Travis Hafner signed with the New York Yankees today, ending his 10 season tenure with the Cleveland Indians. Hafner was acquired by the Indians with Aaron Myette from the Texas Rangers in exchange for backup catcher Einar Diaz and failed pitching prospect Ryan Drese. It is one of the best trades the Indians have ever made. From 2004 to 2006 Hafner was one of the best, if not the best, hitter in MLB with seasons ranging between 4.8 and 5.9 WAR. Hafner was in the discussion for American League MVP in 2006 before being hit in the hand by C.J. Wilson and missing September. A 5.9 WAR season when he missed the last month of the season is Hall of Fame level offensive production over a single season.
Expectations for Hafner (or “Pronk” as he was affectionately known) were never higher than before the 2007 season. He was better than average in 2007 but was not the same hitter as he was from 2004 to 2006. He did play 152 games, a career high but only provided 24 home runs and his slugging percentage dropped significantly. Mark Shapiro thought Hafner would regain his 2004 to 2006 form and signed Hafner to a four year, $57 million extension that started in 2009 and ended in the 2012 season. Unfortunately Hafner could not stay healthy, first with a shoulder injury in 2008 and a variety of upper and lower-body injuries after that. He averaged 86 games played per season between 2008 and 2012 and was still a productive hitter, but not at an elite level. It was time for “Pronk” to go. I think the Yankees are a great fit for him and I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if he comes through with a clutch hit in the playoffs this year. As long as it isn’t against the Indians I will be happy for him.
My greatest Hafner memories are his 11th inning game-winning single in game 2 of the ALDS against the Yankees and his walk-off grand slam against the Toronto Blue Jays on July 7, 2011. I’m going to miss the open shirt and how he held batting gloves in both his hands while he ran the bases. What I will miss most was 2004 to 2006 Hafner where you knew that if the leadoff hitter got on base, their pitcher had to deal with Pronk. Having a dangerous power hitter in the middle of the lineup is such a comfort for a fan. Whenever the Indians were behind late in a game I was working through the lineup in my head to see when Hafner was up next because he would deliver. I am hoping that Carlos Santana takes this torch from Hafner, who followed in the footsteps of Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Albert Belle and Andre Thornton in this role.
Do you have any Travis Hafner memories? Do you have a power hitter that you miss having on your team? Let us know in the comments below.