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A healthy Hafner could hit 20 homers

4/9/2013

New York Yankees designated hitter Travis Hafner certainly enjoyed his triumphant return to Cleveland Monday afternoon, as he mashed a three-run home run off the ghost of right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez in the first inning, then later singled, walked twice and even went first to third on a Vernon Wells single. Speed surely never was Pronk's game, but it's a sure sign the guy is healthy, and when he's feeling good Hafner can still hit for power, draw walks and add value for those in daily leagues, especially OBP/OPS formats.

As a left-handed hitter and one who hasn't done great work against fellow lefty hurlers in recent seasons, not to mention the fact he's hardly durable, Hafner is not likely to pile on the plate appearances this season. He's likely to platoon, though the Yankees have faced all right-handed starters since falling to Boston Red Sox lefty Jon Lester in the first game. Hafner didn't start that game but relieved Ben Francisco in the sixth inning. The point is we have a really good idea when Hafner is going to play, depending on the opposing pitcher, and while one week of games is hardly enough of a sample size, he can help.

Hafner entered play Monday hitting .350 in his 20 at-bats, with a homer and a few too many strikeouts, then added the two hits, three runs and four RBIs. We know many of you play in considerably deeper formats than 10-team standard mixed, and Hafner is a reasonable free-agent addition, especially if you can manipulate your lineup day to day, and even at DH-only. It's a shame the Yankees don't have a strong right-handed platoon partner for him, or this would make for a truly intriguing platoon (Casper Wells, perhaps?). Surely Hafner was motivated on Monday, since he spent 10 years in Cleveland, though he's not the same player that produced three terrific seasons in which he accrued MVP votes.

Even while averaging a mere 93 games played over the past four seasons, Hafner hit double digits in home runs each year (an average of 14) and took enough walks to post above-average on-base numbers. The only year in which his batting average plummeted was last year. Playing half the time in Yankee Stadium, with its enticing right field porch, it's reasonable to expect Hafner to flirt with 20 home runs this season, just as Raul Ibanez was able to last year for the Yankees. Ibanez, now back with the Seattle Mariners, hit 19 home runs in his lone Yankee season, all of them against right-handed pitching and 14 at home. Hafner can do this, though I'll take the under on 400 plate appearances.

I saw most of New York's offensive explosion against the brutal Jimenez and various relief pitchers, and think reports of the franchise's demise to irrelevance are a bit premature. Sure, losing Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez hasn't helped, but Hafner, the cleanup hitter, looks good splitting right-handed hitting Kevin Youkilis and Vernon Wells in the lineup. Youkilis isn't the picture of health himself, but he's whacking the ball to all fields and can still differentiate balls from strikes. Wells is far from being a good player, but the power remains. He did smack 25 home runs only two seasons ago. The best sign on Wells, other than the fact the Yankees are paying less than a third of his contract, are the five walks against five strikeouts so far. It's early, but last season Wells walked twice all of April. This is progress, desperate as it might be. I do believe a change of scenery can help veteran players, and in New York's case the middle of the lineup qualifies.

Tribe Talk: Meanwhile, I cannot fathom why so many people believe Jimenez is worth owning in a 10-team mixed league. He's at 17.1 percent, and on ESPN's most-added list. This is not the guy that nearly won the Cy Young in 2010. Yes, his first outing in Toronto went well, and you thought the meager Yankees lineup would pose little threat, but look how much damage Jimenez did to fantasy rosters in 2012. It's not worth it. He hurts rosters far more than Adam Dunn/Mark Reynolds types. ... Reynolds did not homer -- how dare he? -- but ripped a double in four at-bats. His flaw is batting average, but if you can deal with it, there will be power. ... Big scare late in the game with catcher Carlos Santana, as a Chris Perez fastball found his left thumb, necessitating X-rays. Santana, off to a monster start hitting .500 and with more walks than strikeouts, should be hitting cleanup. I've got him as the No. 4 catcher overall. Hopefully he doesn't miss much time with what is being called a contusion, but it's a reminder that catchers are big risks. ... One can do worse than have Mike Aviles as a dollar middle infielder in AL-only formats. I could see 350 at-bats and a flirtation with 10 homers, 10 steals.