Looking to add depth to the roster and create competition in spring training, the Red Sox signed outfielder Grady Sizemore Wednesday to a one-year major league contract at a base salary of $750,000 that can increase to $6 million if he stays healthy.
But, that is something Sizemore, 31, has struggled to do recently. An All-Star for the Indians from 2006-08 with two Gold Gloves, Sizemore has not appeared in a major league game since 2011. Since 2009 he has had seven surgeries including procedures on his left elbow, two for sports hernias, microfractures in both knees, including his right knee twice, the last in 2012, and a herniated disk in his lower back in 2012.
“I know he’s running right now, and whether there’s been a lot of work with change of direction, that’s still the next step I think in his progression,” said Sox manager John Farrell. “But straightaway speed he feels like he’s at 90, 90-plus percent. He’s swinging the bat every day, he’s throwing. The one thing he hasn’t done in a couple of years is be on the field for any length of time or reps had either in center field or at the plate. We feel like he’s making good progress healthwise, otherwise we wouldn’t have signed him to the deal we did.”
Sizemore was a third-round pick of the Expos in 2000 before being acquired in a six-player deal by Cleveland in 2002 when Farrell was the Indians director of player development.
“We’ve got a lot of history with the person individually,” Farrell said. “We understand who he is as a person. He fits what we value in a player in terms of he’s smart, he’s tough, he’s got character. But we also know that we’ve got to get him back on the field and to what level of tolerance and consistent games played is a question we still have to answer. But all the due diligence and the background that we’ve done on him with respect to his knee has given us that confidence and the comfort level that he’s going to regain a level of performance that will make us better.”
Sizemore concurred with Farrell’s assessment. On a conference call, he said his comfort with the Sox was enhanced by the medical plan they outlined for him, but he believes he has to get into spring training to fully assess his tolerance level.
“So far, I’ve been pretty much going through a normal offseason,” he said. “Running, training, doing baseball stuff, throwing, [and] hitting. When I come to camp I should be ready to go and fit right in. Just kind of get my legs underneath me and go from there.
“No restrictions from a running standpoint. I’m trying to do everything I need to to get ready for a whole baseball season. My whole program is kind of built to be ready for day one of spring training and that’s kind of where I’m at right now.
“I think I won’t know how I feel until I get out there and you’re grinding every day. You can do only so much from a rehab standpoint or an offseason program. Baseball season starts and you’re on your feet every day. It’s long hours. When I get in that kind of format, see how I react when I’m pounding it every day, week in and week out.”
Before his injuries, Sizemore was one of the game’s more dynamic players. A lefthanded batter, he hit 20 or more home runs with 20 or more stolen bases in each of his first four full seasons, from 2005-08.
The last few years have not been easy on him. After appearing in a total of 639 games from 2005-08, he has played in just 210 since.
“It’s been frustrating,” he said. “No one likes to deal with injuries and I’ve had my fair share. So, hopefully, that’s behind me now.”
Bradley in mix
The Sox now have eight outfielders on the 40-man roster: Sizemore, Jackie Bradley, Bryce Brentz, Mike Carp, Jonny Gomes, Alex Hassan, Daniel Nava, and Shane Victorino. Until the addition of Sizemore, it appeared the center field job would go to Bradley, who lit up spring training last year and was in the starting lineup on Opening Day before struggling at the plate and getting sent to Triple A Pawtucket after 12 games.
“It doesn’t take Jackie out of the mix at all,” Farrell said. “There’s questions that we have to answer in spring training with our roster. So the fact of Grady signing and being added to our roster doesn’t remove Jackie from our club. I think one of the things that [general manager] Ben [Cherington] and all of us have set out in these final weeks before spring training is add to the depth of our team, and Grady certainly does that right now.”
To make room on the 40-man roster, righthander Brayan Villareal, who was acquired at the trading deadline in the three-team deal that also brought Jake Peavy to Boston, was designated for assignment.
Gomes preparing Cherington, Farrell, and Gomes took part in a town-hall style presentation at Northeastern University. Gomes said his offseason has been “kind of a whirlwind but expected. It’s been awesome.”
While he said he still isn’t sure winning the World Series has sunk in, he’s experienced the reach of Red Sox fans and the effect the championship has had on the city.
“With the tragedy of the Marathon kind of stretched,” he said, “[the] majority of the people, they don’t say, ‘Congratulations,’ which I thought was coming. Pretty much everyone says ‘Thank you. Thank you for the mind-set change. Thank you for the smiles. Thank you for getting the city back. Thank you for getting the Red Sox back to where it belongs.’ Kind of caught me off-guard a little bit. But really shows how deep that Sox nation is. It’s not really a win-loss record. It’s a pretty deep religion.”
Gomes was in a platoon situation in left field for much of last season and is likely to be in a similar role this season.
“I can’t prepare for playing time but what I can do is prepare to be healthy for 162 and icing on the cake is prepare to be healthy for 162-plus,” he said. “I made it all year without getting hurt and I think I kind of brought an interesting aspect of playing defense against that Wall.
“I just got to be ready when No. 5’s called and that’s what I do.”