Grady “Microfracture” Sizemore Signs With Sox

Partially buried by the hoopla over the Masahiro Tanaka signing was the Red Sox inking of Grady Sizemore to a one year deal. Media reports suggest that the deal is for a base salary of $750,000 and includes additional incentives that could earn Sizemore up to $6 million if reached. Since it is a Major League Deal, Sizemore gets his money regardless of whether he makes the team or not.

Like the Yankees’ deal with former O’s second sacker Brian Roberts, this is a long shot deal for the Sox. As everyone says, it’s low risk with a chance of high reward. I guess it’s low risk if you have no expectation of success and don’t mind just tossing away three quarters of a million dollars. The difference between the Red Sox/Sizemore deal and the Yankees/Roberts deal are that the Sox have a young prospect able to man center if this Sizemore thing goes south, the Bronx Bombers have only Roberts and a subpar group of backup players. The Sox have a viable backup plan (heck, I’d even call Sizemore more of backup plan B with Bradley as the likely real plan and some form of outfield platoon with Victorino as backup plan A), the Yankees don’t have much of a plan should their Roberts’ experiment fail – see below.

Roberts was a special player from 2005 (his age 27 season) to 2009. In those years he averaged 150 games per year with WAR totals of 7.3, 3.3, 4.2, 5.2, and 3.0. Since then, however, his yearly game totals have been 59, 39, 17, and 77. Despite a higher game participation last year his slash line was unimpressive – .249/.312/.392 with an OPS+ of 89. And, he’s no spring chicken as he enters his age 36 season. Here are the Yankee backups ready to take over when the likely Roberts’ DL stints confront the Yankees:

  1. Eduardo Nunez, 336 ABs, .260/.307/.372 with an OPS+ of 86 in 2013 and a WAR of -1.5. This shows you how desperate the Yankees were last year, they had to give Nunez 336 ABs.
  2. Brendan Ryan, starting shortstop for Seattle from 2009-2013 until traded to Yankees at the end of the 2013 campaign; known for his defensive skills above all else. Career line – .237/.299/.320 with an OPS+ of 72 and a 2013 WAR of 0.5.
  3. Scott Sizemore, (6 ABs all of last year and none the year before; another injury reclamation project – see Eric Chavez for what the Yankees might be hoping for despite the fact that Sizemore has none of Chavez’s track record).

The Yankees, despite forking over nearly half a billion dollars in free agent money this winter, will have to man second base with a replacement level player at best should Roberts go down. Heck, I’m not even sure Roberts is above replacement level himself.

The Red Sox flyer on Grady Sizemore is much more defensible, even if unlikely to pan out. The Sox have a young Jackie Bradley, Jr. ready to go in center and the returning core of Victorino, Gomes, Nava and Carp. Sizemore adds some depth to this core and, in the unlikely event Sizemore defies the odds and stays healthy, would most likely lead to the Sox moving Gomes, Nava or Carp. I guess another benefit and long shot hope for the Sox is that Sizemore increases their outfield depth. A worry for the Sox since their AAA outfield depth is wanting.

In AAA the Sox have:

  • Bryce Brentz (.264/.312/.475 in 326 ABs at AAA in 2013)
  • Alex Hassan (.321/.431/.460 in 187 ABs at AAA in 2013)
  • JC Linares (.200/.294/.267 in 45 ABs at AAA in 2013)
  • Justin Henry (.210/.294/.286 in 357 ABs at AAA in 2013)
  • Shannon Wilkerson (.237/.318/.338 in 465 ABs at AAA in 2013).

Nothing overly impactful here.*

*You might be asking where is Ryan Kalish? After cervical fusion surgery (which sounds nasty – Kalish had a disc removed from his neck, replaced with bone taken from somewhere else in his body (god knows how that works) and then a metal plate was fused to the new bone), he was non-tendered by the Sox and then signed by Theo and Co.

It is hard to say what to expect of Sizemore in 2014. Microfracture surgery has only been around since the ’80s. It is a minimally invasive surgery that sometimes accompanies other attempts to repair knee cartilage. The surgery results in creating fibrocartilage repair tissue which, from my reading, is different and not quite as resilient as the cartilage one would find in a normal knee. It’s better then nothing but not quite as good as the original stuff. I’m sure that’s just the way a doctor would describe it! Sizemore has had two of these surgeries, one in 2010 and the other in 2012. In between, he had another knee surgery, surgery for a sports hernia and then back surgery. Can we agree Sizemore is an injury risk? The more I write the less sanguine I am of a successful Sizemore stint with the Red Sox.

There have been no studies to date analyzing the success of microfracture surgery on MLB players. The founder of the procedure, a well known surgeon, Richard Steadman, undertook a study of NFL players who underwent the procedure. Of the 25 players evaluated, 76% were able to return to play for an average of 4.6 seasons. Another report by a different group of doctors studied 24 NBA players and reported that 58% of those players returned to play for more than one season. These players, however, exhibited a marked decline in performance after the surgery. I am not sure how comparable these sports are. Think of these NBA players as a guideline though:

  • Successful return – Jason Kidd, John Stockton, Kenyon Martin, Zach Randolph and Amar’e Stoudemire (yes and no)
  • Less then successful return – Tracy McGrady, Ron Harper, Brian Grant, Chris Webber, Allan Houston, Penny Hardaway.
  • Not a successful return or no return at all – Jamal Mashburn, Terrell Brandon, Greg Oden

Other baseball players who have undergone the procedure include Victor Martinez and most recently Derek Holland. Martinez seems to be okay, but I would say that his game is different then Sizemore’s. Despite his injuries, let us see if we can glean anything from Sizemore’s stats over the last few years.

Year Age Tm Lg G AB 2B HR SB BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
2008 25 CLE AL 157 634 39 33 38 .268 .374 .502 .876 133
2009 26 CLE AL 106 436 20 18 13 .248 .343 .445 .788 110
2010 27 CLE AL 33 128 6 0 4 .211 .271 .289 .560 58
2011 28 CLE AL 71 268 21 10 0 .224 .285 .422 .706 96
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/23/2014.

It might be the injuries, but the decline in OBP is troubling. I don’t know how missing all of 2012 and 2013 will effect him, but it gives me serious pause.  ESPN’s Gordon Edes suggests that Sizemore’s signing has “brought in at least a semblance of competition …” That’s pretty generous in my book. It’s not my million, but I don’t think Jackie Bradley Jr. should be overly concerned.

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