Word circulated this weekend, first tweeted by Ken Rosenthal of FOX, then confirmed by local beat writers, that the Reds were engaged in advanced talks with Grady Sizemore. It’s yet another indication of how poorly the off-season has gone for the organization that a possible comeback makes news for a player who hasn’t been fully healthy since Corey Patterson started in centerfield for the Reds.
But it’s the Cold Stove season. So let’s talk Grady Sizemore.
[Warning: This story contains a discussion of knee cartilage injuries, so Reds' fans suffering from post-meniscus stress disorder may want to avert their JoeyMVP-loving eyes.]
The basics: Sizemore is 31, one year older than Votto. He arrived in Cleveland with Brandon Phillips and Cliff Lee as part of the six-player trade in 2002 that sent Bartolo Colon to Montreal. Sizemore played centerfield and led off for our northern Ohio rivals. He bats left-handed.
From 2005-2008, his age 22-25 seasons, Grady Sizemore was the fourth most valuable position player (Pujols, Utley, ARod) in the major leagues. He hit .281/.372/.496 with 107 home runs and 115 stolen bases. He earned two Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger award. He missed only nine games over those four seasons, at one point playing 382 consecutive games. He scored 134 runs in 2006 and finished in the top five in the AL in walks in both 2007 and 2008. Grady Sizemore was headed for a Hall of Fame career.
The 2009 season was Sizemore’s last that could be described as approximating full. He played 106 games but struggled with elbow and hernia issues the entire season. Since 2009, Sizemore has undergone seven different surgeries: elbow (2009), hernia (2009 and 2011), back (2012) and microfracture knee surgery on both his left (2010) and right (2012) knees. He was a free agent all through last year, preferring not to resign with a club until he was ready to play.
What are the odds of Sizemore’s knees being ready for him to play meaningful innings for the Reds?
Microfracture surgery is used to repair damaged knee cartilage, the shock absorber which cushions and covers the area where bones meet in joints. It has become fairly routine in the professional sports world. Derek Holland of the Rangers just underwent the procedure. Corey Hart had the surgery in January 2013.
The knee is accessed arthroscopically and the surgeon makes a series of small holes behind the kneecap. The microfractures bleed and stimulate the bone marrow and stem cells. The body builds fibrous cartilage in that spot. The recovery period from microfracture surgery is many months or a year because of the need to protect the joint from stress for as long as possible.
The results for professional athletes have been decidedly mixed. Some pros never return, although those tended to be players who were already contemplating retirement. Many return but not back to their same level of performance. Others, however, have ultimately played at an even higher level than before the procedure. Jason Kidd had the surgery in 2004 at age 31 and continued his outstanding NBA career through the 2012-13 season. Amar’e Stoudemire had the surgery in 2005. Zach Randolph is another example who returned to All-star levels after the surgery.
A study by Drexel University tracked 24 NBA players who had the surgery between 1997 to 2006. Five of the 24 players didn’t return. Recovery time for those who did return ranged from 2 to 18 months. Two years after the surgery, 17 of the players were still in the NBA. Typically they had lower performances their first year back but improved after that.
The Reds may sign Grady Sizemore this week. It’s an indication both of how wary other major league clubs are of Sizemore’s condition and how desperately the Reds need options in centerfield that we’ve reached this point.
Billy Hamilton may be the next Vince Coleman (bleh). Or the next Willy Taveras (yikes). Hamilton hit .256 with an alarming .308 OBP last year in a full AAA season. You can count all of Hamilton’s major league hits on one of Antonio Alfonseca’s hands, almost.
And while we undertake wishful thinking on Grady Sizemore, we need to do it with eyes wide open. Even if Sizemore signs with the Reds, he may not make it through the first workout, let alone spring training. He may have lost his plus speed and therefore much of his unique value. He may be so rusty that he can’t play a passable outfield. No one, not even Grady, expects his return to 2008 form.
But he wouldn’t have to go 30/30 to help the Reds.
If Grady Sizemore could hit .260/.330/.430 and play competent center it would represent a major contribution. Well worth signing him.