Could Thome and Hafner Co-Exist For A Season?
By Craig Gifford
Jim Thome and Travis Hafner, both top-notch power hitters at one point in their careers, have seen their numbers decrease the last couple years thanks to injuries and the aging process. Neither one is likely to ever hit 40 home runs in a season as once was the case for both.
However, this season both have shown to still have a little something left. Hafner, who next year will be in the final year of his mega contract he signed in 2007, found some rejuvenation early in the season and is sitting at 11 home runs and 49 RBI in just 84 games, thanks to another injury-plagued season. Thome, the Indians’ all-time home run leader the club brought back in August, has played in 85 games, driving 13 home runs and 43 RBI. He will be a free agent this winter and probably won’t command a lot of money on the open market.
Those numbers show some interesting things about both players. They will both end up playing in slightly more than half the games of the 162-game season. Because of age, the 41-year-old Thome will probably never be in a lineup much more than 90 times a season. He can still contribute and could probably be had this offseason for a paltry (in sports terms) couple million dollars.
Hafner, at 34 and having gone through four seasons of injury issues, is doubtful to play much more than half a season again in his career. When not nursing an injury or slowed by a long stretch of games played, Hafner has shown to have something left in the tank. The Tribe is on the hook to pay Pronk $13 million next season. That much money for a part-time DH is ridiculous. However, how would you feel about paying a full-time DH $15 million if he could hit 30 home runs, while driving in 100? Pretty good, right?
Well, that scenario is staring the Indians right in the face. They will have Hafner next season. With no reason to think the man who once had a stadium section named for him (Prokville) will come close to a full season, having a Plan B seems logical. Why not make that Plan B, Thome? Again, $2 million could probably bring Thome back for a full season, likely his last, in the city where he became famous. You are paying the two DHs a combined $15 million, which is about the going rate for a prime DH.
If you enter the season with both left-handed hitters, you would know neither will play for a long stretch. Manager Manny Acta could play one of them four days a week and the other three days. Considering most weeks have one off day, each slugger plays three times (two days in a row, tops) and stays fresh that way. Under this plan, the Tribe would keep both players potentially injury free and maximize their talents. Figuring Hafner and Thome in a half season of good health could put up 15 home runs and 50 RBI, now the Indians have one of the best DH’s in the league, when combining the two.
The argument most people will drum up is that the tight-fisted Dolans would never sign off on a move that sees their highest paid player, Hafner, purposely benched for half the season. However, wouldn’t it be better to see a combined DH who could be around all year than have Hafner as the only DH, knowing it’s just a matter of time until he is lost with his latest ailment?
As for the other argument of a guy who can’t play in the field taking up a roster spot every night, that too can be contended. While it’s true that the Indians would go into every game with a player on their bench who could only pinch hit, that is not all bad. How often did Hafner get on base late in a close game only to be removed for pinch runner? The pinch runner, usually a slap hitter like Cord Phelps, Orlando Cabrera or Ezequiel Carrera did not have the same imposing bat if the game was extended to extra innings. Now, if Hafner were to be removed for a pinch runner, Thome could come in and vice-versa.
Also, how often is every player on the bench actually used in a single game, especially in the American League? Not often. Having a two-DH setup would be perfect for the Indians going into next year. Let Thome play one more full season in a Tribe uniform and let both play as pain-free as possible. How can this possibly be bad? Doesn’t seem it can be.
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