The largest obstacle for the Nationals in their mission to land a centerfielder this offseason was a dearth of options. Coco Crisp seemed to be the only viable free agent, and while he’s a capable player, Crisp’s addition wouldn’t have added the impact General Manager Mike Rizzo wants. Others – such as B.J. Upton and Denard Span – could be had in a trade, but both come with questions, and this year’s deadline showed the difficulty of securing a deal.
And then an appealing candidate – maybe the most appealing – came to light this weekend. Teams must decide whether or not to exercise 2012 contract options by Monday night, and the Indians, as first reported by Indians.com, will not exercise their $9 million option for 2012 on Grady Sizemore, making him available once free agency begins in earnest Thursday at midnight. The Nationals are a logical fit for Sizemore, who became one of the best players in baseball before injuries sidetracked his career.
Rizzo has been blunt about his desire to acquire a centerfielder, which he has detailed both publicly and privately as his top priority. A center fielder would allow Jayson Werth to stay in right field, as Rizzo prefers, and Sizemore would also give the Nationals a consistent top-of-the-order hitter they have lacked for two years. It is a safe assumption that the Nationals will at least look into acquiring him.
From 2005 to 2008, Sizemore compiled 27.4 wins above replacement, the catch-all metric of a player’s total contribution used by FanGraphs.com, which ranked fourth-most in the major leagues over those four seasons. He won two Gold Gloves, made three all-star teams and cracked the top 12 in MVP balloting.
In 2009, injuries struck Sizemore, and they have not stopped coming. Sizemore has played only 210 games, hitting just .234/.314/.413 as he fought several, seemingly unconnected ailments. He’s had surgery to repair left elbow soreness, a lower abdominal strain and his left knee. At the end of this season, Sizemore had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.
Sizemore presents an obvious risk, especially considering the small-market Indians know more about his injuries than anyone and decided he was not worth $9 million for 2012. But if he has put his injuries behind him – and indications are that, after his recent knee scope, he has – Sizemore has the ability to again become a top player. And it’s easy to forget that he’s only 29.
There are potential drawbacks to signing Sizemore, but there is also an upside that no other center fielder on the free agent or trade market can match. At the very least, he gives the Nationals another option to consider at their position of greatest need.