COMMENTARY | Mid- to late-30s? Oft-injured? History of being overpaid? Power to right field? Travis Hafner seems like a perfect fit for the New York Yankees. (Seriously.)
According to news reports, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman seems poised to gamble on Hafner, whose back and knee problems have limited him to an average of 86 games per season over the past five seasons.
Nevertheless, it seems like a good bet, especially if the reported one-year, $2 million deal (plus incentives) is true. It would keep Hafner's salary off the books for 2014 and likely motivate the man nicknamed "Pronk." After playing in Cleveland for 10 years, the Indians bought out his contract for $2.75 million in October rather than paying him $13 million this season.
Hafner, once an MVP-caliber hitter, may find a saving grace in Yankee Stadium's short porch, even if he ends up in a limited role with the team.
Hafner's batting average last year against right-handed pitchers was .241 - about 40 points higher than it was against left-handers - so he seems likely to start as designated hitter against righties.
As for his defense, Hafner, who turns 36 in June, hasn't started a game in the field since 2007, when he played 11 games at first place. However, he may be the Yankees' best option to back up Mark Teixeira, as last year's back-ups - Nick Swisher, Eric Chavez, Casey McGehee, and Steve Pearce - have all moved on.
If he can stay healthy, Hafner may hit 15-20 home runs this season, replacing the left-handed power that the Yankees lost with Raul Ibanez's move to the Seattle Mariners.
The Yankees tried to get Hafner last year in a deal that would have sent A. J. Burnett to the Indians in a deal for two overpaid veterans; however, the Yankees eventually dealt Burnett to the Pirates and are still paying for part of the pitcher's salary. He's already remembered for getting the Indians' game-winning hit against the Yankees in the 2007 American League Championship Series game that was halted by a swarm of midges around Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain.
Howard Z. Unger is a freelance journalist in Brooklyn, New York. For the past 15 years, he has written about sports, media, and popular culture. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, New York Post, and New York Times.
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