I’ll admit it: the brief hiatus on the discussions between Paul Cousineau and me has been entirely my fault. First there were the holidays, then a brief trip to warmer climes, then hunkering down at the jobby job, and all of a sudden, it’s been a month since Paul and I flooded each others’ inbox with Indians-related banter.
Well, we’re back, suckas. This time, we wonder about Travis Hafner. Not only what he isn’t–2006 seems so long ago now–but what he is. We talk about cost, playing time, alternatives and solutions. As always, we solve the world’s problems one roster spot at a time. Enjoy.
PAUL: While much of the focus for 2011 (rightfully) involves many of the young Tribe players and how their development is going to establish how long this “Rebuild/Reload/Whatever” is going to take to either come to fruition or crap out, the elephant still sitting right in the middle of the lobby at Carnegie and Ontario is the man that will take up nearly 30% of the Tribe’s payroll in 2011, one Travis Hafner.
Since most have written off Hafner as a lost cause, I think it’s worth mentioning that his .824 OPS was the 2nd highest on the team last year and he finished with the 6th highest OPS in the AL for DH. While both of those rankings feel like a “Miss Congeniality” sash, particularly for a player that will earn $13M in 2011, it’s not as if Hafner is a completely useless player, particularly against RHP as he posted an .863 OPS against RHP in 2010.
That being said, the fact that he remained somewhat effective in 2010 is tempered by two very stark realities facing the Indians going forward in that Hafner only played in 118 games in 2010, in what perhaps is the best way to utilize him by resting him periodically because of the “chronic shoulder fatigue”, and that he posted a .706 OPS vs. LHP last year.
Given the limitations that exist with Hafner, and realizing that trading Hafner (as a DH) and his contract is a different animal than moving Vern Wells, what is the best course of action for the Indians to take with The Artist Formerly Known As Pronk (TAFKAP) in 2010?
JON: As Omar would say, “Indeeeeeed.”
First, let’s think about those numbers and ranks for Travis Hafner that you mentioned. Being an average AL DH is one thing. Being paid like one of the better ones means something else–especially for a club like the Indians.
One of the statistics that I bandy about when evaluating players is WAR, or wins above replacement. Last season, Hafner posted a 1.9 WAR according to fangraphs and a 2.6 WAR on baseball-reference. Let’s average them to say that he was worth about 2.25 more wins than a minor league DH could have been–making the Indians a 69-win team rather than a 66 or 67 win team without him. Considering that on the open market, teams pay about $4.75 million per win added, that means that Hafner was worth…almost exactly $11 million in 2010. Whoda thunk it?
So, on the one hand, I think it’s fair to say that the Indians didn’t get totally worked on the deal. But on the other hand, the Indians–as a rule–cannot afford to pay players what they are worth. Especially not when we are trying to 70 wins and not 90. Two wins just aren’t that valuable to the Indians when the rest of the team is pathetic. This in itself, makes a $13 million commitment for the next two seasons regrettable at best.
But as you say, we are where we are–left wondering how best to manage TAFKAP. To me, the answer is simple. As you say, he’s impotent at best against LHP. Since about 80% of the pitching that we’ll face in 2011 will be of the right-handed variety, I suggest we platoon Pronk with either Shelley Duncan (.857 OPS against LHP in 2010) or Austin Kearns (.798 career OPS against LHP). Platooning him solves two problems: his weak shoulder is given a rest and his poor numbers against lefties are replaced with something resembling production.
I know it’s terrible to waste a quarter of our payroll devoted to a platoon DH, but considering the alternatives, I don’t see any other way.
PAUL: Boy, looking at how Duncan is basically taking up a roster spot to be a defensively-limited RH bat and how Kearns’ career OPS vs. LHP (.798) isn’t that much of an improvement over that of Hafner (.706) in 2010 and how Kearns’ OPS vs. LHP last year (.740) was even lower, it sure makes you wish that the Indians would have killed two birds with one stone this off-season and added a 4th OF that crushes LHP and could serve that dual purpose while taking up one roster spot.
But…they didn’t and what you see is what you’re going to get on the Indians’ roster and the use of Duncan and Kearns certainly seems to give Hafner his requisite days off and improves the team (albeit incrementally with Kearns) against LHP. Obviously a platoon is in order but tThat being said, maybe another solution exists where the Indians wouldn’t have to take up two roster spots to “protect” Hafner against LHP, give him his days off and give days off to an offensive player that is likely to be more productive than TAFKAP who will also need some extra rest during the season to boot – Carlos Santana.
If we’re going off of the assumption that Santana needs to spend some time away from the tools of ignorance, and the Indians have already asserted that Santana will see some time at 1B, how about allowing Santana to move to 1B (with LaPorta slotting to DH) or straight to DH when Hafner needs a day off or when the team is facing a LHP?
In Santana’s place behind the dish would go one Louis Glenn Marson…
Cue the hair pulling for the suggestion that Tofu Lou should play any role on this team, right?
Perhaps, but let’s acknowledge the fact that Marson has career OPS vs. LHP of .727 (and against RHP it is .562 on his career) with his 2010 OPS vs. LHP (.759) actually besting that of Kearns last year. That’s not going to make anyone necessarily fear Marson against LHP and the sample sizes are small (he’s only had 91 PA vs. LHP in his career, 79 of which came last year), but if Marson can carve a niche out as a player that gives Santana a break from the wear-and-tear of catching AND the Indians can make those days coincide with Hafner’s needed off days, they can manage their roster a little better and protect two of their most valuable (well, one of the most valuable…the other the most expensive) assets.
Given that Hafner is still guaranteed money through next season, perhaps it could become a long-term arrangement until the Indians say goodbye to TAFKAP after the 2012 season…or, in light of the Wells-to-Anaheim news, could it be before?
JON: Now you’re thinking! Santana is probably one of the better options we have against any sort of pitcher the opponent may throw out there. The only concern there is whether he might actually need a real day off to keep his surgically repaired knee fresh.
(And before we get too far, let me say this: I was shocked that Vernon Wells was traded, but that shock wouldn’t approach the jaw-dragging paralysis that would set in for me if the Indians could unload Travis Hafner’s contract on someone.)
I think some of this conversation hints at a larger point that we’ve discussed before: the Indians have a dearth of right handed hitting options, period. Even Santana’s numbers as a righty aren’t terrific. While we are required by baseball-writing law to mention small sample sizes, we can at least note that his .146/.311/.271 line against LHP leaves something to be desired, right? I mean, that’s worse than Mike Redmond! I don’t have his minor league splits handy, and I assume they’re not quite that crummy. Still, it doesn’t appear that he’s the same Axe Man against LHP.
To me, the DH difficulties will pale in comparison to the LaPorta issue. No matter what Hafner does, he won’t justify his contract. That is, as they say, a “sunk cost”: we’ve committed another $26 million to a left handed hitter who can’t play in the field, can’t be in the lineup everyday, and can’t hit LHP. And, like I say, that’s not close to our biggest problem. Oh, to be an Indians fan!