The Yankees quietly signed Travis Hafner last week to a one-year $2 million dollar deal to become their primary designated hitter against right-handers for the upcoming season. So what does the signing mean for Hafner and the Yankees? Well, any discussion about the former All-Star begins with the obvious questions about his ability to stay healthy. The last time he played a full season was way back in 2007, which also was the year the Indians signed him to the now infamous $57 million contract extension. Since then, here are his games played totals for the next five years: 57, 94, 118, 94 and 66 last year. So it came as no surprise to anyone that the Indians walked away from his $13 million option this year, paying him $2.75 million to officially close the book on a contract that has hamstrung the franchise in recent years.
Last season, the Yankees waited until the end of Spring Training before signing Raul Ibanez at the bargain basement price of $1.1 million. There was a reasonable expectation that after his post-season heroics and a season that saw him fill in admirably in LF after Brett Gardner went down that the Yankees would bring the fan favorite back to town. Well, it didn’t happen. The Yankees have been forced to take a harder stance this year with their impending free agents, and as such Ibanez followed Nick Swisher and Russell Martin out of the Bronx, and the Yankees set their sights on finding a replacement. The recent news swirling around Alex Rodriguez, including another hip surgery and connection to the latest PED scandal brewing in Miami, put even more emphasis on the Yankees trying to bring in someone who could provide some power from the DH spot. I haven’t seen it talked about much, but the Bombers are slated to start the year with Ichiro Suzuki in RF and Brett Gardner in LF. While both bring a lot to the table, they don’t provide very much pop.
Hafner, for all his injury concerns, can still do one thing pretty well and that is hit righties. Since 2008, almost 75% of his home runs have come against RHP. He also likes to pull the ball, which makes his move to Yankee Stadium a positive, as he should enjoy taking aim at the short porch, much the way Ibanez did last year. This is in a lot of ways a perfect marriage of team, player and ballpark. It’s a low-risk signing for the Yankees, who at the very least hope that Hafner can fill the void until a potential return of A-Rod around mid-season. The best case scenario is that Hafner thrives in a part-time roll, mashes RHP and puts up his first 20-homer season in six years.
So what does it all mean to you the fantasy player? Well, the downside to Hafner is he is a man without a position, and unlike David Ortiz, he can’t be counted on to play every day even if he somehow manages to stay healthy. It’s hard enough to burn a roster spot on a UT-only eligible player, but even less attractive when the guy can’t be counted on to provide regular AB’s. As such, I can’t really recommend Hafner in anything but the deepest of mixed leagues for the upcoming season. In AL-only leagues, he will have a little more value as an endgame pick because he should still be able to deliver some power and production until he breaks down yet again.
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