Is Jack Hannahan In the 2012 Picture?
By Craig Gifford
When the Cleveland Indians signed Jack Hannahan this past offseason, it was with the idea he was simply going to keep third base occupied until Lonnie Chisenhall was ready to be called up from AAA Columbus. Once Chisenhall got his promotion he would be groomed as the everyday player at the hot corner, while most thought the journeyman Hannahan would be jettisoned on to his next landing spot by season’s end.
Well, in a summer full of many twists and turns for the Tribe, one of the biggest has been Hannahan. He is going to still til the end of the season and chances are he will be in town a little while longer than that. The 31-year-old, who previously spent brief major league tenures in Detroit, Toronto and Oakland, is not a free agent this coming offseason, but is eligible for arbitration. Indians management would be wise to bring back for at least one more year.
Hannahan, known for his glove, has not disappointed in the field this year. He has been everything the Tribe expected. In 99 games at third, he has committed a remarkably low five errors. Where Hannahan has been a surprise has been at the plate. His best power numbers came in 2008 when he hit nine home runs with 47 RBI for the Athletics. The batting average, at .218, left something to be desired. This season’s numbers, until an August injury, were sure to surpass anything Hannahan had ever done in the batters box. He is sitting at eight home runs, 36 RBI and a career-best .248 average.
Hannahan’s morph from a weak-hitting, good-fielding player to a guy who can field and not be a sure out at the plate has been an unpleasant, but unforeseen, happening in Cleveland.
What was foreseen was Chisenhall’s promotion, which did happen back in June. Despite early struggles, Chisenhall has come on of late. When Chisenhall first got called up, he took over full time at third for a struggling Hannahan. Still in the pennant race in early August and Chisenhall going through rookie pains, manager Manny Acta reinserted Hannahan as the starting third baseman and Chisenhall sort of became an afterthought. Since Hannahan’s injury, Chisenhall has looked more like the future start the Indians are hoping for.
There is no question Chisenhall, who will be 23-years-old at the start of next season, deserves to go to camp as the starting third baseman. Currently sitting at six home runs, 14 RBI and a .239 average, Chisenhall is the future of the Indians at third base and that future should be next season. He should be ready.
However, there is certainly room on the roster for veteran like Hannahan to back him up. Along with backing up a young Chisenhall and being there if the rookie is not ready to go full tilt in his second season, Hannahan provides so much more.
Another interesting twist this year has been at first base. Matt LaPorta, who had so many high expectations placed upon him in 2008 when the Tribe got him in its trade of C.C. Sabbathia to the Brewers, has not met expectations. The disappointment has been so great that LaPorta, tabbed to be the Indians’ much-need right-handed power hitter, was sent to the minors in August. His future is in doubt, leaving catcher Carlos Santana as one of the few Indians with much first base experience. The other Indian is Hannahan. That is now the Indians two most questionable infield positions where Hannahan can play if and when he is needed.
Logic would indicate the Tribe would go into next season with Chisenhall pegged as the starter and likely look for a first baseman in free agency or through trade. However, as seen this year, injuries and the unexpected can ruin the best-laid plans. Hannahan, who will never embarrass with his glove and now seems to be adequate with his bat, would not be a bad guy to have around in tight spot, which is something all baseball teams face in what is a marathon baseball season.
Besides, who else do you really want to see as the utility infielder? At this point, he is a better option than rookie Cord Phelps. As far as going outside the organization for a utility infielder? Why do that? Why take a chance on an unknown journeyman when you already have one you know you can count on?
With arbitration, the price tag oh Hannahan will increase. However, even for the tight-fisted Tribe, it can’t be that high. Bringing Hannahan back for at least one more year would be smart move and one a team that truly hopes to contend in 2012 should do.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images