Well, this sure looks like the real deal, Holyfield:
CF Grady Sizemore
2B Dustin Pedroia
DH David Ortiz
C Mike Napoli
LF Daniel Nava
RF Shane Victorino
SS Xander Bogaerts
C A.J. Pierzynski
3B Will Middlebrooks
SP Jon Lester
That may not be exactly what the Red Sox lineup card will look like when they open the season March 31 in Baltimore against Jim Palmer, Mike Boddicker, Ubaldo Jimenez, or whomever Buck Showalter sends to the mound to start the season.
I imagine Victorino and/or Nava (my choice as the leadoff hitter against righties based on his .322/.411/.484 slash line from the left side last season) will be near the top of the order, and Bogaerts will quickly ascend to the heart of the order (he’ll be the everyday No. 5 hitter by June).
But that lineup above is pretty close to the entire varsity. Which is particularly interesting for two reasons:
1. This isn’t the lineup for March 31 at Camden Yards, but March 10 for a matchup with the Rays at JetBlue Park. There are three weeks to go, and the Red Sox are officially gearing up for regular season. Baseball season is near! [Insert Jeterian fist-pump.]
2. Jackie Bradley Jr. isn’t in this lineup. Grady Sizemore is — and at the top of it, even.
Hello, sports radio topic of the day.
Upon glancing at the scorecard and seeing Sizemore’s name first, with a lineup of familiar names who are about to receive World Series rings below him, it’s obvious to wonder whether he’s the the front-runner for the starting center field job.
I don’t think that’s what’s happening, though. I think they’re just trying to find out what they have by giving him a workload of at-bats they’re sure he can handle without crumbling.
It’s easy for us to get caught up in the potential of what Sizemore could be, simply because of what he was — one of the most talented all-around players in baseball. From 2006-08, Sizemore finished in the top 12 in MVP balloting each year, collected two Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger award, hit between 24 and 33 homers each year, stole between 22 and 38 bases each year, never had an on-base percentage below .374, and missed just five games total.
He was just 25 years old in ’08. It was reasonable to believe that his best was ahead of him, an enticing thought given what he’d already accomplished. He was on his way to being one of baseball’s marquee names, presuming he wasn’t already.
Instead, his body betrayed him. From 2009-11, he totaled just 28 homers and 17 steals in 210 games. His highest batting-average in that stretch was .248. On September 22, 2011, he went 1 for 4 with an RBI as the Indians routed the White Sox, 11-1.
He has not played a major league game since.
Because of what he was, it’s easy to watch him now and become giddy about what the Red Sox might have. He’s just 31, and as he shakes off the rust, he looks like at least a passable version of his old self.
Seeing him atop that lineup today — and singling in his first at-bat — only enhances the daydream that he may be a bargain, a steal, a feel-good story and a reclamation project for the ages. Hell, stories like Sizemore’s are one of the reasons spring training can be fulfilling and fun.
But it’s a good thing the Red Sox have the prudence many fans and media folks do not. While John Farrell, who was the farm director in Cleveland during Sizemore’s ascent, knows the player better than anyone, I simply cannot believe they will rush him.
Sizemore has had surgeries on parts where most people don’t have parts. To be honest, I dread the possibility of hearing some day over the next few weeks that he suddenly has soreness in his knee and the Sox give him a few days off and suddenly he isn’t heard from again until June.
The Red Sox are smart enough to maintain that concern, too, even as he progresses and the possibilities become more intriguing. These do-the-right-thing Red Sox are not going to overdo it in early March pushing one of the few potential wild-cards on their roster.
Part of this, I believe, is because they believe in Jackie Bradley Jr., figuring his defense and character will be assets while he figures out major league pitching.
They will be patient with his development. They will be patient with Sizemore as well.