The big story coming out of spring training, other than some of the absolutely insane contracts being thrown around by the Yankees, Tigers and Dodgers, is Grady Sizemore making the Opening Day roster of the Boston Red Sox.
Grady Sizemore, in case people have forgot, was one of the best players in all of baseball about 7 or 8 years ago. But, he had a devastating series of major knee injuries that completely derailed his career. From 2005-2008, Sizemore average 27 home runs, 81 RBIs, 116 runs, 41 doubles and 29 steals a year, with an eye-popping OPS over .860 (Sizemore is a not a big hitter for average, but has always walked a lot). Real Hall of Fame type numbers over four years. But, then the injuries starting mounting. He had seven surgeries to his knees and back, barely played in 2010 and 2011, and had not played a single game since as he rehabbed from his multiple surgeries. He has only played 104 games since 2009. There’s almost no comparison to a player missing two full seasons and then actually making an Opening Day lineup.
But, thanks to hitting .333 in spring training, Sizemore will be starting today in centre field. The Red Sox had anticipated Jackie Bradley Jr. would take over in centre for Jacoby Ellsbury, but Sizemore outplayed him in spring training. Expect Bradley Jr. to be back in the Red Sox roster by June or so as a utility player.
Sizemore is still relatively young at 31, so it’s not like he’s a creaky old veteran, though his knees likely must seem like they are 60 years old. He is only making a base salary of $750,000 this year, though he could make up to $6 million.
Sizemore will not go out and steal 50-plus bases the way Ellsbury can, so he won’t totally replace him. But, if he can play 120-plus games and play at 80 percent at what he produced from 2005-2008, it will go a long way toward helping Red Sox fans forget Ellsbury. He even has a little Red Sox beard started.
Ellsbury was the only major loss for the Red Sox in the offseason. They also lost Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Stephen Drew, but they expect phenom Xander Bogaerts to take over as their longterm shortstop (the Red Sox have had at least 6 different Opening Day shortstops since trading away Nomar Garciaparra in 2003). And Boston signed A.J. Pierzynski to be their catcher (after losing out in the Bryan McCann sweepstakes, but the Red Sox were never going to offer him 6 years, $100 million like the Yankees did), who is probably an upgrade over Saltalmacchia, while they groom Ryan Lavernway to be their longterm catcher.
I also like the Boston approach, after getting badly burned by the Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett deals, to not sign free agents to ridiculous 7- to 10-year contracts. The Red Sox pay handsomely, but other than Dustin Pedroia, no one on their team is under contract for more than the next two years (they are working on a longterm deal for Jon Lester).
On paper, the Red Sox should be equal to or stronger than last year — on paper, at least. On paper, the Red Sox looked like they were going to completely suck last year, but shocked everyone with a scrappy group of scruffy players who hate to lose and a vastly improved pitching staff. Also, remember, the Red Sox were definitely NOT lucky last year. They had an epic rash of injuries. They lost their No. 1 closer for the year, they lost their No. 2 closer for the year, Clay Buchholz, their best pitcher, was on his way to winning the Cy Young but was lost at midseason to a shoulder/neck injury, free agent pickup Ryan Dempster was terrible, Ortiz started the season on the DL, Pedroia played the entire season with a broken thumb, Ellsbury broke his leg in August and Shane Victorino battled a bad hamstring all year. This year, they only have one player — Victorino — on the DL entering the season (again with hamstring problems). They STILL somehow managed to win 97 games.
The Yankees, after spending an astonishing $450 million this offseason on Ellsbury, McCann, Carlos Beltran and Masahiro Tanaka (who went a frightening 24-0 in Japan last year), ought to be better than last year, if for no other reason than because their lineup was absolutely atrocious sometimes last year with all their injuries.
But, the Yankees are also hoary as the hills. They are really old. Their entire Opening Day starting lineup is over the age of 30. Not one guy 29 or younger in that starting lineup. And their Opening Day lineup averages about 34 1/2 years old (someone told me the 2006 San Francisco Giants managed to be older — they went 76-85, btw). They will have 7 guys 33 or older and 4 guys 36 and older in that lineup (I’m not even counting 40-year-old bench player Ichiro). That’s not a recipe for success in the post-steroid era. Guys that old are going to have a hard time staying healthy.
One thing I saw in the offseason that I am starting to find alarming is the ridiculous money being thrown around in baseball. The Tigers and Angels on consecutive days spent $436 million (Cabrera 10 years, $292 million, Trout 6 years, $144 million). Clayton Kershaw got a $215 million contract and Robinson Cano got a $240 million contract.
I’m not one to get caught up in money or contracts or whine about the old days when the owners treated players like slaves and paid them $50,000 a year while they made millions, but I worry that these outrageous contracts are going to price regular folks out of baseball stadiums. One thing that is nice about baseball is you can still take a family of four to a game for under $200, but I’m concerned that is doomed with the increase in gargantuan contracts out there.