Indians' Hafner must reach into his past
The 2012 season will be an important one for Travis Hafner, as it could be his last as a member of the Indians.
The 34-year-old designated hitter is entering the last year of a four-year $57 million contract. Hafner will make $13 million in 2012. The Indians hold a $13 million club option for 2013. The buyout on the option year is $2.75 million.
Hafner signed that contract in July of 2007, which was the last of his peak years for the Indians. In a four-year span from 2004-07, Hafner batted .296 with a .410 on base percentage and .567 slugging percentage.
In the four years from 2008-11, Hafner hit .264 with a .355 on base percentage and .435 slugging percentage.
Unfortunately for Hafner and the Indians, for most of the last four years he has been hampered by injuries, mostly because of a right-shoulder injury that required surgery following the 2008 season.
As a result of that injury, and the prolonged recovery from the surgery, Hafner's playing time and production has plummeted. From 2004-07 he averaged 140 games played per season. From 2008-11 he played an average of only 91 games per season.
In those four injury-plagued seasons, Hafner averaged 12 home runs, 45 RBI, 18 doubles and 38 runs. In his four peak years, he averaged 32 home runs, 108 RBI, 35 doubles and 92 runs.
That massive drop in production, Hafner's advancing age, and the stated desire of manager Manny Acta to have a designated hitter who can also play a position all makes it likely that 2012 will be Hafner's last year in Cleveland.
Barring an unexpected return to his pre-shoulder surgery form in 2012, it seems all but certain that the Indians will not exercise the club option on Hafner's contract for 2013.
Reliever Ray signs minor league deal
--RHP Chris Ray signed a minor league contract with the Indians on Jan. 12 -- his 30th birthday -- and received an invitation to Cleveland's spring training camp.
Ray went 3-2 with a 4.68 ERA in 29 games with the Mariners last season and spent time on the disabled list with a shoulder injury. He was released in August.
He had 33 saves for the Orioles in 2006 and 16 more in 2007 before injuring his elbow and undergoing reconstructive surgery. He has had four saves in the subsequent four seasons.
--RHP Robinson Tejeda has been signed to a minor league contract, with an invitation as a non-roster player to major league training camp. Tejeda, 29, missed most of the first two months of the 2011 season with right shoulder inflammation. He had a 6.14 ERA in nine relief appearances with Kansas City, then spent the rest of the season at Class AAA Omaha, where he had a 3.80 ERA in 31 relief appearances.
--OF Kosuke Fukudome, who had a decent year with the Indians after coming to Cleveland in a mid-season trade with the Cubs last year, remains a free agent. Indians officials have given no indication that they have a very strong inclination to attempt to re-sign him. In 237 at bats for the Indians last year, Fukudome hit .249 with five home runs and 22 RBI, and played well defensively in right field and center field.
--LHP Rafael Perez was a key member of a strong nucleus of relievers in the Indians' bullpen in 2011, but he bears watching in the early months of 2012. Perez's earned run average in 2011 rose with each passing month. He had a 0.00 ERA in 11 appearances in April, but his ERA was 1.93 in May, 2.77 in June, 3.72 in July, 3.86 in August, and 6.75 in September.
--OF Grady Sizemore was once one of the more feared base runners in the American League, stealing 33 bases in 2007 and 38 in 2008. However, after undergoing surgeries on both knees, Sizemore nearly stopped running completely in 2011, raising questions if he will ever again be a stolen base threat. In 2011, for the first time in his career, Sizemore did not have a stolen base. He had two stolen base attempts and was thrown out both times.
--INF Jason Donald's strong finish to the 2011 season probably gives him a leg up in the competition for one of the utility infielder jobs in 2012. So does this: the Indians only batted .258 vs. left-handed pitching in 2011, but Donald hit .377 against lefties.
BY THE NUMBERS: 5.2 -- Average number of runs per game scored by the Indians in the 11 starts made last year by RHP Ubaldo Jimenez, who despite that support was only 4-4 with a 5.10 ERA in those starts.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "When he's healthy, he's a very productive hitter." -- General manager Chris Antonetti on DH Travis Hafner, who because of various injuries has averaged 91 games played in each of the last four years.
The Indians finished the season with a rotation that is much less of a question mark than it was at the start, but they began to address it by acquiring RHP Derek Lowe from the Braves. RHPs Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin both won 12 games, and the midseason acquisition of RHP Ubaldo Jimenez gives the Indians a solid top three to their rotation. The bullpen was playoff-caliber all year. Offensively, Cleveland has question marks in the outfield and at first base. The team also must decide on whether Carlos Santana, who played both catcher and first base in 2011, is better suited to play one position or the other full-time, or if he should continue to split time between the two spots.
ARRIVALS: OF Aaron Cunningham (trade with Padres), INF Jose Lopez (minor league free agent from Marlins), OF Felix Pie (minor league free agent from Orioles), RHP Derek Lowe (trade with Braves).
DEPARTURES: INF/OF Luis Valbuena (traded to Blue Jays), DH Jim Thome (free agent, signed with Phillies).
FREE AGENTS: OF Kosuke Fukudome, RHP Chad Durbin.
Fukudome was a useful player after being a acquired in a trade with the Cubs, but there is no way the budget-conscious Indians will offer him anything close to the $13 million salary he made this year. Durbin will not be re-signed because the Indians have multiple, and more economically priced minor league prospects who can fill Durbin's role.
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: RHP Chris Perez, LHP Rafael Perez, RHP Joe Smith, OF Shin-Soo Choo, SS Asdrubal Cabrera, 3B Jack Hannahan, RHP Justin Masterson.
The Indians may try to sign Cabrera, their MVP this year, to a multiyear deal, which would buy Cabrera out of his last arbitration year and beyond, although the club has of late shied away from such long-term deals. Choo and the Indians had preliminary discussions on a multiyear deal in spring training this year, but those talks went nowhere.
--RHP Justin Masterson (arthroscopic left shoulder surgery in October 2011) should be ready for spring training.
--RHP Carlos Carrasco (Tommy John surgery in September 2011) will spend the offseason rehabbing. He is expected to miss the entire 2012 season.
--LF Michael Brantley (right hand surgery in August 2011) will spend the offseason rehabbing after having the hamate bone removed. He should be ready for spring training.