CLEVELAND, OH - Grady Sizemore #24 hits a sacrifice ground ball scoring Jason Donald #16 (not shown) of the Cleveland Indians during the fifth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Progressive Field. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Just three seasons ago, Grady Sizemore was one of the best players in baseball. Will teams pay for that potential, or will they avoid the former Indian?
Grady Sizemore has earned just over $23 million in his eight-season career. That’s more than you or I might make in eight years in a candle factory or something, but by baseball player standards, that’s not at the top of the scale for superstar players. And it wasn’t that long ago that Sizemore was a superstar -- one of the dozen or so most covetable players in baseball. FanGraphs has an estimator of what a player’s value is based on his Wins Above Replacement, and it estimates that Sizemore has given the Indians just under $120 million in value.
So it's just a little cruel that when Sizemore finally, finally hits free agency, he's on clearance because of slight manufacturing defects. If he were a free agent between 2006 and 2008, he would have received small islands as part of his deal. The team that won the bidding would have airlifted cash and doubloons and emeralds and rubies and foodstuffs to the island, and Sizemore would have just rolled, rolled, rolled around in his newfound wealth.
As is, he'll get a one-year deal.
Which is about right. For three years, Sizemore has been as injury prone as any player in the game, and the microfracture surgery he had on his left knee is somewhat freaky, experimental stuff. It's not like there's a long history of players coming back from the procedure 100%, but that's because there aren't a lot of players who have had the procedure.
But teams will gamble. And all it will take for Sizemore to get a surprising payday are two teams who can't get the 2008 Sizemore out of their heads. Here are the three possibilities for him:
The Paul Molitor
This is the scenario that makes everyone happy. After missing chunks of seasons in his 20s -- and not performing as well when healthy as he did in his early 20s, Molitor built the foundation of a Hall of Fame career in his 30s.
The Barry Larkin
In 19 seasons, Larkin played more than 125 games in eight of them. In the other 11, he was constantly hurt, dinged, and ailing. But he was so danged good when he was healthy, he maintained a substantial amount of value. A team that could get 73 games out of Larkin and 89 out of Pokey Reese was still ahead of the rest of the National League. It was frustrating to see him injured so often, but his Reds were almost always better for having him on the team.
The Kal Daniels
He didn't have quite the career that the above two players did, though it started nicely. In seven seasons, Daniels hit .285/.382/.479, good for an OPS+ of 138. He lead the National League in on-base percentage in 1988 as a 24-year-old. Dude was good. Then his knees melted into a puddle of goo.
Interested teams will hope for the first scenario, gambling that Sizemore's latent talent will eventually break through, and that he'll overcome his fragility.
Interested teams might even hope for the Larkin scenario, where Sizemore is a part-time player with a full-time value. When contract offers are made, they might be with 110 games a season in mid.
Interested teams are probably aware that there's about a 90% chance that Sizemore is going to go full Kal Daniels on us.
It's an interesting mix of pie-in-the-sky thinking and cold cynicism with Sizemore. He was just that guy, the one who dazzled the baseball world with his preternatural talent -- the prospect with tools who actually built a freestanding structure with the danged things. The odds of him coming back are low.
Of all the contracts this offseason, the one I'm most interested in isn't the one that Pujols, Fielder, or Reyes will get -- it's the leap of faith that someone will take with Sizemore. One year, $4 million with incentives? Two years, $14 million guaranteed? More? Less? I have no idea. Whoever makes the deal is likely to be disappointed.
But if they have the winning raffle ticket, if it hits and Sizemore is the player of old, he'll be the bargain of the offseason. High risk. High reward. There isn't a player on the market who embodies the risk/reward spectrum quite like Grady Sizemore.