Grady Sizemore has been named the Red Sox' starting center fielder for Opening Day, confirming a decision that most have been expecting for at least a couple weeks now. Jackie Bradley Jr. will return to Pawtucket to start the season.
On the one hand, it's nice to see a player like Sizemore, who has struggled with so many injuries over the last five years, getting another chance to prove he's still got the old star somewhere inside. On the other, it raises some concerns about how the Red Sox will handle the outfield situation.
The concern is not that Grady Sizemore won't perform. Certainly given his history, he's got a better chance to be a productive player than some random minor leaguer coming off a career month, as it were. The concern is that, if he is productive, it's going to be difficult to keep him that way without a true backup for center field. As it stands, the Red Sox will either be forced to play Sizemore day-in and day-out, thus increasing the risk for another injury, or to live with plenty of games featuring both Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes on the field, with the former playing in parts of the outfield he is simply not cut out for. In essence, one of the two will be a replacement-level player when they're both starting the same game.
This issue is caused by the presence of Nava, Gomes, and most importantly Mike Carp on the roster. The Gomes - Nava platoon works quite well, as we saw in 2013, and Mike Carp provided a surprising amount of value as a pinch-hitter/backup first baseman. But it's a tall order for a roster to carry three players to fill one starting spot and the least-demanding backup roles on the team. With a player as fragile as Sizemore playing a starting role, it's downright untenable, and that's before tossing Shane Victorino and his year-round aches and pains into the mix.
The success of this decision will be measured by how long Grady Sizemore holds up, the number of games Jonny Gomes and Daniel Nava seen in the field together, and how much of a contribution Mike Carp makes. If Grady Sizemore stays healthy and performs while playing every day, then letting Bradley start in the minors came at no cost. But if it comes at the cost of Jonny Gomes and Daniel Nava seeing dips in performance, or if Mike Carp's 2013 magic wears off and leaves behind a pumpkin, or worst of all a promising start from Sizemore is cut short, it might well be considered a mistake.
However this plays out, though, the Red Sox are on some level playing with house money. It's still reckless and fatalistic (not to mention rather cruel) to run Sizemore into the ground under the presumption that he's going to break at some point anyway. But given all the possible scenarios that existed before the Sox signed him in the first place, we're currently sitting on one of the most promising branches. For now, even if it comes with nagging concerns, there's a ride to be enjoyed.