It’s been an off season of moves for the Cleveland Indians, from exciting to boring. A new manager, right fielder and a highly touted pitching prospect headline the moves made by the Tribe. However one spot they have neglected and will have to address soon is designated hitter.
For the past 10 years the DH has been Travis Hafner. After signing a 5 year deal for over $12 million per season after the 2007 season, Hafner has been a major disappointment. The 35-year-old was limited to just 66 games in 2012 because of a back injury. After his wife gave birth to a baby boy in July, Hafner injured his back lifting the baby. That caused him to miss all but the last week of the season. Hafner hit just .228, with 12 home runs and 34 RBI’s.
Over the years it has been the back, knee, shoulder and other minor body aches and pains that have kept him out of the lineup for a substantial amount of time. He has not put in a full season since 2007 and it’s a gamble to think he ever will again.
At the end of last season the Tribe declined their club option and paid off his contract for $2.5 million, thus making the oft-injured lefty slugger a free agent. Yet the team hasn’t lost contact, hoping to bring him back at a lower price.
That may not happen. It’s been reported Hafner is close to signing with the New York Yankees, who have been in the market for a new DH since losing Raul Ibanez. On the surface Hafner may seem to fit with the Bronx Bombers, but that isn’t the case.
Hafner has been the idyllic DH, only playing in that spot. Since a shoulder injury in 2008 he has been unable to play anywhere except DH. That fact put the Indians in a tenable position when playing National League clubs. Hafner had to sit the bench and only pinch hit. This will not fit well with the Yankees who like their players to be flexible. Ibanez may have been a full time DH, but he was also able to play the outfield. Which he did on many occasions.
Frankly the move of Hafner to the Yankees should be of no concern to the Indians. Hafner has been a major disappointment, mainly because of injuries. His problems, without placing blame except on coincidence, began when Major League Baseball began cracking down on PED’s. Since 2007, Hafner hasn’t been the same player and cannot get into a groove because of the excessive time off.
So where do the Indians go for a DH? Currently, besides Hafner, they are looking in two other directions. One is Jim Thome. The Ex-Indian, Phillie, Twin and Oriole is a man without a team, yet is still interested in playing. Thome would be welcomed back to Cleveland for a third time, yet is on the last legs of a fantastic career. He could be used as a platoon DH only against righties. But he cannot be signed for anything more than $2 million in base salary with incentives.
That leaves two options for the other DH. The Indians and manager Terry Francona say they are going to give newly acquired catcher Yan Gomes a shot in spring training. Gomes has had about 100 at bats with Toronto, with minimal success. He could platoon with Thome as the righty DH.
Another alternative could be Manny Ramirez. It was stated in this corner one year ago Cleveland should have brought Ramirez back for a look. That thought holds true now. Bring in Ramirez for March and see what his bat looks like. It would be interesting to see Ramirez and Thome, the corner pieces of the 90’s, platoon for the Tribe in the 2000’s.
One obstacle might be Francona. His honest feelings about Manny have never been revealed after his disruptive ending in Boston. Francona might put an end to that idea before it ever gets started.
“Position by committee” is the outlook at designated hitter for the Indians this year. Nobody has laid claim to the spot but it will be a key piece to any winning they have a shot at.
Dave Mitchell co-hosts with Mark Donahue the UST talk show “Ohio Baseball Weekly,” highlighting the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds. The Show returns on March 4th at 9pm with a two hour special.