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03/01/10 7:55 PM ET
Grady trade speculation? Not so fast
Contract suggests Tribe will hold onto star outfielder
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Had outfielder Grady Sizemore not signed a long-term contract four years ago at this time, he would be entering his final season with the Indians before venturing out into the tempting waters of free agency next winter. To read the number of reports speculating about Sizemore's trade potential, one would think he hadn't signed that extension and was, in fact, nearing free agency. It's just not so. Sizemore is under the Tribe's contractual control through the 2012 season, and for a variety of reasons, the Indians find it difficult to imagine a scenario in which they'd be compelled to deal him to another club in either of the next two years. "We feel very fortunate that Grady continues to be a member of the organization," said assistant general manager Chris Antonetti, who will become the club's GM at season's end. "We very much value all the contributions of what he does for our team, on and off the field. We're thrilled he's here and under contract for at least three more years." Clearly, Sizemore's future with the Tribe beyond 2012 is in doubt, as the club's recent history of signing its star players to their second long-term deal speaks for itself. It's certainly not out of the realm of possibility that the Indians would deal him in the middle of the '12 season if they are out of contention, but it's far too early to tell what the scenario, in terms of the club's competitiveness and the economics of the city and the sport, will be at that time. Still, the Tribe established a new precedent last year when it traded both Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez a year and a half before they were eligible for free agency, and that's where all the Sizemore speculation is derived from. Once those Lee and Martinez deals were done, it became easy for the skeptics to point to Sizemore and predict, "He's next." Sizemore is, of course, not oblivious to those predictions. But for now, he professes positive hopes for a long-term outlook with the Indians. "I hope there is a long-term future here," he said. "I've always enjoyed being an Indian, and I hope to spend my career here." While it might be a stretch to assume Sizemore will spend the rest of his career in Cleveland, it's no stretch to assume the Indians won't trade him prior to his walk year. Because Sizemore's contractual situation differs from that of Lee and Martinez in a significant way. After Sizemore earns $5.6 million this season and $7.5 million in 2011, the Indians hold a club option on him for 2012. The option's value was originally $8.5 million. His 2008 All-Star selection increased its value to $9 million, and the value can still ascend as high as $10.5 million. If the first four seasons of Sizemore's career -- the ones that came before injuries set his performance back significantly in '09 -- are any indication, that option, even at its max value, would be a steal of a deal for the Indians.Now, the Tribe did hold similarly affordable options on Lee and Martinez. But where Sizemore's contract differs is in the detail that his club option becomes a player option if he is traded. And if Sizemore returns to his All-Star form, it's hard to imagine him exercising an option that is clearly below what his free-agent market value could potentially be. Sizemore, therefore, is only worth two years' worth of service time on the trading floor at present day, whereas he is worth three years of service time to the Tribe. The Indians have absolutely no intention of dealing Sizemore this season. And even if they entertained the thought of trading him next year, they'd find his value would not be comparable to that of Lee or Martinez at the time those two high-profile players were dealt. So Sizemore isn't going anywhere anytime soon. And from the Indians' perspective, why would he? Sizemore is a three-time All-Star,a two-time Gold Glove winner, a Silver Slugger winner in '08 (when he hit 33 homers and stole 38 bases) and easily the most popular, marketable player on this young ballclub. What's more, he's on an affordable contract. Though the 2010 season figures to be a developmental one for the Indians, they hope to make a more earnest effort toward contention in '11 and beyond. Trading Sizemore, then, wouldn't make a lick of sense, unless the Indians were completely bowled over by a package of Major League-ready players. Not one of these facts has prevented the early speculation about Sizemore's trade fate. "It's not something we can control," Antonetti said. "But it's interesting to note that last year [Royals ace] Zack Greinke was signed to an extension that covers the same term as Grady's contract, and it's celebrated as an extension and, 'Look how long he's going to be here.' They're under the same number of years of club control, and people are already looking at when Grady is not going to be here." When the Indians signed Sizemore to a contract that was, at the time, the largest awarded to a player with less than two years of Major League service time, they probably thought this kind of talk was further away than it has turned out to be. "That's something that gets lost," Antonetti said. "Because we signed the contract at the time we did and for the length we did, you may lose focus and appreciation for just how long that term covers. He's been under contract for a while now, and he still has two years and an option left." Sizemore was asked recently if he feels "left behind," because he's seen CC Sabathia, Lee, Martinez and many others shipped off in the years since he signed that deal in March 2006. The 2007 club that came a win away from the World Series has been almost completely dismantled. But Sizemore still sees young, emerging talent with the Tribe, and he knows he'll be in the thick of it for at least the next couple years. "I definitely don't feel like I've been left behind," he said. "Obviously, some of the close friends we've had and built relationships with -- friends and teammates -- have been traded and moved on. But I feel like there's a good chance to start over with some young guys we've got and some of the veterans we have here."
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Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.