The writing had been on the wall for several weeks.
On Tuesday afternoon, that writing finally spelled the end of Grady Sizemore's unlikely comeback story, as the Boston Red Sox designated the 31-year-old outfielder for assignment to make room for prospect Garin Cecchini, as tweeted by Alex Speier of WEEI.com.
That Sizemore's resurgent tale will not have a happy ending should come as a surprise to no one. He had a slash line of just .224/.285/.422 in 295 plate appearances this season, hitting two homers and stealing no bases. Sizemore's once Gold Glove-worthy defense in center field regressed noticeably, and the outfielder looked far more comfortable in a corner spot.
In essence, most of the five tools that once made Sizemore one of the more exciting players in the league seem to have abandoned him.
Red Sox GM Ben Cherington spoke to the move, making it clear that Sizemore's poor play forced the Red Sox's hand:
Cherington on Sizemore: "'We were thinking & hoping this would end up differently..We just got to a point where couldn't give it more time.'— Sean McAdam (@Sean_McAdam) June 17, 2014
Unfortunately, that means that Tuesday's roster move might not just spell the end of Sizemore's time with the Red Sox: It may mark his final days as a major leaguer.
In many ways, it's remarkable that Sizemore was able to keep his hold on a roster spot for as long as he did. Signed to an incentive-laden contract in spring training as a low-risk, high-reward acquisition, Sizemore faced long odds to make the Red Sox roster to begin with. But thanks to an explosive spring in which he hit .310/.356/.429, he looked poised to edge Jackie Bradley Jr. in the battle for everyday center fielder.
When Shane Victorino hit the disabled list right before the season began, Phase 1 of Sizemore's comeback story was complete.
At first, it looked like Boston's faith in Sizemore would be rewarded. He hit .308/.357/.513 through his first 11 games and 42 plate appearances, even leading off in several instances.
Since then, however, there's truly been no reason for optimism. Sizemore was hitting .208/.275/.361 by the end of April. Save for a few hot streaks here and there, he never turned a corner. Once his new defensive limitations became apparent, it really became a matter of "if" and not "when" he'd find himself released.
Victorino's recurring injuries likely bought Sizemore some time, and it's possible that the uninspired offensive play of Bradley contributed to Boston's decision to keep him, too. But in hindsight they likely would've been better off cutting him in April, rather than sending Daniel Nava down to the minors. And with the sudden emergence of Brock Holt, Sizemore truly became an unneeded piece on the team.
As Tom Caron of NESN noted on Twitter, John Farrell acknowledged that Sizemore's DFA had as much to do with others as it had to do with his own performance:
Farrell stresses that decision to DFA Sizemore was driven by performance of others - Nava's resurgence, Holt's play, need to improve roster.— Tom Caron (@TomCaron) June 17, 2014
The Red Sox are saying all the right things when it comes to finding Sizemore new opportunities, but it’s hard to see those opportunities truly existing at the major league level.
According to FanGraphs, Sizemore ranks 107th in outfielder fWAR among players with at least 100 plate appearances this season, registering at minus-0.4. While he was better against right-handed hitting than left-handers, his .241/.311/.361 line against righties is hardly inspiring. And now that Sizemore's speed and defensive prowess have left him, there's not a ton of reasons for another team to offer him a roster spot.
That's not to say that Sizemore's days as a baseball player are over. It's quite unlikely that another team will claim him from the Red Sox, meaning he could choose to accept an assignment to Pawtucket. He could sign on elsewhere as a minor league free agent, or he could sit out the rest of the year and try to catch on somewhere else next year instead.
The odds aren't in his favor, but when it comes to baseball, never say never.
But without the skills to help a competitive team or the upside to provide a second-division team with a significant payoff, it's hard to see Sizemore landing on his feet right away.
Sizemore's story of perseverance truly deserves our admiration. Before the season, he had played in just 104 games since the start of 2010 and hadn't played at all in 2012 or 2013. Most people assumed his career was over, and while it didn't work out in Boston, Sizemore at least demonstrated the ability to stay on the field.
But staying on the field doesn't matter if you can't produce, and while Sizemore's health at least held up long enough for him to truly test his body once more, it's likely of little consolation to a man whose time in the majors could be done for good.
If nothing else, Sizemore should serve as a reminder to us all to savor the game's stars while we can, because you never know when the game might take them away. The seasons are long, the wear on the body is real and skills can erode seemingly overnight.
No matter where he ends up, let's hope Sizemore gets one more chance to write his final chapter.