Sizemore couldn't picture leaving Cleveland
Center fielder wants to show he still has what it takes
CLEVELAND -- The thought of Grady Sizemore returning to full strength and once again performing at an elite level -- but doing so in another uniform -- was not something the Indians were ready to imagine.
Sizemore is officially staying put.
On Wednesday, the Indians announced that they re-signed Sizemore to a one-year contract, giving the oft-injured center fielder another chance to be the stellar talent Cleveland has seen in the past. If there is any chance of him being that player again, the Tribe wanted to be the team reaping the rewards.
"We're obviously very excited to keep Grady in an Indians uniform," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. "He's been an integral part of our organization for the better part of the last 10 years, and he's been an integral part of some championship teams for us.
"We look forward to Grady getting back on the field and having a healthy and productive 2012 season."
Recently, it seemed the Indians were ready to let go of the center fielder.
A few days after the conclusion of a classic World Series triumph for the Cardinals, Cleveland cut ties with Sizemore by declining his $9 million club option for 2012, allowing him to become a free agent. Antonetti made the trip to Sizemore's home in Arizona to inform the center fielder of the team's decision in person.
Sizemore appreciated the gesture.
"It showed me loyalty," Sizemore said. "It was above and beyond."
That said, Sizemore knew all along where he wanted to be next season.
"I just wasn't ready to say goodbye. I wasn't ready to move on," Sizemore said. "I just had a hard time letting go of Cleveland and saying goodbye. I'm familiar with them, and I still consider it home. They know me better than anybody. It was just hard to leave."
The general consensus -- given the volume of teams rumored to have interest in Sizemore's services -- was that the Tribe had little chance to keep the 29-year-old center fielder. Various reports indicated that the likes of the Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers, Cubs and Rockies, among others, were in pursuit.
The Indians stayed in the hunt, however, and approached Sizemore's camp with a competitive offer.
"The Indians were aggressive in wanting to keep Grady," said Sizemore's agent, Joe Urbon. "And he has said all along he would keep an open mind toward returning. He appreciates the interest from other clubs, and he just felt that the best place to reassert himself as a great player is in Cleveland. He can stay in center field, which is important to him, and he has enjoyed his time there.
"Now, he can focus on his play without the distractions of new surroundings, and he will be a free agent again just after his 30th birthday."
Antonetti was not certain Sizemore would re-sign, though.
"I'm not sure I was overly optimistic about it," Antonetti said. "Fundamentally, there was that mutual interest in both parties for Grady to remain an Indian. But we are very well aware that when players go to the free-agent market a lot of things can happen, and there are different factors that come into play.
"We're appreciative of the fact that Grady had a desire to come back to Cleveland, and was willing to share in some of the risk with this."
Though the Tribe did not confirm the terms of Sizemore's new one-year pact, a source informed MLB.com that the outfielder will earn a base salary of $5 million and can receive up to $4 million more in incentives based on plate appearances.
There is also an awards package that includes $500,000 should Sizemore be named the American League Comeback Player of the Year. The performance bonuses max out with fewer plate appearances than Sizemore had in any season from 2005-08.
The incentives kick in after 450 plate appearances, which is significant because Sizemore, who has undergone five operations for a variety of woes over the past three years, has not exceeded that total since 2009. That season, he appeared in 106 games and was slowed by left elbow and sports hernia issues that both required surgery.
Prior to that season, which marked Sizemore's first trip to the disabled list, he served as a catalyst with his bat, speed, defense and durability. From 2005-08, only Ichiro Suzuki (646) played in more games than Sizemore (639). During that span, Sizemore earned two Gold Gloves and made three All-Star teams.
It was during that period that Sizemore was considered one of the top young talents in the game. He was a consistent threat to launch 30 homers, steal 30 bases and score 100 runs. But Sizemore's all-out style of play took a toll on his body, leading to the injury problems that have plagued him in recent years.
While Antonetti acknowledged that Sizemore is unlikely to play 155-160 games like he has in the past, the Indians are confident he can still be an impact player.
"When Grady has been on the field," Antonetti said, "even last year, when he's been healthy, he's demonstrated that he still has a chance to be an exceptionally productive player. We feel optimistic that Grady's going to get back to that point next year and be able to contribute."
This past season, Sizemore returned to the lineup on April 17 following a 10-month recovery from microfracture surgery on his left knee. The outfielder launched a home run in his first game back, and hit .282 with six homers and 11 RBIs in his first 18 games. That was before the injury bug came biting once again.
A right-knee injury and another bout with a sports hernia -- problems that both led to surgeries -- limited Sizemore to 71 games in 2011. He finished the season batting .224 with 10 homers, 21 doubles and 32 RBIs, and he did not record a stolen base for the first time in his 12-year professional career.
The Indians are counting on what Sizemore can do when healthy, and Sizemore is thrilled to have the chance to show that he can stay on the field.
"I definitely want to just prove to everyone that I can stay healthy and that I can perform," Sizemore said. "I think that kind of goes without saying. It's been frustrating, and I'm sure there's some people out there that might not believe that.
"More importantly, it's just to prove to myself and people that are close to me that I can do that. I'm not too worried about other peoples' opinions of me. I do want to go out there and just have a healthy year, and get back to playing like I know I can."
Right now, Sizemore is working through a rehab program for his right knee, but Cleveland is confident that he will be ready for a regular Spring Training. Antonetti noted that Sizemore is scheduled to meet with Dr. Richard Steadman -- who performed surgery on each of the outfielder's knees -- on Tuesday for a check-up.
"Our expectation is that he'll be able to play in Spring Training," Antonetti said, "and have a normal preparation for the start of the season."
With Sizemore back in the fold as the team's center fielder, Michael Brantley and Shin-Soo Choo project to open the year as Cleveland's left and right fielder, respectively. The Tribe could still benefit from additional outfield depth, but the starting jobs appear to be filled, barring more roster maneuvering.
Cleveland remains in the market for offensive help, and the most logical position to upgrade is first base. The Indians have made it clear that first baseman Matt LaPorta will have to earn a spot on the team during Spring Training, meaning the Tribe is on the hunt for someone else to throw into the mix at that corner.
Asked about possible moves, Antonetti steered clear of specifics.
"We're not focused on just finding a right-handed bat or to get an everyday guy," Antonetti said. "We're looking at ways to potentially improve the team and complement the guys that we currently have. There are a variety of different ways to do that.
"There's still a lot of offseason left. There's still a lot of time before Opening Day."
Consider Sizemore officially invited to that season-opening party.
"I've never really pictured myself playing anywhere else," Sizemore said.