The Red Sox have signed Grady Sizemore, the former Cleveland Indians center fielder who hasn’t played in the major leagues since 2011.
The 31-year-old Sizemore signed for a base salary of $750,000. He could earn up to $6 million. If healthy, Sizemore would compete for playing time in center field with rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. in spring training.
"It doesn’t take Jackie out of the mix at all. There’s questions that we have to answer in spring training with our roster," Sox manager John Farrell said. "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."
Sizemore hit .279 with an .861 OPS over the first five years of his career, making the All-Star team three times and earning two Gold Gloves for the Indians. He had 111 home runs and 117 stolen bases in that stretch.
But a series of injuries sent his career into a spiral. Sizemore played in 210 games from 2009-11, hitting .234.
Sizemore has had surgery to his left elbow, left knee, right knee, and back. He also twice required surgery to repair a hernia. His last game was Sept. 22, 2011 with Cleveland.
During a conference call Wednesday night, Sizemore sounded confident about his comeback.
“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."
At the height of his career, Sizemore was a leadoff hitter with power and speed who played premier defense in center. Whether he can challenge Bradley remains to be seen. But Sizemore has been working out in Arizona this winter and drew interest from several teams, particularly the Reds.
"I know he’s running right now," Farrell said. "And whether there’s been a lot of work with change of direction that’s still the next step, I think, in his progression. 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 had reps either in center field or at the plate. We feel like he’s making good progress health-wise, otherwise we wouldn’t have signed him to the deal we did."
Said Sizemore: "I'm kind doing everything I need to to get ready for a normal baseball season. My whole program is kind of built to be ready day one of spring training and that's kind of where I'm at right now."
After a two-year layoff, Sizemore still has hurdles to clear.
"When I get out there and start pounding on it every day," he said. "I think I won't really 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."
The Red Sox have a roster jam in the outfield with Bradley, Sizemore, Mike Carp, Daniel Nava, Jonny Gomes, and Shane Victorino. Bradley and Sizemore are lefthanded hitters, so the Sox do not envision a platoon in center.
Other than occasional games as the designated hitter, Sizemore has played only center field in his major league career.
"What we have to do is get a read on where he’s at from a baseball standpoint. Does that project to be ready Opening Day? Is there more time needed? Those are things we’ll adjust to as we get into spring training, and particularly the games," Farrell said.
Farrell was an Indians executive during Sizemore's first five seasons in the majors.
"We’ve got a lot of history with the person individually. As a member of the Indians when I was there. We understand who he is as person," Farrell said. "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 said he chose the Red Sox based on his comfort with Farrell and the medical plan the team laid out for him.
"It wasn’t really looking for a place [to play] center field. It was more just looking for an opportunity to get in the outfield and fit in any way the team needed me to. I thought it was a good opportunity to be a part of this team,” Sizemore said.
In Farrell, Sizemore has a manager he can trust.
"I've got a feel for him. I was around him quite a bit," he said. "Kind of came up in that system along his guidelines," he said. "It was one of those things when I was talking with [the Red Sox], I knew I had a familiarity with the manager and I knew he'd seen me play and he knew what I was about. It made it a lot easier for my decision."
After dealing with so many injuries, Sizemore said the Red Sox could be "the second half" of his career.
"I'm looking forward to moving on," he said.
To make room on the 40-man roster, the Red Sox designated righthanded reliever Brayan Villarreal for assignment.
Villarreal was obtained from Detroit in the three-team deal that centered around Jake Peavy and Jose Iglesias. In his only appearance with the Red Sox, Aug. 20 in San Francisco, Villarreal entered the game with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning and walked in the winning run on four pitches.