As the off season draws to a close, the Yankees still find themselves without a viable starting catcher, right handed outfielder, and designated hitter from either side of the plate. Obviously, Brian Cashman’s winter plans haven’t gone as expected, so, it’s time to round up some usual, and unusual, suspects.
Among the dwindling list of available players, Travis Hafner is one of the few who seems capable of making a meaningful contribution in 2013. So, it’s good news for Yankee fans that the lefty slugger is reportedly close to signing a deal with the Bronx Bombers. Despite playing in pitcher friendly Progressive Field, Hafner has continued to be a productive offensive player, recording an OPS+ of at least 120 in all but one season since 2004. And, with the cozy short porch awaiting him at Yankee Stadium, it isn’t a stretch to expect Hafner’s production to increase beyond that level.
Signing Hafner seems like a no-brainer. Since 2009, his OPS+ of 125 is actually a shade higher than Nick Swisher’s, one of the players whose offensive void he’d be expected to fill. However, Swisher played in approximately 150 games in all four seasons with the Yankees, while Hafner topped 94 games only once. That’s why the lefty slugger is a back-up plan rather than a priority acquisition.
Considering what’s left on the market, the addition of Hafner would be an unquestionable positive for the Yankees. Even if he provides only 300 plate appearance, they’re likely to be very productive. Also, and most importantly, the Yankees don’t have any other viable alternatives. At this point, Cashman has to take what he can get, and Hafner just may be the best of the rest.
Although the Yankees’ desperation is not an indictment of the Hafner signing, it calls into question the wisdom of the team’s new budget-based approach to roster management as well as its ability to effectively execute such a plan. Not only have the Yankees been unwilling to retain their own free agents or pursue other high-priced veterans, but they have also been unable to both entice other teams with trades and convince second tier free agents, such as Scott Hairston and Jack Hannahan, to don the pinstripes. That’s why the Yankees have been forced to take a piecemeal approach to the off season, leaving the roster heavily composed of older, one-dimensional, industry prone players.
Despite the team’s relative age, the Yankees still have a very talented roster. If all goes well, the Bronx Bombers could be a high-90 win team and legitimate World Series contender. However, by focusing on short-term contracts for players who are either past their prime or injury prone (or both), the Yankees have replaced stability with risk, thereby significantly limiting the team’s margin for error. As a result, even though the team’s ceiling remains high, the floor has been lowered dramatically.
Like so many other moves the Yankees have made this year, signing Hafner would increase the team’s chance of success, based on the present roster construction, while the opportunity cost, taken in full context of the off season, would raise the likelihood and degree of possible failure. In other words, although it would be a good thing for the Yankees to sign Hafner, it’s a bad thing that they desperately need him.