BOSTON -- Jonny Gomes either has uncanny instincts or knew something was up regarding the Boston Red Sox's situation in center field. No sooner had he shot down a question Wednesday night about Jackie Bradley Jr. with a “they’re not giving him the job right now” declaration, when news broke that the Sox had come to terms with former Cleveland Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore on a major league deal.
Bradley Jr. still is the odds-on favorite to open the season in center field, but the Sox have brought in at least some semblance of competition with Sizemore, who was a three-time All-Star by the age of 25 but has not played in a game since 2011 on either the major or minor league level because of a series of debilitating injuries.
Manager John Farrell, who like Gomes was participating in a Red Sox “town hall” at Northeastern University, was asked about Sizemore prior to the announcement and acknowledged that he was “in the mix.” Shortly thereafter, the club made it official, signing Sizemore to a contract with a $750,000 base salary and incentives that could make the value of the deal $6 million, according to a report by ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick.
To make room for Sizemore on the 40-man roster, the Sox announced that reliever Brayan Villareal, who had come from Detroit as part of the three-team deal for pitcher Jake Peavy, had been designated for assignment.
The Cincinnati Reds had been the team most closely linked to Sizemore, who has been working out in anticipation of launching a comeback, with Reds GM Walt Jocketty saying last week he hoped to have a deal done soon. But earlier Wednesday, Jocketty told a radio station “that’s not happening,” the Sox trumping Cincinnati’s offer for a player who has close ties with Sox vice president Mike Hazen and Farrell, both of whom were on the Indians’ player development staff when Sizemore made his rise to stardom.
Sizemore turns 32 in August and has had seven surgeries since September 2009: two for a sports hernia (2009 and 2011), one on an elbow (2009), one on his back (2012) and three on his knees (one on his left, two on his right). Signing Sizemore was just the type of low-risk, potentially high-return bargain Sox GM Ben Cherington on Tuesday had said the club was looking for in advance of the opening of camp Feb. 15.
“It's been frustrating. No one likes dealing with injuries, and I've had my fair share,” Sizemore said Wednesday night on a conference call with reporters. “Hopefully that's behind me now and I'm just focused on moving on and starting the second half of my career.”
“We added Grady because, one, he’s available and, two, it provides some competition,” Farrell told reporters at the town hall event. “We have to see, once we get to spring training, Grady’s tolerance physically. We don’t have a projected number of games that we look at that he might be available for. We have to gradually build that up, build his endurance up. That’s how spring training will be spent with him.”
Sizemore said he has had a “normal offseason” and that the Sox have a plan to get him on the field and keep him there.
“Obviously, they're a great team and who wouldn't want to be a part of this group of guys and this organization?” he said. “Medically, they did a good job of laying out a game plan for me. There's a plan in place to keep me on the field and keep me healthy throughout the year.”
Until Sizemore was signed, the Sox were in a position to slide Shane Victorino to center field if Bradley faltered in his bid to claim the job in spring training. Under that scenario, Daniel Nava would move to right field and Gomes and Mike Carp would split time in left field. Farrell reiterated this week how comfortable he was with Nava playing either corner position, although he doesn’t come close to replicating Victorino’s Gold Glove defense in right field.
The notion that Sizemore could walk into a big league camp almost three years after he last played and compete for a starting job would seem to be far-fetched at best, but the Sox feel he is at least worth a look.
And Gomes made it clear Wednesday he thinks it is to the team’s -- and Bradley’s -- benefit that there be competition.
“They’re not giving him the job right now,” he said. “Like I said, we’re not sneaking up on anyone. He did a helluva frigging job making the team last year, struggled staying on it, you know. We saw the skills, absolutely. Are they there? Yes. Have we seen that before, where guys go up, go down, then stick, or go up, go down and not make it?
“I think the guy [Bradley] is awesome, but at the same time I’m a realist. There’s a hole there, you know. I’ve never had that opportunity where it’s my job to lose, but if you’re here to paint the picture right now, that’s probably it. But at the same time, you’re talking about championship-caliber teams, for the last 100 years, the center fielder is a core piece. You’re not hiding that guy, especially this day and age.
“You’re talking about [Andrew] McCutcheon and [Mike] Trout, [Desmond] Jennings, guys throughout the major leagues -- oh, you’re not 30-30, then you’re not a center fielder. People are asking for that right now. [Jacoby Ellsbury] has two world championship rings, 50 bags a couple of times, tough to step into those shoes. It’s going to help the Sox a whole bunch for [Bradley Jr.] to step up, that would be awesome. But at same time we have to be realists.”