With the additions of Nick Swisher, Drew Stubbs, Mark Reynolds, and Brett Myers, just about every starting spot in Cleveland’s 2013 lineup and rotation is pretty much set, with one exception: designated hitter. The Indians have a number of internal options to fill their DH spot, or they could forsake a regular DH in favor of keeping the spot open to rest their regulars.
Hafner, 35, played only 66 games last year and has topped 94 appearances only once since 2007 but is still a very good hitter when he gets in the lineup. He hit .228/.346/.438 (119 wRC+) in 2012—right in line with how he’d hit the previous three seasons—and was on pace for 29 homers and 83 RBI over a full season. Bill James projects Hafner to hit .258/.363/.438 in 100 games in 2013; even after accounting for the relative ease of DHing and Hafner’s poor baserunning, the Simple WAR Calculator pegs such a performance at 0.9 wins above replacement and worth over $4 million.
Thome, 42, made only 58 appearances in 2012 but despite his more advanced age he has generally been more durable than Hafner in the past. The future Hall of Famer hit .252/.344/.442 (112 wRC+) last year and was on pace for 22 homers and 70 RBI over 162 games. Using a basic 5-4-3 weighting system from his last three seasons yields a 2013 projection of a .261/.367/.500 batting line in 82 games, which the Simple WAR Calculator values at 1.1 wins above replacement and nearly $6 million.
Without knowing their respective asking prices I’m not sure which of the two would be a better fit for the Tribe (Hafner is a safer bet, while Thome has higher upside and is more popular in Cleveland) but I’m all in favor of the Indians’ approach. Yes, using a 25-man roster spot on a player who will miss half the season and can’t field has its downsides, but despite their reputations as washed up both Hafner and Thome are far better hitters than anyone else Terry Francona could plug into the DH spot on a regular basis. Plus the Indians have a number of very versatile bench options—Mike Aviles is all but guaranteed a spot on the roster, and Yan Gomes and Cord Phelps could win places too—so Francona would still have the flexibility to play matchups late in games.
It’s hard to say what Hafner and Thome’s asking prices will be at this point in the offseason, but it’s hard to imagine either one getting more than $2 or $3 million. If the Indians want to compete in 2013, a low-seven figure commitment and a roster spot are a small price to pay to add a booming bat to their lineup.