasn’t seemed to be going well. For jaded Cleveland fans who’ve witnessed the breakdown of Sizemore’s body over the last few years, there had been a general skepticism that he’d suit up for the Tribe this year already.
The general consensus around the blogosphere and on Twitter after the news broke can be summed up in two parts. The first is that Chris Antonetti and the Indians front office team had made a colossal mistake in signing Sizemore to a one-year, $5 million contract last offseason. Though it clearly looks like a mistake now, this opinion is based primarily on hindsight. Expecting him to play a full season would have been unrealistic, but the approximately 1.0 wins above replacement it would have taken for Sizemore to earn his contract seemed a fairly reasonable projection. And no one can honestly say that he or she expected Josh Willingham to emerge as one of the best hitters in baseball.
The other popular sentiment in the aftermath of the announcement was that Sizemore’s tenure with Cleveland is over. But is that really true?
When the Indians declined their 2012 club option for Sizemore last year, most expected that he would sign elsewhere as a free agent. It wasn’t clear what exactly the market would be Sizemore, but a multiyear deal that guaranteed him eight figures seemed likely—yes, he’d been injured in 2011, but he was a 29 years old, possessed great athleticism, and had demonstrated MVP upside. But he left a significant chunk of change on the table in order to come back to the Tribe.
The move wasn’t all about loyalty. Sizemore wanted to play center field while most of his other suitors envisioned him sliding over to a corner outfield spot, and by signing a one-year deal he’d get the chance to hit the open market again before the 2013 season—a strong comeback in 2012 might have set him up for the blockbuster deal he’d seemed destined to sign until injuries derailed his career. But Sizemore genuinely wanted to stick with the organization that had stuck with him, and that was more important to him than cashing the fattest check.
We’re not talking about LeBron James or CC Sabathia, who had no attachment to Cleveland. (Sabathia, you may recall, refused to accept an extension the Indians could afford, then blasted the club for getting rid of him after he was traded.) We’re not even talking about Shin-Soo Choo, who has quietly made it clear that he’s looking forward to testing the free agent market, or Chris Perez, who’s been extremely vocal about his frustration with the fans. Foreign though the concept may seem to Tribe fans, Sizemore actually seems to care about the Indians.
Which brings us back to now. How much would the Indians be willing to pay to bring Sizemore back? (Resist the urge to be snarky. Saying “nothing” is your emotions talking, not grounded reason.) Let’s say Cleveland could get him for $2 million in 2013. (Remember, Casey Kotchman is getting paid $3 million to post a sub-.300 OBP at the most offensive-driven position on the field.) At that rate, he’d more than earn his keep if he produces half a win above replacement. If he puts up a full 1.0 WAR—a feat that by definition a league-average player would accomplish in just half a season—he’d be a steal.
It might not even take $2 million. Unless some overeager team goes off the deep end and signs Sizemore for a way over the reasonable market rate, there’s no chance he gets eight figures this offseason. At this point he could be lucky to get seven. He might even be forced to settle for the league minimum or sign a minor-league contract. If the Indians aren’t in on the bidding when a player with MVP upside can be had for table scraps they’d be missing a huge opportunity. And unless he really thinks he’d have a better opportunity elsewhere, his past behavior suggests he’d be happy to stay put.
Cleveland fans are understandably tired of waiting for Sizemore to get healthy, and now that he’s failed to even take the field in 2012 it’s not hard to see why many people think it’s time to move on. But given how far his stock has fallen he shouldn’t be too hard for even the small-market Indians to afford, and he’s one of the most loyal players this team has seen in a long time. His time with the Tribe might not be over as soon as you’d think.