What Went Wrong: Travis Hafner


The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the designated hitter who didn’t hit (and got hurt).

(Patrick Smith/Getty)

(Patrick Smith/Getty)

Ever since Hideki Matsui was allowed to leave and Jorge Posada called it a career, the Yankee have tried to keep their DH spot open and use it as a way to keep their regulars both fresh — “half-days off,” as Joe Girardi calls it — and still in the lineup. With Derek Jeter likely coming back plus Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira (and soon enough, Robinson Cano) not going anywhere thanks to their long-term contracts, expect the team to continue the rotating DH approach for the foreseeable future.

Last year the Yankees signed Raul Ibanez to serve as the left-handed half of a DH platoon and that worked well enough as long as you’re willing to ignore everything before mid-September. This season the Bombers turned to another veteran lefty masher, this time former Indians slugger Travis Hafner. Unlike Ibanez, Hafner was both injury-prone and unable to play a position, even in an emergency. Still, at $2M guaranteed, it was a relatively low (financial) risk signing.

Early on, it appeared the Yankees had struck DH gold. Hafner mashed out of camp, starting the season with a seven-game hitting streak (9-for-23, .391) that included two mammoth homeruns. Pronk went on to hit four more homers with nearly as many walks (ten) as strikeouts (12) during the rest of April and he carried that performance right into May. On May 14th, through 37 team games, Hafner was hitting .260/.383/.510 (140 wRC+) and was the team’s second best hitter behind Cano.

As if on cue, right when things seemed to be going well for the Yankees, Hafner’s surgically repaired shoulder started barking. He received a cortisone short and missed four days with tendinitis, and he actually hit well immediately after returning, like 6-for-19 (.316) with a double and two homers well. That didn’t last though. Hafner crashed and crashed hard in late-May and never recovered. In 54 team games from May 27th — the start of the home-and-home series with the Mets, in case you were wondering — through July 26th, Pronk hit .154/.218/.265 with four homers, ten walks, and 44 strikeouts.



With his season batting line sitting at .205/.300/.384 (86 wRC+) through 293 plate appearances, the Yankees placed Hafner on the 15-day DL with a shoulder problem on July 27th. The move cleared a roster spot for Jeter. The bum shoulder kept Hafner out right until the final series of the season, when New York activated him only because he was healthy and they were obligated to activate him. He took an 0-for-4 (with two hit-by-pitches) in the final game of the season, his last act in pinstripes.

Including incentives, the Yankees paid Hafner a total of $3.125M for a .202/.301/.378 (86 wRC+) batting line with 12 homers in 299 plate appearances. He was brought in to mash right-handers, but he instead had no platoon split (88 vs. 85 wRC+ in favor of lefties). That’s a bad thing. Pronk did take advantage of the short porch in right field though, hitting .222/.300/.452 (100 wRC+) with eight of his dozen homers at Yankee Stadium. That was pretty much his only redeeming quality, taking advantage of the short porch.

The Yankees and Brian Cashman have made it very clear they prefer hitters who hit for power and are patient at the plate, two traits that Hafner most definitely offered (on paper). It’s hard to ignore how his performance went south immediately after the shoulder problem in May, so perhaps his dreadful showing for most of the summer can be blamed on injury. Then again, no one should have been surprised when Hafner got hurt. Like so many players this season, the Yankees asked Pronk to do more than he was capable of doing at this point in his career and they got burned.

Categories : Players
  • RetroRob

    I think we all could have predicted and pre-written “What Went Wrong” regarding Hafner and Youkilis at the start of the season.

    The Yankees have had good success in recent years in bringing in these older players, but there is a key difference between the Hafner’s and the Ibanez’s. Health. It’s been suggested it’s a skill. They may not be quite right, but I understand it.

    Ibanez players regularly, so there is a much better chance he will be around to produce compared to more injury-prone players like Hafner.

  • what went wrong

    The Yankees signed him that’s what went wrong.

    • JGYank

      Why not sign him for $2M? He was an outstanding hittter in the past, has power and plate discipline, and fits our ballpark. No reason not to sign a guy that for $2M even if they have declined somewhat and have an injury history.

