Update: Hafner day-to-day with right shoulder tendinitis

10:42pm: Hafner has tendinitis in the shoulder and is day-to-day. He received a cortisone shot. Joe Girardi said he could return to the lineup as soon as tomorrow, but I’m guessing he’ll get at least one more day to rest. Wouldn’t be the worst idea.

3:59pm: Travis Hafner will miss at least the next few days with a sore right shoulder. He is heading for a precautionary MRI, but given his injury history, every bump and bruise is a red flag. The 35-year-old is hitting .260/.383/.510 (140 wRC+) overall this year despite slumping hard in May (23 wRC+). Hafner had debridement surgery on his right shoulder back in 2008 and missed time with soreness and inflammation in both 2009 and 2010.

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New-look middle of the order carrying the Yankees offensively

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

We all knew the Yankees’ lineup would look a little different coming into the year, but an injury-filled Spring Training meant the offense looked even more different than expected when the regular season opened last week. Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner were the only players in the lineup for both Opening Day 2012 and Opening Day 2013, and a whopping six players made their debut for the team last Monday. That’s the first time that’s happened in over 100 years, since before the Yankees were the Yankees (they were the Highlanders at the time).

Two series and six games into the season, it’s the new-look middle of the order that has carried the club offensively. The players who were with the team last year — specifically talking about Cano and Ichiro Suzuki here — have mostly been a drain on the offense. I’m talking about a combined .631 OPS for those two. No, seriously. If you add Cano’s (.330) and Ichiro‘s (.301) OPS together, that’s what you get. Good grief. Thank goodness it’s only been six games.

Anyway, here are some happier numbers…

  • Kevin Youkilis: 9-for-22 (.409), two walks, one hit-by-pitch (.480 OBP), four doubles, one homer (.727 SLG)
  • Travis Hafner: 7-for-20 (.350), two walks (.409 OBP), one homer (.500 SLG)
  • Vernon Wells: 5-for-17 (.294), four walks (.429), one double, two homers (.706 SLG)

The Yankees have scored 24 total runs this year and those three guys have scored (11) and driven-in (11) basically half of them (46% to be exact). New York is hitting .272/.323/.399 as a team but without those three it drops down to .194/.273/.295. Youkilis, Hafner, and Wells have really carried the load in the first six games. They’re driving the offense.

Now, here’s the bad news: these guys aren’t going to keep hitting like this forever. Youkilis seems like the best bet to continue providing big production, but he’s still going to come back to Earth at some point. The good news is that some other players in the lineup — specifically Cano, Ichiro, and Gardner — will improve going forward to help balance things out. That’s usually how things go, some players are slumping while others are hot and it evens out. When it happens during the first week of the season, we tend to notice. When it happens in the middle of the dog days, no one really cares.

Despite yesterday’s seven-run outburst, the Yankees have struggled offensively in their six games this year. Those struggles pale in comparison to the pitching problems, but they exist nonetheless. They need (especially) Cano and some others to start hitting as much as they need the middle of the bullpen to straighten itself out because Youkilis, Hafner, and Wells won’t be able to carry the offense all year as they have so far. That trio has been awesome, but they still need some help sooner rather than later.

Travis Hafner scratched from today’s game with “general stiffness”

3:56pm: Joe Girardi said during the YES Network’s in-game interview that there is no concern about Hafner on his part. They’re just playing it safe.

2:06pm: Travis Hafner has been scratched from this afternoon’s game against Army with what the Yankees are calling “general stiffness.” I’m guessing the team is just being cautious so close to opening day, but Hafner’s lengthy injury history means every little bump and bruise is worth monitoring. We’ll probably find out more after the game.

2013 Season Preview: The Designated Hitters

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees will open 2013 with their fifth different primary DH in the last five seasons, and that is completely by design. Hideki Matsui‘s knees relegated him to almost exclusive DH duty in 2008 and 2009, creating roster and lineup inflexibility. The team dealt with a similar issue in 2010 with Jorge Posada.

