Red Sox's Grady Sizemore Gamble Could Be Surprise X-Factor

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistJanuary 23, 2014

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On a day when their rivals stole the headlines, the Boston Red Sox made another one of their patented no-risk, high-reward investments by signing outfielder Grady Sizemore, according to Rob Bradford of WEEI.com. 

Source: Red Sox come to terms on major league deal with Grady Sizemore

— Rob Bradford (@bradfo) January 22, 2014

Sizemore has base of $750K with incentives that can push up to $6 million with Red Sox

— Rob Bradford (@bradfo) January 22, 2014

If you look at Boston's current outfield crop, as well as the potential upside in a Sizemore deal, this could be one of the more underrated moves of the offseason. The former Cleveland center fielder also has the ability to be a surprise X-factor with the Red Sox. 

I should note that my definition of an "X-factor" is an under-the-radar player who contributes in a meaningful way, either for an entire season or postseason series. I don't consider a star player like David Ortiz or Dustin Pedroia to be an X-factor.

Think of Cody Ross in the 2010 National League Championship Series for San Francisco. He was a journeyman who came out of nowhere to shine on the biggest stage in the sport, hitting three homers and winning MVP of the NLCS against Philadelphia

That's the kind of player I think Grady Sizemore can be for Boston, assuming the 31-year-old can find a way to make it through the season in one piece. He hasn't played in an MLB game since Sept. 22, 2011, with Cleveland. 

In the two-plus years since his last game, Sizemore has undergone surgery on his back and knees. It's unclear where he's at in his latest round of recovery, but Red Sox manager John Farrell spoke to Bradford about Sizemore and the plan for the former All-Star. 

Farrell said no timetable regarding Sizemore. Not committing to being ready for Opening Day. Going to ease into things but optimistic

— Rob Bradford (@bradfo) January 23, 2014

What makes this a good deal is the risk factor. The Red Sox will only have to pay Sizemore $750,000 if he never plays an inning for them. In today’s baseball, that’s a blip on the radar. 

He's going to have a ton of incentives in his contract just to get close to the $6 million total value, so the onus is on Sizemore to perform. 

The Red Sox don't lose much if Sizemore underperforms because they are loaded in the outfield. Mike Carp, Jonny Gomes, Daniel Nava, Shane Victorino and Jackie Bradley Jr. are all ready to go when the season starts. 

Winslow Townson/Associated Press

Bradley is the player most affected by Sizemore's signing. The 23-year-old prospect was due to take over in center field for the departed Jacoby Ellsbury, as Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported in December. 

Given Bradley's lack of professional experience, the Red Sox felt they needed some insurance behind him in case things didn't go as planned.

But even if Sizemore remains healthy, his best immediate use for the Red Sox will be off the bench. He needs to prove he’s capable of playing on consecutive days first and foremost. 

As far as skills, it's hard to know exactly what Sizemore is still capable of doing. Given all the knee problems he's had in the last four years, it's safe to say that speed is no longer a huge part of his game. 

That means Sizemore has to hit for power to have value for the Red Sox in 2014. As hard as it might be to believe given all the time he's missed, that shouldn't be an issue. He slugged over .400 in seven of his eight seasons with Cleveland, and he failed to reach that mark in 2010, when he only played in 33 games.

When Sizemore was on his last legs with the Indians, he wasn't hitting for average or getting on base, but the power never went away. He slugged a respectable .422 in 268 at-bats with 21 doubles, one triple and 10 home runs during the 2011 season. 

Sizemore's isolated power of .198 in 2011 was better than Andrew McCutchen's (.190), Joey Votto's (.186) and Matt Carpenter's (.163) in 2013. 

I'm not arguing Sizemore will be a better hitter or a more valuable player than those three in 2014, but given what we have seen from him in the past, can you say that with 250-300 at-bats he won't get 30-35 extra-base hits?

The Red Sox have done their homework on Sizemore. He has been working toward this comeback for two years, even choosing to sit out the 2013 season until he was ready to play again with no restrictions.

Sizemore is in a great spot, joining a team where there won't be any pressure to perform. The Red Sox will be able to bring him along slowly to ensure he can make the most out of whatever baseball skills he has left. 

It's a lot to ask at this point, but if Sizemore can stay healthy, he is still young enough to contribute something valuable to an MLB team. 

Note: All stats courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted. Video via MLB Advanced Media.

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