Saturday, March 10, 2007


The third part of a series regarding the contract extensions being discussed in Winter Haven.
Part II – RePronkulous
While the Indians are well-stocked with young arms in the Minors as potential replacements for Jake and C.C., replacing a player like Hafner, one of the best hitters in all of MLB, may prove to be eminently more difficult.

The Numbers
Over a 3-year stretch (from 2004 to 2006), Hafner has AVERAGED 31 HR and 111 RBI while hitting .308 with a stratospheric 1.030 OPS. His 2006 season (cut short by the injury) was his best to date with 42 HR, 117 RBI and a 1.097 OPS in only 454 AB. Only Albert Pujols had a higher OPS as Hafner outdistanced Ryan Howard, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Lance Berkman, and Jim Thome. So, we’re talking some rarified air here.

Hafner is a middle of the order monster whose impressive power is only eclipsed by his batting eye (he earned the 10th most BB in MLB last year in significantly less AB than the players with more), making him a perfect #3 or #4 hitter for any team.

Contracts to Comparable Players
There have been multiple large contracts signed by lesser hitters than Hafner in the past few years, but the primary difference between Hafner and say, an Albert Pujols or a Paul Konerko, is the fact that those players play the field while Hafner is strictly a DH due to his “bull in a china shop” defense.

Thus, the only real comparables for Hafner are AL DH’s, most of which are dealing with contracts signed a few years back. Most notable among these would be:
Jason Giambi – 7 years, $120M (signed in 2002)
Jim Thome – 6 years, $85M (signed in 2003)

Even Gary Sheffield or Magglio Ordonez, who figure to DH at some point in Detroit, don’t really figure to be comparable as they’ll play the majority of their contracts while playing the field. So, the best comparable is the other elite DH (with Hafner, Giambi, and Thome) – Big Papi.

Ortiz signed a 4-year, $52M extension last April, which runs through 2010 with a $12.5M option for 2011. That contract, over all of the others mentioned above would serve as the basis for any negotiations with Pronk.

That type of contract would lock Hafner into the middle of the Tribe lineup for the next 6 years – 1 more year under the contract, 4 years of the base contract, and 1 more with the option.

Who Would Be Interested?
Due to Hafner being only able to DH, it limits the number of teams that could bid on Pronk (though we thought the same thing about Thome), so we’re only talking about AL teams. However, pretty much every AL team would welcome a hitter of Hafner’s caliber to their lineup.
Let’s start eliminating some teams first. Because of the money involved and the, shall we say, spending tendencies, of certain teams we can rule out Kansas City, Tampa Bay and Oakland. The Red Sox are tied into Ortiz until after 2008, so they’re out.

Pretty much everyone else is fair game.
Just to make you break out in a cold sweat consider that Giambi’s contract runs through the end of 2008 (as Hafner’s does), assuming that the Yankees don’t pick up his $22M option for 2009. Same for Thome, who has a $13M option for 2009.

That would put the Yankees and White Sox (assuming that Ozzie can get over Hafner’s “I was puking when they got their WS rings” comment) at the forefront of the potential suitors. Picturing Hafner in either of those uniforms just caused a shudder.

Factor in free-spending teams like Baltimore, Seattle (Richie Sexson, who may be a full-time DH by 2008, also has a contract that runs out after 2008), Los Angeles of Anaheim, and Texas (where Hafner would simply mash…as if he doesn’t already) and we’ve got a bidding war on the docket if a deal is not reached before Pronk hits the open market.

Bottom Line
Like Westbrook, Hafner has said that he’s happy in Cleveland and that he’s comfortable with his new bride on the North Coast. But, will he follow the path of Manny and Thome as sluggers who felt that they were underpaid by the Indians while they were wildly productive (Pronk will make just $3.75M this year and $4.75M when his 2008 option is picked up) and go after every last dollar?

It will likely take a deal comparable to that of Ortiz to extend Hafner and, looking at the alternatives down the pipeline, his bat is very nearly irreplaceable. Talk that Ryan Garko could shoulder Hafner’s load is just overly optimistic. Taking into account that his 1.098 OPS last year was the 91st best season by a hitter of ALL-TIME, this isn’t like we’re replacing Ronnie Belliard.

Hafner’s mere presence anchors a lineup and the Indians have to realize this. More than Westbrook and possibly more than Sabathia, Pronk’s value to the lineup and the team is immeasurable. A lineup with Pronk and a still maturing Sizemore would be lethal for the next 5 years, regardless of the pieces and parts that would surround them.

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