In 2011, Jack Hannahan was a spring training invitee and was considered a long shot to make the team. But after a strong spring training and an injury to Jason Donald, Hannahan was named the Opening Day third baseman. He went on to provide the Indians with Gold Glove-caliber defense, leading all third basemen with a .983 fielding percentage and not committing an error over the second half of the season.
That year, Hannahan also proved to be more than capable with the bat, hitting .250/.331/.388 with a 102 wRC+. He was surprisingly apt at hitting left-handed pitchers, and finished the year with an .296/.367/.444 against them in 120 plate appearances. It was generally a breakout year for Hannahan, though it went generally unnoticed outside of Cleveland.
Over the winter, the Indians and Hannahan avoided arbitration by signing a one-year contract for $1.035 millon. Hannahan reported to spring training in Goodyear taking nothing for granted, and after Lonnie Chisenhall‘s horrible spring Hannahan once again was named the Tribe’s Opening Day third baseman. He didn’t give the front office any reason to regret sending Chisenhall down to Columbus as he was hitting .287/.365/.436 through May 13th. when his back stiffened up and his status was listed as day to day.
The mismanagement of his injury is at best a telling sign of the total lack of communication between manager Manny Acta, the medical staff, and the front office. The day-to-day injury ended up lingering for 12 days, and rather than putting Hannahan on the 15-day disabled list the Indians chose to play shorthanded for 11 games. He finally returned to the lineup on May 26th, but his return was restricted to just one game as he was placed on the 15-day disabled list for a strained left calf muscle. Hannahan admitted to feeling the pain in the calf prior to his return to the lineup:
“I felt something Friday, but didn’t think it was a big deal. I knew my back was getting better every day. I guess I must have done something to compensate for the back and now this. It is the same calf I hurt last year.”
Meanwhile, Manny Acta was apparently caught off guard by Hannahan’s admission:
“It’s mind-boggling that after spending that amount of time rehabbing his back he has a different injury. We had no idea he was hurting yesterday before the game.”
Hannahan returned to the Indians lineup on June 15th but was never able to recoup the success he had early in the season. He struggled the rest of the way, hitting .225/.288/.297 covering 198 plate appearances. In addition to having a subpar season with the bat he also struggled in the field as his fielding percentage fell to .949 and his UZR/150 fell from 13.7 in 2011 to a -6.7 in 2012.
If the Indians are ready to turn the third base job over to Lonnie Chisenhall in 2013, the question becomes: What do they Indians do with Hannahan? Even though he appeared at shortstop and first base during the 2012 season he is primarily a third baseman, and a platoon scenario wouldn’t work since he and Chisenhall are both left-handed.
Although Hannahan’s salary increase would be minimal, the Indians should not use a spot on the 40 man roster or the million-plus dollars it would take to retain a player who is restricted to playing one position and is out of options. Instead, the Indians should non-tender Hannahan and offer him a split contract with an invitation to spring training.