WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- The Indians made official on Sunday what had seemed like more of a certainty in recent days: Juan Gonzalez will open the 2005 season as the starting right fielder for the Tribe.
The decision means prospect Grady Sizemore will go back to Triple-A Buffalo, which he helped lead to the International League championship in 2004.
"Juan came in here and did what we asked him to do," manager Eric Wedge said. "But Grady's a big league player. Grady played very well for us this spring."
Gonzalez's experience and big bat trumped Sizemore's enormous potential. In going with the 35-year-old veteran, Wedge retains a hitter who, when healthy, has a proven record as a run-producer and as a force in the middle of a batting order.
"Juan brings us a presence in the middle of the lineup," Wedge said. "That's something that can't be underestimated."
Gonzalez has knocked in 100 or more runs eight times, including his 140-RBI season with the Indians in 2001.
But he left for free agency after the '01 season, and he spent the past three seasons fighting nagging injuries. He played a total of 185 games since leaving the Tribe.
So his history of injuries gave the Indians pause for concern, and Wedge went on record early as saying "Juan Gone" had to show he could play the outfield, not DH, to make the team.
He showed that, too. And more.
"I'm here to produce," Gonzalez said. "To win. I like to win."
And winning is the goal in 2005, a fact that Wedge and the organization has made a point of emphasis in Spring Training. In the end, they looked at Gonzalez as giving the team its best chance of winning.
Not that Sizemore didn't show people that he could help the team win, because he did. He hit and hustled, and he showed why he'd been labeled one of the crown jewels of the Indians' farm system.
But at 22, he's got time on his side. His career is on the upswing, yet that didn't make the decision any easier for him to accept.
"I'm not happy about it," Sizemore said. "I went out there and played and did the best I could to win a spot.
Justice B. Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.