Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sizemore injury bad business for Tribe

Grady Sizemore is hurt again. This time it's his back, which Sizemore will likely be rehabbing through Opening Day on April 5 against Toronto. The setback should not be a surprise considering Sizemore's recent ouchie-plagued history with the Indians. The bigger problem is how our erstwhile center fielder's pains reflect the Tribe's backwards business philosophy.

On some teams, Sizemore, who signed a 1-year, $5 million deal with the Indians in November, would be a depth player from whom you'd hope to squeeze some production. If he catches fire, bully for you, but if he struggles or gets hurt it won't harm your club's  hopes for contention, because you already have your lineup's true big guns locked and loaded.

The situation is vastly different for the Tribe. Sizemore essentially was their big free agent acquisition of the off-season. Injury history or not, they were counting on him, if not as an everyday starter, then as someone Manny Acta could pencil into the lineup perhaps 100-120 times this year.

That's a razor's edge to live upon, and it seems the Indians have gotten cut even before the first intrasquad pitch has been thrown. Tribe brass seemed to understand that a Grady DL stint was inevitable, signing a AAA roster's worth of backups just in case. It's possible Michael Brantley will be moved to center while a guy like Shelley Duncan starts the year in left.
It's just a depressing thing to see if you're a Tribe fan. Not to make this a "DOLENZ IS CHEEP" rant, but when it comes to free agent signings, our owners are risk-averse and un-ambitious, to put it kindly. Which makes re-upping Grady even odder when you think about it. Why aggressively pursue the guy when you damn well know he's damaged goods?
Maybe because everyone else was out of the Tribe's achingly narrow price range, and if that's true, it's a very worrying thought indeed. Because many of us (rather foolishly) hoped this would be the year the Dolans decided to operate in the red, just a bit, as the Indians are supposed to be in a window of contention with no help coming from below. The club's minor league system is devoid of upper-level talent after last year's trade for Ubaldo Jimenez and with guys like Jason Kipnis (@TheJK_Kid) and Lonnie Chisenhall already in the bigs.
The team doesn't have one player signed to a guaranteed contract past 2012, either. The iron is apparently hot, but the club has decided not to strike, to acquire the power bat the roster weeps for. Expecting the Tribe to throw a ten-year deal at Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder is one thing, but this was the year to take a chance on a sensible, three-year risk like Josh Willingham or Michael Cuddyer.
So, here we are once again with the front office living by the mantra of "penny wise, pound foolish," except when it comes to broken down center fielders who strike out too much. With Sizemore on the shelf, an already cynical fanbase could become even more so, staying away from the park and not providing the gate dollars the Dolans say they need to make real improvements to the club.
Chickens and eggs, carts and horses. Pick your idiom, the Indians have a massive perception problem that falls right at the feet of ownership. The Dolans' inability or unwillingness to unlimber the checkbook for proven talent means mistakes like the Sizemore signing will keep happening. And if that's the case, its truly high time for the Dolans to get out of the game.