It seemed pretty obvious that neither Roberto Hernandez nor Travis Hafner would have their 2013 options picked up, but the Indians made it official on Wednesday, declining their options while picking up Ubaldo Jimenez‘. What are the odds the team will re-sign them and they’ll be back in Cleveland in 2013? Not very good, according to MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian:
Indians GM Chris Antonetti followed that up with this quote:
“Travis, in his decade with us, not only made a huge impact for the organization on the field, but he and [his wife] Amy really immersed themselves in the Cleveland community and really made an impact here with a lot of their charitable work,” Antonetti said. “We’re very appreciative of all of their contributions, and certainly wish them well moving forward.”
It’s not official that Hafner is gone—”We remain open to it,” Antonetti added—but that quote sure makes his departure sound like a done deal, and it seems like most fans would happy to see him gone for good. My only question is: Why?
It’s no mystery why the team and the fans are frustrated with Hafner. The four-year, $57 million extension Pronk signed in 2007 is generally regarded as one of the most regrettable moves of the Mark Shapiro era after Hafner’s game collapsed in 2008. Though his bat has since rebounded, he’s unable to play the field and injuries have limited him to an average of only 86 games a season over the last five years. Using FanGraphs’ win valuations, Hafner has provided the Indians with just $16.3 million of production over that span while earning almost $50 million.
But to focus on that is to live in the past. There are two things about Hafner that make him look like he could be one of the best signings of the winter for whichever team decides to give him a chance.
First things first: Pronk can still mash the ball. Since 2009, he’s hit .268 with a .361 on-base percentage and a .453 slugging percentage while averaging 24 home runs and 83 RBI per 162 games. His 122 wRC+ (i.e., he’s been 22 percent better than a league-average MLB hitter after adjusting for league and park effects) in that span ties him for 56th in baseball and puts him second on the Indians (after Shin-Soo Choo) among players with at least as many plate appearances.
Beyond that, Hafner will come cheap. The general perception around baseball is that Hafner is washed up and unreliable—heck, he didn’t even make Tim Dierkes’ Top 50 Free Agents list—and he’s going to be paid like it. We don’t know yet how this year’s free agent market will shape up, but I bet Hafner could be had for one year and $3 million, the same deal the Indians gave Casey Kotchman last winter. Throw in the hometown discount Pronk would probably offer to stay in Cleveland and he’d definitely be within the Tribe’s price range.
Of course, money and talent aren’t the only thing that matters for a decision like this; if the Indians are about to start rebuilding, Hafner’s roster spot would be better used on a younger player who has a chance of sticking in Cleveland for the long haul. But if the Tribe wants to compete? Even if you expect him to miss half the season, 81 games of a very good hitter isn’t something to shake a stick at.
If he can be had for the right price—and he probably can—Travis Hafner might prove to be one of the best signings of the offseason. It’d be worth the Indians’ while to seriously entertain the possibility.