Originally written January 28, 2013 on Waiting For Next Year:
From what I can tell, there seem to be two fairly entrenched camps that have sprung up regarding the Indians’ approach to the designated hitter spot this season. The first group seems to be arguing that the team might be better off without a full-time DH.  The thinking here goes that a designated designated hitter makes the team less adaptable; it would hamstring Terry Francona’s ability mix and match lineups by taking one spot off the table.  It would also take up a valuable roster spot that could more aptly be filled by a player with some versatility.  Travis Hafner’s onerous contract and awful performance are cited heavily in this camp, who would basically prefer to see Mike Aviles in some capacity almost every day—filling in around the diamond at various positions while allowing the regulars to slot in at DH or occasionally take the day off entirely. The second group wants a DH.  They see an everyday spot in the lineup that will currently be filled either by Mike Aviles (.663 OPS in 2012) or Lou Marson (.635) and realize that that sort of production just isn’t good enough—not when you could add in a DH and not lose much in the way of team defense by allowing Marson and Aviles to be role-players rather than everyday ones.  This group also likes to point out that either Travis Hafner or Jim Thome will likely come very cheap, and as long as they are managed properly (i.e. not everyday players, but used in three to four games per week against RHP), there’s a chance they could stay healthy enough to post an OPS north of .850 or so. And I guess that while I usually try to bridge the divide among warring Tribe factions and act as conciliator, I have to say I find myself falling pretty firmly in that second camp, and that the player I keep coming back to to fill the role is Travis Hafner.  There are several reasons for this. First, I really don’t think people realize what it would mean not to add another bat.  While versatility sounds nice, it’s really only helpful if the player who’s being asked to be versatile is actually good.  Mike Aviles and Lou Marson just aren’t, no matter how much we may want them to be. Mike Aviles: YEAR AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+ ISO BABiP wOBA 2008 0.325 0.354 0.480 0.834 121 0.155 0.357 0.360 2009 0.183 0.208 0.250 0.458 22 0.067 0.223 0.203 2010 0.304 0.335 0.413 0.748 104 0.109 0.327 0.330 2011 0.255 0.289 0.409 0.698 89 0.154 0.276 0.303 2012 0.250 0.282 0.381 0.663 76 0.131 0.269 0.288 Lou Marson: YEAR AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+ ISO BABiP wOBA 2008 0.500 0.500 1.250 1.750 337 0.750 1.000 0.730 2009 0.246 0.347 0.361 0.708 90 0.115 0.366 0.320 2010 0.195 0.274 0.286 0.560 58 0.091 0.234 0.258 2011 0.230 0.300 0.296 0.596 70 0.066 0.313 0.271 2012 0.226 0.348 0.287 0.635 84 0.061 0.289 0.296   Second, Travis Hafner is probably a lot better hitter than you realize.  Outside of his execrable 2008 season, he’s never had a wOBA below .340 and never slugged less than .440.  Can you guess how many times Lou Marson and Mike Aviles have done that combined?  That would be one time: Mike Aviles’ 2008 campaign where his BABiP was an anomalous .357.  So even on Hafner’s worst day, he’s a superior hitter to both Aviles and Marson. Travis Hafner: YEAR AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+ ISO BABiP wOBA 2008 0.197 0.305 0.323 0.628 69 0.126 0.241 0.277 2009 0.272 0.355 0.470 0.825 120 0.198 0.297 0.356 2010 0.278 0.374 0.449 0.823 130 0.171 0.332 0.359 2011 0.280 0.361 0.449 0.810 128 0.169 0.332 0.354 2012 0.228 0.346 0.438 0.784 121 0.210 0.233 0.342   Speaking of anomalies, did you know that Hafner’s batting average on balls in play last season was only .233, suggesting some really crummy luck for a player who’d posted BABiP’s of around .300 or better over the prior three seasons?  For this reason alone, I think it’s more likely than not that his 2013 will be better than his 2012 was—and his 2012 was probably much better than anything Mike Aviles is capable of. But even more than all the numbers and evidence that I can throw at you, I keep coming back to the same issue.  How could adding Hafner on a dirt-cheap contract a bad thing?  Let’s pretend he pulls a Sizemore and destroys his shoulder while cashing his first Spring Training check, preventing even one at bat next season.  Then the team will be in the exact position that some fans are already pulling for: Mike Aviles and Lou Marson will be playing major roles.  It’s not like the team is deciding how to spend that million or so bucks; basically, they’re either gonna do it or they’re not.  I don’t see what we gain from not adding him. And why Hafner and not Thome?  I understand the optics would probably play better if we gave the job to the hero from the nineties, but I guess if you’re asking me which one of these guys is more likely to be able to handle 350 plate appearances, I’m going to go with the 35 year old over the 42 year old every day and twice on Sundays.  I still think Hafner was miscast as an everyday player during his previous contract—probably because of his previous contract.  The front office was paying the guy $13 million, and in an effort to recoup the investment, they insisted he play more often than he should have been.  I think on a more appropriately sized contract and with a new manager, the message might be sent rather quickly that Hafner should be used judiciously in order to preserve his health.  He could sit three or so games a week, and arguably be a better version than he has been in recent years. Thome, on the other hand appears much closer to the actual end of his career.  He is 42.  Last season his ISO (slugging minus batting average—a measure of raw power) dropped below .200 for the first time in his career.  He hurt his back while playing first base (good ole Cholly, up to no good), and managed only 186 plate appearances on the season because of it.  I guess I just don’t believe in 42 year old baseball players unless they’re named Barry Bonds, and even then, the bounds of credulity are strained. I say this knowing full-well that I also advocated signing Grady Sizemore last year.  In other words, I may have lost the right to be taken seriously by a sizable portion of the fanbase. But that situation was different to me: the team was choosing how to spend the $5 million they had on hand—they could’ve spent it on Grady OR on a real left fielder OR on a starting pitcher.  This time, they’re either going to spend the million on a DH or they won’t add anything; they’re either going to add potential value, or they’re going to do nothing. Perhaps it speaks to how soured the town has gotten on past-his-prime sluggers from yesteryear, but more and more I seem to be hearing people from that first camp—with more scar tissue built around their baseball psyches than Pronk’s shoulder—advocating that we just can’t go down that road again.  That sometimes, a clean break is best, no matter the cost.
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Antrel Rolle: Amukamara improved after losing virginity