Otherwise, New York has tried to use that DH spot as a revolving door, which is a trend spreading throughout the league. Rather than have one set everyday DH, they’ve picked up a low-cost left-handed hitter to platoon with their older players at the position. Brett Gardner‘s injury forced Raul Ibanez — who was signed to be that low-cost left-handed half of the DH platoon — in the outfield more than expected last season, which is why ten different players started games at DH last year. Only one (Alex Rodriguez) started more than 25 games there.

The Starter(s)
This summer’s low-cost left-handed DH is long-time Cleveland Indian Travis Hafner, who signed a one-year contract with a $2M base salary in early-February. The 35-year-old hit .228/.346/.438 (118 wRC+) with 12 homers in 263 plate appearances last season, including .241/.361/.437 (123 wRC+) against righties. Over the last three seasons, Pronk has hit .267/.363/.447 (124 wRC+) overall and .278/.385/.470 (136 wRC+) against right-handers, which is exactly what the Yankees want him to do in 2013. It’s a very simple job, just hit right-handers and take advantage of the short porch.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Yankees have already admitted their plan to use Derek Jeter as their full-time DH against left-handers, at least early in the season. The move has more to do with getting him off his feet following late-October ankle surgery than his ability to mash southpaws — .364/.399/.542 (157 wRC+) in 2012 and .344/.403/.515 (150 wRC+) since 2010 — which is completely understandable. Jeter, 38, could use the regular rest following surgery even if serving as the DH is only a half-day off, so to speak. That will presumably force Eduardo Nunez into the field as shortstop on a fairly regular basis.

There are two concerns with a Hafner-led DH platoon. One, he doesn’t play a position at all. He hasn’t played first base regularly since 2005 or at all since 2007, so unlike Ibanez last year, he won’t be able to fill-in anywhere in case of injury. That’s already a problem in the wake of Mark Teixeira‘s wrist injury. Second, Hafner himself is an injury risk. He had right shoulder surgery in October 2008 and has been on the DL six times in the four years since, including two times in both 2011 and 2012. Ailments have ranged from shoulder soreness to an oblique strain to knee surgery to a bulging disk in his back. Hafner is a very important part of the lineup early in the season with Teixeira and Curtis Granderson hurt, but he’s unlikely to make it through the entire season unscathed himself.

The Backup
No team carries a backup DH. The position doesn’t exist. If and when Hafner gets hurt, the Yankees will do what they did last year. They’ll rotate players in and out of the position to rest them, with a bench player like Nunez or the right-handed hitting outfielder to be named later seeing more playing time in the field. Jeter, Teixeira, Granderson, A-Rod, Kevin Youkilis, Robinson Cano … all of them would see time at DH should anything happen to Hafner.

Knocking on the Door
Again, no team stashes a backup DH in the minors. The obvious answer for the Yankees here would be first baseman Dan Johnson, who looks poised to open the season as Teixeira’s temporary replacement. Outfielders Thomas Neal and Zoilo Almonte, first baseman Luke Murton, and infielders Corban Joseph and David Adams could all be called up if Hafner goes down and see playing time in some capacity. DH depth isn’t clearly defined like it is for other positions, it won’t be one set guy to come off the bench or up from Triple-A if the DH spot becomes suddenly vacant.

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
(AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

The Top Prospect
I didn’t rank a single DH prospect in my preseason top 30 list because DH prospects don’t exist. The closest we’ve seen to one is Jesus Montero, who is being given every opportunity to catch in the big leagues. It’s the ultimate last resort position. I guess Ronnie Mustelier could be considered the team’s top DH prospect given his good bat and poor defense, but he won’t be moving there anytime soon. Below-average defense is better than zero defense in some instances, especially since most hitters see their offensive production decline when serving as the DH. It’s not an easy thing to do, sitting around between at-bats.

The Deep Sleeper
The Yankees don’t have a true DH prospect at all, nevermind in the lower minors. If someone is stuck playing DH semi-regularly in a short season league, they ain’t no prospect. I’ll take Yeicok Calderon, who I mentioned yesterday in the right field write-up. He can hit a little but stinks defensively, so maybe he winds up a DH down the line. Otherwise, nothing to see here.

