Grady Sizemore‘s comeback trail will go through the Boston Red Sox organization.
The Red Sox announced Wednesday that they have signed Sizemore, who hasn’t played in the majors since 2011, to a one-year contract. Sizemore represents a solid, low-risk, high-reward pickup by the Red Sox, as he’ll likely compete with Jackie Bradley Jr. for the starting center field job during spring training and serve as additional outfield depth if Bradley ultimately gets the nod.
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington and manager John Farrell have expressed total confidence in Bradley’s ability to become Jacoby Ellsbury‘s successor in center field. Bradley will turn just 24 years old in April, though, and his 2013 offensive struggles suggest that major league success in 2014 is not a foregone conclusion. Therefore, adding another center fielder makes all the sense in the world for Boston, and Sizemore is an intriguing option based on his previous big league success with the Cleveland Indians.
Sizemore, once a legitimate five-tool talent, was one of the most productive players in baseball from 2005 to 2008 before injuries sent his career flying off the tracks. He finished in the top-12 in American League MVP voting on three separate occasions, earned three All-Star selections and totaled career-highs in home runs (33), RBIs (90) and stolen bases (38) in 2008, his last full season in the majors.
Sizemore, now 31 years old, has been limited to just 210 games over the last five years because of knee and back surgeries, so expecting a return to MVP-caliber production in 2014 would require wishful thinking to the highest degree. However, a healthy Sizemore — a big “if,” of course — should force Bradley’s hand, as the young prospect now will need to earn a job rather than be handed a job by virtue of the Red Sox not having any other viable center field options.
Before signing Sizemore, the most likely scenario if Bradley struggled would have involved shifting Shane Victorino to center field while using more lineups featuring both Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes. That, obviously, wouldn’t have been an ideal scenario, particularly because of the defensive downgrade. Not only are Nava and Gomes known more for their offensive prowess than their defensive skills, but Victorino also is better-served playing right field, where he performed admirably in 2013.
Sizemore isn’t a perfect fit for the Red Sox, as the two-time Gold Glove winner — in addition to his long list of injury issues — has endured struggles against left-handed pitching. Sizemore boasts a career .288 average and .376 on-base against right-handers, but just a .227 average and .315 on-base percentage versus southpaws, so he’s certainly a flawed platoon partner for the left-handed-hitting Bradley. But the remaining free-agent outfield market is extremely thin, particularly as it pertains to right-handed-hitting outfielders capable of playing center field, and Sizemore brings the most upside.
Mike Carp has been the subject of trade speculation this offseason, so perhaps Sizemore’s production — or lack thereof — in spring training will dictate each player’s future in Boston. Carp was an excellent contributor for the Red Sox last season, but Nava’s versatility ensures that the Red Sox still will have a serviceable backup first baseman if Carp is dealt in favor of Sizemore.
There are more questions than answers at this point in regards to Sizemore, and it all starts with whether he’s still capable of making an impact in the majors. But the Red Sox just might catch lightning in a bottle, or, at the very least, have a respectable backup center fielder behind Bradley in 2014.