Grady Sizemore will be your Red Sox Opening Day starting center fielder.
It wasn’t exactly the home run he hit during the sixth inning of Tuesday’s spring training game against the Tampa Bay Rays that sealed the deal, even if Jackie Bradley, Jr. may have hired a search team to prove the ball didn’t land some 430 feet away from home plate in Port Charlotte, Fla. After all, it was Bradley who, a year ago, was the shining story of Red Sox camp in Fort Myers, the kid on the rise who forced his way onto the Opening Day roster with a blistering spring in which he hit .419 with a 1.120 OPS.
He hit .097 in 14 games before being demoted to Pawtucket before April ended, the lone highlight being his three-walk, two-run performance against the Yankees in an 8-2 win to open the season.
Bradley has been more pedestrian this spring, batting only .173 over 17 games, while the general consensus is that Sizemore has proven himself to be healthy after missing two full seasons, hitting .303 in his first 10 games in a Red Sox uniform, with a home run and a double included as his only extra base hits. Sizemore has driven in a pair, walked only once. Bradley has four doubles, five runs batted in, and an eye-popping 16 strikeouts in 52 at-bats.
It’s everything the Red Sox could have hoped for.
It doesn’t take a veteran sleuth to comprehend that the team had the highest of hopes for Sizemore this spring, either feeling that Bradley isn’t ready or that his skill set isn’t exactly the stuff of legends that it was made out to be last March. Sizemore had yet to even play in an exhibition game, and there were already endless, positive reports from Fort Myers about the work ethic, strong legs, and bat speed he displayed in the early going behind chain-link fences. You might have thought he miraculously multiplied the number of pretzels in the press box based on the reaction some baseball writers displayed when he got his first hit of the spring.
Look, there’s no denying that the Sizemore comeback story is potentially a great one. Knee and back injuries have kept him off the diamond since 2011. As recently as 2009, he was one of baseball’s most dynamic power hitters, having jacked 33 home runs at 25 years old (an age at which Baseball Reference had his similarity score compared to some guy named Barry Bonds). But he only played in 106 games the following season, 104 games the next two years combined. And maybe the most egregious factor that Team Grady is overlooking as Sizemore marches his way onto the team is that he’s only played in 10 games this spring. Only Shane Victorino (sidelined on Tuesday with soreness in his left side) has played in fewer games among those expected to make the Opening Day roster. Tuesday was the first of three consecutive games Sizemore will play before getting the day off on Saturday. So, this should play well into the regular season, no?
“There’s still a lot of internal discussion on who our starting center fielder is going to be,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said on Tuesday.
That’s likely not because Sizemore won’t be there, but because the Sox will indeed need someone to play every fourth day or so. Is Mike Cameron available?
Sizemore has been the story of camp, whether or not that’s because the Red Sox feel they have found a diamond in the rough, or because the narrative puts the memory of Jacoby Ellsbury further out to pasture. But what can the team realistically expect from the guy? A repeat of 2008 is probably about as much a possibility as Sid Bream being invited to back up Mike Napoli at first. If he gives what he was able to produce from 2009 to 2011, how is that in any way better than the potential of Bradley?
The “against-all-odds” story line can be a difficult one to ignore, but what has Sizemore truly done this spring that should have Sox fans ooh-ing and ah-ing at the thought of him? Spring training stats normally mean nothing (remember Gary Gaetti?) except for players wet behind the ear, or making a comeback. In that respect, neither Bradley nor Sizemore has been particularly impressive. So why do the Red Sox seem to feel the need to shoehorn Sizemore into the everyday (well, almost…) lineup?
The reality is that Sizemore is probably going to give them more along the lines of what the Red Sox got out of Rocco Baldelli in 2009 than any Barry Bonds comparison. But everybody loves a feel-good ending, even if it ultimately results in a trip to disabled list only weeks into the season.
Sizemore will be there, in center field, Monday at Camden Yards in Baltimore. Bradley will be holding down the same spot at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket come Thursday.
They’ll likely be reversed in no time; Sizemore on a rehab assignment, and Bradley taking his spot in Fenway.
Everyone loves a comeback story, but this one just feels like it’s being a bit too force-fed to truly believe in it. Here’s hoping we’re wrong.