* * *

The Yankees will rely on Hafner and Jeter at DH this year, especially early in the season. Others like Youkilis and Cano will see some time at the position as well, just to get a day away from the field, and guys like Almonte and Mustelier provide some depth in Triple-A. Hafner is very important to the Yankees though, especially while Teixeira and Granderson are out. It’s not at all a stretch to call him their second best offensive player at the moment.

Other Previews: Catchers, First Basemen, Second Basemen, Shortstops, Third Basemen, Left Fielders, Center Fielders, Right Fielders

The Importance of Travis Hafner

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

There’s no question the Yankees downgraded their offense this winter, specifically in right field and behind the plate. They did upgrade the left-handed half of the DH platoon though, at least in theory. Raul Ibanez‘s super-clutch late-season homers made it easy to forget he hit .202/.281/.359 for nearly 300 plate appearances (292, to be exact) from mid-May through mid-September and was in danger of being left off the postseason roster. We all love Raul, but he had to be replaced.

The replacement the Bombers brought in is long-time Indian Travis Hafner, who signed a one-year deal worth $2M guaranteed earlier this month. Joe Girardi confirmed last week that Hafner will be the team’s primary DH against right-handers and nothing else — “He’s a DH … that’s the plan,” said the skipper flatly — a role for which he is well-suited. The 35-year-old hit .241/.361/.437 (123 wRC+) against righties last season and .278/.385/.470 (136 wRC+) over the last three years, but he’s not completely useless against southpaws either (92 wRC+ since 2010). A lefty specialist in the late innings shouldn’t result in an automatic out like it did with Ibanez.

Brian Cashman used the term “big, hairy monster” this offseason to describe the type of hitters he prefers, and Hafner pretty clearly fits the mold. For one, he’s a pretty big dude — the team’s official site lists him at 6-foot-3 and 240 lbs. — with broad shoulders and scary-looking biceps and forearms. Two, his menacing batting stance …

… looks like something that would say “I’m going to hurt this baseball and kick your dog” to the pitcher if it could talk. It’s mean.

Third, he hits the ball a frickin’ mile. Hafner’s homers have averaged 398.5-ft since 2010 according to Hit Tracker, which is a huge number. Mark Teixeira, who I think we can all agree has big time power and is capable of hitting majestic blasts, has averaged 390.5-ft with his dingers over the last three years. Hafner will get some help from the short porch, but he has a knack for making most parks look small to start with.

Anyway, Hafner is important to the Yankees because he adds some much needed depth to the lineup. He fits in perfectly behind the middle-of-the-order trio of Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, and Teixeira, and in fact the best lineup might have Granderson hitting second and Hafner hitting fifth. That’s a conversation for another time though. The important thing is that Hafner’s on-base ability will help mitigate the loss of Nick Swisher without sacrificing any power production.

Of course, the problem here is that Hafner gets hurt. Like, all the time. He’s visited the DL at least twice in each of the last two seasons and at least once in each of the last five. The ailments range from shoulder surgery (2008) to an oblique strain (2011) to knee surgery (2012) to a bulging disc in his back (2012). Despite his defensive and on-base shortcomings, Ibanez always managed to stay on the field (one DL trip since 2004). That’s why I said the Yankees upgraded the DH spot in theory before, it’s only an upgrade if Hafner avoids the DL.

The Yankees have used a different primary DH in each of the last four seasons, so Hafner will make it five in five years in 2013. He should, at least on a rate base, but the team’s most productive DH since Hideki Matsui in 2009, but that’s only if he stays healthy. Remember, a player doesn’t have to be on the DL for an injury to be a problem either, playing hurt could be more harmful that just sitting out. I’m looking forward to watching Hafner mash some taters this summer, and the Yankees better hope he’s out there more often than not.

