As I sit here watching Grady Sizemore execute a leaping grab while crashing into the center field wall, diving full out to takeaway a surefire double, and smacking a ball off the mini monster at Fenway South, it is hard for me to wrap my brain around the fact that he hasn’t played in the Major Leagues since 2011.
When the Boston Red Sox announced they would be signing the former Cleveland Indian and three-time All-Star to a one-year deal back in January, I never envisioned this. How could I?
I mean, after all, we’re talking about a guy who’s had more surgeries than games played over the last few years. But it’s that same guy who posted a .290/.375/.533 and garnered MVP votes in his heyday. It was the prototypical low-risk, high-reward signing where maybe, just maybe you’re able to squeeze whatever talent is left out of the 31-year-old veteran, even if that means getting 60% of what he used to be. If it backfires, no big deal.
But what Sizemore has done to this point in Spring Training has caught the entire baseball landscape off guard. Not only has he gone through every drill, scrimmage, and game without a single setback, but he’s done it in a productive manner — 8 hits in 21 at-bats while striking out just once.
All this Sizemore talk introduces the big question: Should he be the starting center fielder when the regular season begins on March 31st? He’s in a pretty heated position battle with Sox’ prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. for center at the moment, but without hesitation, most would tell you that he’s played the better brand of baseball so far. And with that same certainty, many would tell you that the odds of Sizemore playing a month straight, never mind a full 162-game season, are about as likely as Weber State wining the NCAA tournament this year.
That is where the decision gets interesting, because the likelihood of keeping both Sizemore and JBJ on the 25-man roster are slim. The Red Sox will not carry six outfielders into the regular season. If by chance they were to both stay, the Red Sox would be forced to deal a great role player like Mike Carp, who has become a bit of a fan favorite and provides the exact versatility the Sox look for in a bench guy with the ability to play multiple positions.
If Boston does decide to roll with Sizemore in center field, JBJ will be forced to start the year at Triple-A Pawtucket in order to get consistent play and continue his progression. After splitting time between AAA (320 AB’s) and the Majors (95 AB’s) a season ago, starting the year at Pawtucket might seem like a step back for a player ready to prove himself at the highest level, but if Sizemore doesn’t hold up, Bradley Jr. would be the first man up to take over the job.
The other scenario is that the Red Sox begin the year with JBJ in center and put Grady Sizemore in an extended Spring Training type of environment where he can continue to build on what he’s accomplished so far. You let the young Bradley Jr. show what he can do, while simultaneously letting Sizemore get back into baseball shape. If anything, it buys the organization more time to evaluate both players and make a decision.
There’s no clear-cut solution here. JBJ has done nothing this spring to show that he isn’t ready for the starting gig. However, nobody was ready for Grady Sizemore to find a time machine and show up like it was 2009, either.
Red Sox fans, tell me who you would go with and why?