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Tribe Happenings: Sizemore is this season’s first injury casualty

Tribe Happenings: Sizemore is this season’s first injury casualty
February 26, 2012
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Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

Sizemore out….again

Well, that did not take long.

Position players did not have their first full workout until Saturday, but even before they officially stepped onto the field they did so minus one player. On Friday the Indians announced that outfielder Grady Sizemore will be sidelined indefinitely with a lower back strain.

Sizemore had been hitting, running, and throwing without restrictions, but he reportedly hurt his lower back while fielding a groundball in the outfield two weeks ago while working out at the Goodyear complex. He has been shut down and because his knee rehab has also been ground to a halt he will be behind this spring, which puts his chances of making the Indians opening day roster in serious jeopardy.

This is obviously not the way the Indians wanted to get things started this spring. Injuries destroyed their season last year, and they are already rearing their ugly head once again.  They are partly to blame as it was a questionable decision to bring Sizemore back  to begin with considering his declining health from all of the injuries and surgeries over the past few years.

Hopefully this is but a small setback for Sizemore and the Indians and is not a decision they end up paying for this season as that money could have been used in so many other ways to help the team.

Filling in for Sizemore

With Sizemore now sidelined, the Indians suddenly have another decision to make on the roster this spring. The starting outfield was considered to be one of the most for sure things on the roster as Sizemore, Michael Brantley, and Shin-Soo Choo were expected to be the regular starting outfield trio to open the season. That will not be the case when the Indians open their season at home against the Blue Jays on April 5th.

The Indians will now temporarily shift Brantley to full time center field duties and there will be an open competition this spring to win the starting left fielder spot on the roster. The Indians may end up making left field into some sort of platoon, but right now the odds on favorite to get most of the playing time as the third starting outfielder is Shelley Duncan. He was expected to make the team as a right-handed hitting role player off the bench that could play left field and first base, and now may be pressed into a more significant role to open the season.

Even if Duncan moves into more of a regular role for the short term, the Indians will still need another outfielder on the roster. Infielder Jason Donald is expected to make the team and play third base, shortstop, and second base, and may also play some outfield, but the Indians need a more regular option for a fourth outfielder. Those options are right-handed hitters Ryan Spilborghs and Aaron Cunningham, and left-handed hitters Fred Lewis, Felix Pie and Ezequiel Carrera.

Another player that may benefit from Sizemore’s injury is newly acquired first baseman and outfielder Russ Canzler. He is not a very good defensive player, but he has experience at all four corner infield and outfield positions and has an interesting right-handed bat which could end up filling Duncan’s vacated role on the bench.

Sizemore’s injury is not expected to intensify the Indians’ pursuit for any players via trade, such as Astros left fielder and first baseman Carlos Lee. At this point a significant option via trade will probably not be considered until a few months into the season.  Even if Sizemore is sidelined for a long period of time or the Indians suffer more injuries, they are probably going to pull from the plethora of depth options they have brought to camp.

Opportunity is knocking for one of the outfielders in camp to step up. Last year outfielder Travis Buck did it with a great spring and made the Opening Day roster, but he never capitalized on the opportunity he was given last year. Hopefully one of this year’s depth options plays a whole lot better when they get that opportunity.

Position battles

In addition to the position battles this spring that exist for the starting left field job and fourth outfielder role, the Indians also have a few other positions up for grabs.

The Indians have an opening in the final spot in the rotation, and the candidates for the fifth starter role are Kevin Slowey, Jeanmar Gomez, Dave Huff and Zach McAllister. Slowey has the leg up on everyone due to his experience and history with the Twins, but Gomez looked like he turned a corner late last year and Huff is a lefty and looked like a completely different and improved pitcher last season. McAllister is all but certain to open the season at Triple-A Columbus.

There are two spots in the bullpen up for grabs with Frank Herrmann, Nick Hagadone, Jeremy Accardo, Chris Ray, Dan Wheeler, Chris Seddon, and Robinson Tejeda all in the mix. Herrmann and Wheeler are the favorites to fill those final two spots this spring, but Hagadone has loads of potential and could push either one to Triple-A Columbus to open the season. The others appear to be longshots at this point.

The Indians also need to decide on what to do at third base with Jack Hannahan and Lonnie Chisenhall. Hannahan will be on the team no matter what, either as the starting third baseman or a bench player, so it ultimately comes down to whether the Indians decide on having Chisenhall on the roster or opt to have a veteran bench option like a Jose Lopez, Andy LaRoche, or any of the outfielders in the mix for the fourth outfielder role.

No go on Garland

The Indians and right-handed pitcher Jon Garland had agreed to terms on a minor league deal last week.  That deal was to become official after he underwent and passed a physical at the start of camp this week, but he had second thoughts on his health and the deal is off.