Yankees agree to sign Travis Hafner

I wonder if former Indians teammate CC Sabathia did any lobbying... (Leon Halip/Getty)
Reunited with former Indians teammate CC Sabathia. (Leon Halip/Getty)

Saturday: The contract includes an additional $4M in incentives according to the AP. Hafner will earn $100k each for his 150th and 155th plate appearances, with six-figure payouts for every 15 plate appearances thereafter. He’s going to rack up some big incentive bucks in a hurry if he stays healthy.

Friday: Spring Training opens in less than two weeks, and the Yankees finally have their new DH. New York has agreed to sign Travis Hafner to a one-year contract according to Jon Heyman. Ken Davidoff and Dan Barbarisi say the deal is worth $2M guaranteed with “reachable incentives.” The contract is pending a physical, which is far from a slam dunk in this case. The Yankees will need to make a corresponding 40-man roster move once things are finalized.

Hafner, 35, picked the Yankees over the Rays according to Buster Olney. He’s a career .278/.381/.507 (135 wRC+) hitter who had some monster seasons back in the day (167 wRC+ from 2004-2006). Hafner hit .267/.363/.447 (124 wRC+) overall and .278/.385/.470 (136 wRC+) against right-handers over the last three years. The one they call Pronk takes a lot of walks (12.7% since 2010) and his strikeout rate is a touch better than the league average (19.2 K%). He’s not a dead pull hitter (2010-2012 spray chart) but he is most dangerous when he hooks the ball into right. The move into Yankee Stadium should boost his numbers plenty.

Injuries have been a big problem for Hafner the last few years, which is why the physical is not given. He had right shoulder surgery (debridement) in October 2008 and right knee surgery (meniscus) this past May. Shoulder inflammation (2010), an oblique strain (2011), a foot strain (2011), and a bulging disc in his lower back (2012) are also in the not-too-distant past. Hafner has played in 95+ games just once in the last five years (2010). Staying on the field has definitely been an issue and will be a concern in 2013.

Hafner has not played the field regularly since 2003 or at all since 2007, so he’s strictly a DH. It’s not ideal, but the options are limited at this point. He’s also a big lumbering dude (listed at 6-foot-3 and 240 lbs.) who offers no speed whatsoever. We’re talking never gonna take the extra base, will need three singles to score from first, Molina-esque speed. Mark Teixeira will look like Brett Gardner by comparison. Okay, maybe he’s not that slow, but you get the point. Hafner’s career-low .233 BABIP lat year can be blamed on a sky-high 10.1% infield fly ball rate, but otherwise his batted ball profile was unchanged.

The Yankees signed Dan Johnson to a minor league contract last week, so he’s likely ticketed for Triple-A Scranton now. Hafner’s lack of durability means Johnson will probably get a shot at some point, however. Bench help and general pitching depth are the last remaining items on the offseason agenda since it’s now obvious a new starting catcher just isn’t happening. Matt Diaz (minor league deal), Russ Canzler (waivers), and Juan Rivera (minor league deal) will compete for the right-handed bench bat role while Jayson Nix and Eduardo Nunez are the favorites for the backup infielder spot.

Update: Yankees on the verge of deal with Travis Hafner

Thursday: The Yankees are on the verge of a deal with Hafner according to Chad Jennings. They two sides are finalizing some contract language and the agreement could be announced as soon as later today. The deal is believed to be along the lines of the one-year, $1.1M contract Raul Ibanez signed last year.

Wednesday: Via Rob Bradford: The Yankees might be nearing a deal with free agent DH Travis Hafner. Dan Barbarisi says Pronk is believed to want more than a minor league contract, and Jon Heyman says the team is talking to other players as well.

Hafner, 34, hit .228/.346/.438 (119 wRC+) in 263 plate appearances for the Indians last season while dealing with a bulging disc in his lower back. Various injuries, most notably right shoulder surgery, have limited him to just 429 of 910 possible games over the last five years. Hafner is a pure DH who can’t play a position (even in an emergency) or hit left-handed pitchers, but he’s a lefty bat with power and patience. Classic Yankees hitter. Given the available options right now, he’s by far the best.