    • mike

      I agree signing him was the problem and let’s face it age long contracts and age is why the Yankees struggled. too many old players and a mediocre minor league system was too much to overcome.only one 300 hitter and too many number 7 hitters.cashman eiher is incompetent or he is being told what to do by someone who does not care if they win or lose

      • nyyankfan_7

        You my friend are a freaking moron. I love everyone who thinks being a GM is like being a GM in a video game. I’ll trade you my Jayson Nix for your Manny Machado – done and done.

        • Dick M

          We don’t expect Machado for Nix. We do expect an occasional prospect to pan out though. We haven’t developed a front of the rotation pitcher since Andy Pettitte which was almost 20 yrs ago.

          • RetroRob

            And it’s been a horrible string of failures for the New York Yankee organization over the past 20 years. Perhaps one day this organization will figure out how to do things and win games.

            • Dick M

              The Yankee success over the last 20 years was fueled, primarily, in 2 ways. First, we had a development boon (Core 4 etc) in the early to mid 90s. Second, we leveraged our financial advantages to acquire talent through free agency, international signings, taking on contracts, etc.

              The problem is we are very poor at drafting/development and the opps to leverage the financial advantage the way we did in the past just aren’t there any more.

              Your inane response really does not nothing to refute the assertion that we haven’t developed a front line starter since Andy P almost 20 yrs ago.

          • WhittakerWalt

            Poor Robinson Cano. Wish that guy had panned out.

  • mick taylor

    what went wrong with yanks was not hafner or youk. it can be summed up in two words , sabathia and hughes. if they had pitched even half way decent yanks are in playoffs. in fact, if hughes alone were 9-7, rather than 4-14, yanks problably are in playoffs

    • JGYank

      Yep. The bullpen collapse and injuries didn’t help either. But when your lineup only scores 650 runs in a hitter’s park, your pitching (and defense) has to be stellar to contend and make it to October. Can’t put all the blame on the pitching even with the injuries to the lineup.

    • BFDeal

      Of course you would say this, considering your off-season man crush on Hafner.

  • PunkPitch

    Considering the risk of injury based on his prior MLB service, Hafner went exactly right, not wrong. Scrap heaps rarely yield gems. Cashman is where the buck stops, he must come up with a better plan.

  • SMK

    What Went Wrong: 2013.

    End of story.

  • mike

    Honestly, its hard to expect more than just-under-league-average for $2mm….. the issue with the Pronk signing was that if he didnt mash, he was worthless because he couldnt even pretend a position. so, the Yanks started the seasons with one roster spot taken when they clearly needed more help at other positions – to the point that when Tex got hurt, Pronk wasn’t even a thought to put at 1B

    He should have been cut when he went south, because by holding on to him it showed me that cashman believed he could still help…..instead of realizing he caught lightening in a bottle for 150 AB’s

  • Steve In Alabama

    Real nice slip in the opening line about Jorge Posada calling it a career. Let’s call a spade a spade here, Brian Cashman called it a career for Posada and the whole world knows it. There is no reason to try and gloss over Cashman’s missteps.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      Posada did more than enough to show his career was over in 2011.

    • BFDeal

      Oh please.

    • WhittakerWalt

      How deluded do you have to be to think Posada’s retirement is just another CASHMAN FAILED? Jorge’s career was OVER. He was done. If he could have still played somewhere else, he would have.

  • qwerty

    Nothing went wrong with Hafner; he was the same injury prone player he’s been for years now. Anyone expecting anything different is an idiot. I guess we know what that makes Cashman.

    • BFDeal

      You never miss an opportunity to grind that ax of yours, do you?

    • Dick M

      Hafner and Youk were almost 15 mill down the toilet.

      • PunkPitch

        Those moves pale in comparison to the Vernon Wells and Ichiro reclamation projects. I heard that Arte Moreno crapped the bed when hecheard that someone was willing to split the bill, and take Vernon “don’f call me Bonzi” Wells off their hands. A couple more moves like that, and We may all be wearing freakin Mets hats, god forbid.