As a baseball blogger you get a unique perspective into the way your team’s fan base thinks, how they react to certain ideas, and perhaps most important, what really pisses them off. One thing I’ve noticed about Nats fans, which I’ve never really understood, is how much they really hate failed experiments. So much to the point, that they sometimes can get aggravated over the idea of even taking chances, even if the risk is absolutely minimal.
Take Matt Stairs for example. Stairs had the potential to be a really solid off-the-bench bat for Washington, as he has been for the Padres, Phillies, Blue Jays and Tigers over the last several seasons. He’s a professional hitter who has always come up with big hits in big situations and his gutsy career path lends himself to providing insightful influence to younger players. The only problem is, Stairs sucked in 2011, to put it nicely. He only mustered 10 hits total on the season and was one of the worst performers on a Major League roster. Simply put, he was a failed experiment.
The amount of anger directed toward the 43-year-old’s failures up until the point he was released really took me aback, however. Through conversations I held with people on Twitter and on my own site, I was amazed at the unfounded disdain people had for not only the fact that he was struggling, but the fact that Rizzo bothered even putting him on the roster. Sure, his play was disappointing to all of us, but the bottom line was he only earned $850,000 making him one of the lowest paid veterans in the league. He was a extremely low risk, potentially high reward experiment that failed.
Maybe it’s a Jim Bowden hangover, maybe it’s a result of our local political mind set, who knows. All I know is that Nats fans do not like risky moves.
Given that, I know that I’m going out on a limb here by even looking into this possibility, but I feel it’s a free agent we just can’t ignore talking about: Grady Sizemore.
Sizemore, 29, was just released by the Cleveland Indians. The club chose to exercise his $500,000 buyout clause instead of paying the $8.5 million club option. The decision was clearly a result of his questionable health over the past two and a half seasons, because not so long ago the Indians front office called the one-time superstar “without a doubt one of the greatest players of our generation.”
Sizemore’s injuries though, over the past two seasons, which have included a few surgeries, has severely dropped the center fielder’s value. It has to be a tough blow for the once celebrated talent. At age 29 he should be set to sign a nine figure contract, but now he will be scraping for anything he can get.
No more than three years ago, Sizemore was the best center fielder in the game. His amazing speed and athleticism made him a tremendous defender. At the plate he had very strong power, which seemed to be getting stronger every year, and perhaps most importantly, he got on base at a strong rate. From 2005-2009 he posted wOBA’s of .359, .386, .376, .384, .343, all before he turned 27-years-of age. He was on pace to be one of the richest players in baseball, and could have even been a bigger star in Cleveland than LeBron James.
But then the injuries came and along with the Cleveland Indians nose dive in the standings, much of the wind was taken out of the sails of Sizemore’s promising career. In 2009 he was limited to just 106 games after having played 639 out the previous possible 648. The next year he mustered just 33 games before falling for the season, and in 2011 he showed some flash of his former self, but only played 71 games.
Now he will hit the free-agent market and it is uncertain what type of contract he will demand. We’ve seen teams become more cautious when dealing with players who have an injury history, and despite the need by many teams for a center fielder, it’s unclear in this economy what sort of deal Sizemore could get. This though, is exactly why he could be a good risk for the Nationals to take.
I believe the 29-year-old will likely look to sign a one-year deal to prove that he can still play, similar to what Andruw Jones attempted to do with the Dodgers several years ago. This provides the best chance for Sizemore to still get a major paycheck after his 30th birthday and to show that, when healthy, he can be one of the best players in baseball. If the Nats can sign him for a one-year-deal for less than $8 million, I say why not go for it? The club spent the whole season in 2011 with LaRoche’s $8 million on the bench in 2010, and have paid C.M. Wang for several seasons worth of rehabilitation. Even if Sizemore ends up playing just 20 games, I believe that risk is worth the potentially earth-shattering reward.
A healthy Sizemore could truly make the Nats pennant contenders in 2012. He is that type of talent. If the Nationals give him a relatively small contract and he can’t produce, well then that’s a bit of money down the drain…but sometimes you have to take these risks in order to get amazing returns.
We’ll see how things play out. Again I’m not advocating we get in any sort of bidding war over Sizemore. But if February comes around and other team’s aren’t biting at his demands, he may be willing to settle.