End Of Season Grades: Designated Hitters
By Mike Brandyberry
September 29 began a two week, end of season grade and breakdown by each position. Certainly after the wild ride the 2011 Cleveland Indians took fans on, grades, projections and areas of improvement are all sought for 2012, with the goal being a playoff team next season. Today, we examine the designated hitters. Be sure to check out our previous features.
.280 AVG, 13 HR, 57 RBI
In 2006, you could count on Travis Hafner for 30-40 home runs, 100 runs batted in and a .300 batting average. He was one of the most feared hitters in the American League. In 2011, Hafner can be counted on shoulder weakness and two to three trips to the disabled list each season.
Hafner appears to have found his swing from the old days, the only problem is that he has lost the strength in his shoulder to drive the ball like he used to. Hafner has only hit 42 home runs over the last three seasons, the same total that matched his career high in 2006. The Indians treat him as if he is a middle of the order, power threat, but other teams no longer fear him in that manner.
This season Hafner had two trips to the disabled list, hampered mostly by a foot problem. After rehab to get healthy and return to the lineup both times, it is still undecided as to whether Hafner will have surgery this offseason to try and fix his ailing problem.
Hafner will enter 2012 in the last guaranteed year of his lucrative four year contract extension, signed in 2007 and worth $13 million for the season. The team has an option for 2013, but for any chance for someone to consider that a possibility, Hafner has to play a full season, logging over 500 plate appearances for the first time since he signed that extension. In addition to being in the lineup everyday, he has to produce more than 13-16 home runs a season.
Heading to 2012, if the Indians are serious about contending to win the Central Division, they can’t continue to treat Hafner as a 3-4-5 hitter. With a healthy lineup, and a right handed bat added to the lineup, Hafner needs to hit closer to the sixth spot unless he finds his home run strength again.
.256 AVG, 15 HR, 50 RBI
When the Indians acquired Jim Thome on August 25, trailing the Tigers by 6.5 games in the standings, everyone hoped the aging legend would return home, put the team on his back and lead them to one last storied chapter in a Hall of Fame career.
Thome was brought to the roster to replace Hafner in the line up when his second disabled list trip left a huge whole in the Indian lineup with postseason still a possibility. While Thome and the Tribe did not provide the story book ending fans had hoped for, he did return to where his career began and made amends with fans who felt snake bitten when he left for Philadelphia after the 2002 season.
It was a fun month, filled with standing ovations, ceremonies and the Tribe legend playing third base again, if only for one pitch. As I stood watching Jim Thome being honored before the game on September 23, I realized it was nearly a generation ago since the slugger donned an Indian uniform, and while it was only a month, it was a special month to share with younger fans what Jim Thome was all about for the Indians of the 90s. For that alone, he earns an A.
Fans would love to see Thome return for 2012, and he’d like to play one more season, however, it really isn’t feasible. With Hafner’s gigantic contract, the team would never be able to move him and the Indians can ill-afford to have a 25-man roster, with only 13 position players, and two of them unable to play the field. Hafner’s shoulder and Thome’s back makes them only a possibility to DH and a team with playoff hopes can’t sacrifice the roster spot.
Hopefully Thome can return in October 2012 to throw out the first pitch for a playoff game.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images