The Yankees are reportedly interested in/nearing a deal with former Indians star Travis Hafner. Hafner is a career .278/.381/.507 hitter, but will turn 36 in June, has recently been riddled with injuries, and is exclusively a designated hitter.
Of course, Hafner is also exactly the type of hitter that excels in Yankees Stadium, and fills the somewhat empty DH hole in the Yankee lineup. Last year, Hafner played in 66 games (263 plate appearances), and only hit .228. However, he showed great patience at the plate – one of Hafner’s greatest strengths over the years – and respectable power, leading to a solid 119 wRC+.*
*For more info on wRC+, check out Jimmy Kraft’s entry in our Stats Glossary here.
There’s a strong possibility that the Yankees will use Hafner as a platoon at DH along with Matt Diaz, as Hafner mashes against righties in his career to the tune of a .287/.391/.534 line with a 147 wRC+. Even last year, he got on base at a .361 clip against right-handed pitchers, which would be a great asset for the Yankees if he stays healthy.
Hafner’s powerful left-handed swing is perfect for the short porch in right. (Image: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports)
In addition to his strong performance against righties, Hafner fits Yankees Stadium perfectly because of his power to right field. Last year, Hafter had a .679 slugging percentage and .410 isolated power to right field, the latter of which is on par with his career ISO to that side of the field. With the short porch in right, Hafner should get a few more flyballs/popups to catch the magical Yankee Stadium fairie wind and fly over the wall.
Of course, as I indicated above, the major downside to Hafner is that there is no positional flexibility – he hasn’t put on a glove since 2007 and he’s not about to start now. If he isn’t in the DH spot, he won’t be playing.
The other issue is health. Hafner hasn’t played a full season of baseball since 2007, and the chances of him staying healthy for a whole season are extremely low. The Yankees should not expect him to be on the roster for the whole season, so a backup plan is necessary.
Nevertheless, Hafner is a very talented hitter, and his stroke profiles perfectly for New York. Like all potential signings, the cost is important, but as long as expectations for playing time are kept relatively low, Hafner could be solid addition to the Yankees lineup, similar to Raul Ibanez last year (but without the fielding).