- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 23, 2011

CLEVELAND (AP) - Even as other teams made him offers, Grady Sizemore knew there was only one that made sense for him.

He still belonged with the Indians.

“I wasn’t ready to say goodbye and move on,” he said.

On Wednesday, the Indians re-signed Sizemore to a one-year, incentive-based contract, bringing the oft-injured former All-Star outfielder back for another chance to become the electrifying player whose career has been derailed the past three seasons by injuries and surgeries.

Sizemore’s journey into free agency didn’t take him every far.

Although there were “good offers from good organizations,” Sizemore decided to stay with the one that has patiently waited for him to get healthy.

“They know me better than anybody,” Sizemore said.

The Indians, who last month declined a $9 million option for 2012 on Sizemore, will pay him a base salary of $5 million next season. The 29-year-old can make another $4 million based on plate appearances. The deal also includes an awards package that includes $500,000 if Sizemore is selected comeback player of the year.

The performance bonuses max out with fewer plate appearances than Sizemore had in any season from 2005-08.

Sizemore has undergone five surgeries, including a microfracture procedure on his left knee, the past two years and has only played in 210 games over the last three seasons because of injuries. But the Indians are confident that a healthy Sizemore can help them contend in the AL Central.

“We’re obviously optimistic,” said general manager Chris Antonetti. “We know that when he’s been on the field, he’s been a very productive player. We know it’s not going to be for 155 or 160 games per year, but we feel optimistic Grady will get back to the point that he is a very good player for us.”

Following the World Series, the Indians cut ties with Sizemore by declining the option for next season, making him a free agent for the first time. Antonetti flew to Arizona to personally meet with Sizemore and explain the team’s reasons for letting him go. Antonetti said the team was not closing the door on Sizemore and the Indians would gladly re-sign him _ at the right price.

That gesture of loyalty, and the team’s patience with Sizemore while he was hurt, meant a lot to him.

As other teams made offers, the Indians stayed in touch with Sizemore’s representative and never wavered in their pursuit of one of the club’s most popular players.

“The Indians were aggressive in wanting to keep Grady, and he has said all along he would keep an open mind toward returning,” said agent Joe Urbon. “He appreciates the interest from other clubs, and he just felt that the best place to reassert himself as a great player is in Cleveland. He can stay in center field, which is important to him, and he has enjoyed his time there.

“Now, he can focus on his play without the distractions of new surroundings, and he will be a free agent again just after his 30th birthday.”

Sizemore acknowledged he had some doubts as he ventured into free agency unsure of his future.

“I really didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “I was in the dark a little bit.”

But as the process unfolded, it became clear to Sizemore _ and the Indians _ that they’re relationship was not supposed to end. Sizemore said he’s eager to put the past three years behind him and hopefully help the Indians win.

“It’s been frustrating,” he said. “I’ve always loved being a part of this organization and I never pictured myself playing anywhere else.”

Sizemore played in only 71 games after beginning last season on the disabled list. He made three trips to the DL and underwent right knee surgery on Oct. 3, just days after his season ended with a .224 batting average 10 homers, 32 RBIs and zero steals for the first time in his career.

Sizemore is continuing to rehab his injury and believes he’ll be ready when spring training camp opens in February.

With Sizemore back, and assuming he can stay healthy, the Indians’ starting outfielder appears to be settled with Sizemore in center, Michael Brantley in left and Shin-Soo Choo in right. The club still needs to add some depth and Antonetti promised the team will continue “trying to make our ballclub better.”

Cleveland is looking for more offensive help, and it’s likely the club’s focus will be an upgrade at first base. Manager Manny Acta said incumbent first baseman Matt LaPorta will have to earn a roster spot this spring.

Sizemore joined the Indians in 2002, coming over as part of the six-player blockbuster trade that sent ace Bartolo Colon to Montreal. Sizemore’s blend of speed and power were unlike any player in club history and he’s the only Indians player with at least 100 homers, 200 doubles and 100 steals.

There are skeptics who doubt Sizemore will ever play at the level he once did. He’s not worried about anything other than getting ready to play.

“I want to prove to everyone that I can stay healthy and I can perform,” he said. “I want to have a healthy year and get back to playing like I know I can.”



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