Saturday, January 12, 2013

Why Not Travis Hafner For DH?

(Courtesy of Getty Images)

The Yankees are still in the market for a designated hitter for this season, and it's one of the few positions where they can actually afford to look for a lefty since they have A-Rod and Kevin Youkilis to handle the right-handed DH duties.  Mark Hale reported earlier this week that the Yankees have "no interest" in 42-year-old Jim Thome, which doesn't come as a huge surprise, but there is another name out there that I think could be a better fit than people realize.  That name is Travis Hafner, former Cleveland Indian who had his team option declined and hasn't generated a whole lot of buzz this offseason because of his annual injury problems.  This is going to sound crazy, but I think those injury problems are EXACTLY why the Yankees should be interested in Hafner.

For starters, the fact that he's always so banged up and will turn 36 this June will knock his price way down from the $13 million he made last year, and the constant injury problems should be enough to influence teams to only offer him a 1-year "show me" type of contract to prove he can stay on the field.  Low dollars and 1-year deals are what the Yankees are looking to hand out to fill their DH and bench roles right now, and the lefty-swinging Hafner could do some damage attacking the short porch in right.

The other reason Hafner's injury problems work to the Yankees' advantage is that they don't actually need him to be a full-time DH anyway.  That spot is going to be used primarily for Rodriguez and Youkilis once A-Rod returns in the summer, with guys like Teix and Jeter getting half days there as well.  With A-Rod out for the first couple months, Hafner could act as the bridge to his return in the DH spot, providing power and patience in the 6 or 7-spot in the lineup, and if he stays healthy enough to hit regularly or semi-regularly until A-Rod comes back, perfect.  Anything beyond that is gravy, and if he somehow manages to not pull, strain, or tear something after that, Joe just has another smart, professional hitter to mix and match with A-Rod and Youkilis to try to keep them all healthy.

And let's not forget that even with all his health risks, it's not like Hafner has lost his ability to hit.  He hit 12 HR, posted a 12.2% BB rate, .210 ISO, and .342 wOBA in the 66 games he played in 2012, and has had wOBA values about .350 in each of the 3 seasons prior.  His batting average took a major dip last season, but that was more than likely attributable to a .233 BABIP, way off his career average.  Even with the low BABIP, Hafner still hit for a better average than Russell Martin did, and with Ichiro and Brett Gardner back in the lineup to provide some contact and speed, the Yankees can afford to have a low batting average from Hafner as long as he provides some pop and draws walks.

Hafner has averaged just under 86 games played over the last 5 years.  The Yankees 86th game this year falls on the 4th of July against the Minnesota Twins, not that far from A-Rod's planned return date from surgery.  Given the injury problems that have plagued him over those last 5 years, Hafner has almost become a low-risk/high-reward type of signing this offseason, and the longer he goes without drawing interest or offers from other teams, the cheaper he'll become for the Yankees.  If he does manage to stay healthy and productive, that's just icing on the cake, and if he doesn't, the Yankees have plenty of players who can fill in at DH.  So I ask again.  Why not Travis Hafner for DH in 2013?

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