High school football player dies after suffering head injury

Giants shut out Pirates, advance to NLDS

Cowboys' Spillman accused of rape at team hotel

Report: Patriots benched WR for mouthing off to coach

Jose Bautista busts up reporter over Twitter

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Sammy Watkins calls out EJ Manuel

Larry Donnell benches himself in fantasy, loses because of it

Josh Gordon says NFL’s drug policy is harrassment

Steve Smith: Ron Rivera hid in his office after cutting me

Rondo hoping for an opening night return from broken hand

Jon Gruden on Raiders job: 'I'm not thinking about coaching'

WATCH: Matthew McConaughey gives pep talk to Longhorns

ESPN reporter announces she has breast cancer

Byron Scott explains why Kobe wouldn't make a good coach

Hibbert texts Duncan for advice on being like Spurs

Belichick repeats moving 'on to Cincinnati' during presser

Donald Sterling’s wife called the cops on V. Stiviano

WATCH: Mayweather shocked someone doesn’t know who he is

Who is the new face of MLB?

NHL 15 predicts the LA Kings win the Cup again

J.J. Watt buys his mom a new car for her birthday

Ranking the NFL coaches already sitting on the hot seat

WATCH: Smith tells Panthers to go home and mow his lawn

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

Amukamara better after lost virginity?

H.S. player dies after suffering head injury

Cowboys player accused of rape

Scott: Kobe would not be a good coach

Pats WR benched for mouthing off?

Sammy Watkins calls out EJ Manuel

Donnell benches himself in fantasy and loses

Gordon: Drug policy is harrassment

Who is the new face of baseball?

Steve Smith blasts Panthers coach, GM

What will the A’s look like in 2015?

All-Disappointment Team in MLB

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.