Apparently, Garland was not comfortable with where he is at with his rehab from shoulder surgery last year, so the deal was called off. Considering that both sides had come to an agreement and a mutual parting, when he is ready to pitch again it would not be a surprise if he still ends up signing with the Indians.

With Garland out of the mix as a veteran depth starting pitching option and another offseason target right-handed pitcher Rich Harden out for the year after recently undergoing shoulder surgery, the Indians may make a stronger push for free agent left-handed pitcher Scott Kazmir.

Kazmir, 28, has had major control and velocity issues the past two seasons, but given his pedigree as a pitching prospect and his early Major League success he would definitely be a worthwhile option to consider on a minor league deal. It is not known if the Indians are seriously interested in him, but reportedly six teams are in on him and he is expected to make a decision on which team he will sign with very soon.

Indians add another utility option

The Indians announced another minor league signing on Tuesday when they inked infielder Cristian Guzman to a minor league deal with an invite to Major League spring training.

Guzman turns 34-years old next month and missed all of the 2011 season recovering from a shoulder injury in October of 2009 that never really healed.  In his 12-year, 1406 game Major League career he has compiled a .271 batting average with 62 home runs, 467 RBI and 125 stolen bases.  He is a two-time All Star (2001, 2008) that has spent most of his career at shortstop, though has played in 72 games in his career at second base and eight games in right field.

Guzman is expected to be in the mix for a utility role with the big league club as an option to backup shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and second baseman Jason Kipnis. Infielder Jason Donald is expected to be the front runner for the role, but like what happened last spring with Donald getting hurt and non-roster invitee Adam Everett making the team to open last season, the Indians wanted a secondary option as insurance.

De La Cruz traded

The Indians completed a small trade earlier in the week when they sent minor league left-handed pitcher Kelvin De La Cruz to the Rangers for cash considerations. De La Cruz had recently been designated for assignment to create space on the 40-man roster for the recently signed Casey Kotchman, so the Indians had ten days to trade, release, or outright him to the minors.

Whenever you see a player like De La Cruz get designated for assignment and then traded for cash considerations, 95 times out of 100 it is likely because the team that designated the player was fielding calls from teams interested in trading for the designated player. When this happens it is a tell-tale sign to such a team that the player will not clear waivers (DFAed played are not immediately put on waivers), so this is likely what happened in this case with the Indians and De La Cruz.

With the Rangers and potentially other teams calling the Indians about De La Cruz, they simply made a small cash trade to avoid paying the waiver fee (I think it is $20,000) and also get some money in return. Teams do this all the time. De La Cruz had little value in a trade as far as getting a player in return, but rather than just letting him be snatched on waivers and paying the waiver fee, they were able to trade him and save (make) some money.

Parting shots

Manager Manny Acta announced that outfielder Michael Brantley will open the season as the Indians’ leadoff hitter.  He is recovering from hand surgery last August and is limited in the early going this spring, but is expected to be ready to go and without restrictions by the start of the season. … Former Indians outfielder Kenny Lofton is in camp once again as a guest instructor. He is in Major League and minor league camp to work with players on their baserunning and outfield play. … The Indians will televise six spring training games on SportsTime Ohio (all at 4:00pm): March 10th (Padres), March 12th (Diamondbacks), March 13th (Rangers), March 15th (White Sox), March 19th (Dodgers), and March 21st (Giants).

Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIPI. Also, his new book the 2012 Cleveland Indians Prospect Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

User Comments

Tony Lastoria
February 27, 2012 - 8:43 PM EST
Yeah, Brantley is never going to be flashy or put up great numbers....but he is going to play for a long time and can be an everyday outfielder for a long time. I thought he really played well last season up until the injury.....only showed but a glimpse of what he could become.
Jeremy Rochford
February 27, 2012 - 5:14 PM EST
I think you underselling brantley. 4 outfielder at best?? i dont care about bill james. the guy is a great lead off hitter with great plate discipline. without a doubt he had the best at bats of the season for the first 3 months last year. the numbers dont tell the whole story on brantley, plus he was hurt the last 3 months of last season. he has yet to play a full entire season and has a lot more power than people think. plus he had 13 bases in 18 attempts last year, just needs to steal more often.

he keeps getting overshadowed by grady but i expect him to have a really good season this year.
Lisa M
February 27, 2012 - 1:51 PM EST
I'm sorry, to me Brantley projects as a 4th OF at best. He is a player Bill James would dislike, he isn't a base stealer, he has little power, he doesn't walk a ton - he's just kind of there. I ran his secondary avg and run avg (R+RBI/AB) last year, both were abysmal.

Maybe he'll amp it up a this year but I'm skeptical.

I am intrigued by both Cunningham and Canzler, maybe one or both can shake off that dreaded AAAA tag and help us this year.

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