The Yankees have added another bat to the pile of fringy DH types in Travis Hafner. Hafner is best remembered for being one of the league’s most feared hitters with the Indians in the mid aughts before injuries derailed his career in recent years. The general perception is that Hafner’s washed-up, but he’s actually hit very well whenever he’s managed to stay on the field. Aside from a putrid half-season in 2008, he’s managed to put up above-average offensive numbers year after year (wRC+’s: 115, 126, 125, 119). He’s also posted very good splits against right-handers which would theoretically make him a good platoon DH option. Considering his limited plate appearances in recent years though, I wouldn’t put too much faith in him replicating those splits, but it’s something to keep in mind.
Despite what he’s done with the bat, the fact remains that Hafner is an injury-prone 36 year-old with a skillset that doesn’t age well. So another above-average offensive season is far from guaranteed. To make matters worse, he hasn’t played an inning in the field since 2007 (!) so he probably couldn’t even fake it at first base at this point. But considering his only competition is Dan Johnson and Corban Joseph, he’ll probably end up DH’ing against right-handed pitchers this year whenever he’s not on the DL.
Hafner’s probably still above replacement level at this point, but that’s about all the praise I can give. Throwing a couple of million at him could certainly pay off though, especially if he stays healthy. This signing fits in with the Yankees’ strategy of bringing in broken-down, former superstars on the cheap in hopes that they still have something left in the tank. It’s paid off in the past with guys like Ichiro, Eric Chavez, Bartolo Colon, and Freddy Garcia, so hopefully Hafner will produce similar results. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see them bring in Grady Sizemore, another erstwhile Indian who fits this mold, to add to the mix.
There’s a very good chance that Hafner’s the highest profile signing the Bombers will make to fill the OF/DH vacancies which says a lot about what the Yankees have become in recent months. While there are reasons to be optimistic about Hafner this year, his injury history reads like a Tolstoy novel so there’s absolutely no guarantee he even makes it through spring training without succumbing to some sort of injury. In addition, carrying a strictly DH-only platoon player on the roster would severely limit the team’s roster flexibility—especially with guys like Derek Jeter and A-Rod potentially needing to DH every once in a while. Still though, he’s better than the other internal options and has the potential for a nice season if you squint hard enough.
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