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Corner of Carnegie and Ontario: Pronkified, one last time...

Corner of Carnegie and Ontario: Pronkified, one last time...
August 14, 2012
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As I sit here this week at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario, there's one name rolling through the ole' brain...

Pronk…

That singular name brings forth many different memories, both good and bad, for Indians’ fans over the years.

Those of you with short memories will think of the broke-down Pronk of the five injury riddled seasons that the Indians DH has had since signing his mega-deal in the middle of the 2007 season.

Those of you fans for the big moments will think of his many "splash" games over the years, including several walk-off hits. Among them is this gem on July 7, 2011, when he hit a walk-off grand slam against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Many will think of his near-MVP run from 2004 through 2006, in which he hit over .300 in all three seasons, walloped 103 homers, drove in 325 RBI, hit 114 doubles, and scored 274 runs. That culminated in the sublime 2006 season in which Hafner was heading towards a potential MVP win, going toe to toe with David Ortiz in the power department until getting beaned in early September and missing the last month of the season. He was hitting .308, with 42 homers, 117 RBI, and a league leading 1.097 OPS.

Whichever Pronk you remember, his time with the Indians is likely coming to an end after an injury sent him to the DL last Thursday.

Pronk’s career with the Indians began in an interesting deal in 2002 that sent the Indians’ starting catcher Einar Diaz and promising starter Ryan Drese to the Rangers for Hafner and Aaron Myette. In 2002, Hafner hit a massive .342, with 21 homers, 77 RBI, and scored 79 runs in the minors. Texas had some kid named Mark Teixeira ready to play first base, so they figured that Hafner was expendable.

The deal was a mistake for the Texas Rangers nearly from the getgo. By 2004, Hafner was raking, and that began the three-year stretch in which he was a top ten offensive player in the American League.

Hafner’s massive 2006 season ended with a broken bone in his hand, and all eyes were on Pronk in 2007, as he was in a contract year, and coming off an injury. Hafner struggled throughout the early part of the season, as it was believed that contract talks were at the heart of the struggle. Hafner signed a big four-year deal in July of 2007, and thus began the next phase of Hafner’s career: The injury years.

Hafner would never again hit more than 16 homers, and would play in over 100 games only once, with 118 being the most games that he’d play. His best average was .280, and his worst was .197. Hafner became a liability. Oh, sure, Pronk had his moments, like that walk off grand slam, and streaks of brilliance. But caught up in all that were streaks of just plain awful play. Granted, the shoulder didn’t help, and the stamina seemed gone, but through it all was that contract.

The Indians season is done, and now, Hafner is back on the DL. He’ll likely be back, but there’s a distinct possibility that he won’t be playing. The Indians have players they need to take a look at in Columbus, and Hafner clearly isn’t in the future plans.

Sure, there is always a chance that they re-sign him at a minimal deal, but should they? Do they really want to walk down the path of Grady Sizemore again? I think not. The truth of the matter is that Pronk, at this stage of his career, is nothing but a DH-block.

The biggest question for the Indians going forward seems to be what they might want to do with Carlos Santana. It’s distinctly possible that Santana just might be headed to first base full time, but a lot will depend on whether or not Lou Marson can step in at catcher. If he can, and there’s no reason to think he can’t, then Santana could play the majority of games at both first base and DH. No, I’m not sure that’s going to happen, but with Hafner on the team, it’s not even a part of the equation.

That’s what this club has been missing over the past years. Hafner’s money has blocked anyone from DHing when he’s healthy, and that has been a detriment to the team. Of course, it’s questionable that the Indians even have anyone to step up into that role next season, unless a guy like LaPorta or Canzler or Anderson step up. There’s also the potential for a deal.

With that said, Pronk’s career as a member of the Indians is likely over, and while there are plenty of fantastic memories over the past ten seasons, there’s also been a whole bunch of head scratching. It’s always a bit sad to see a player go, especially a quality individual such as Hafner, but it’s time to part ways.

Of course, be careful what you wish for…

What in the hell are the Indians going to do with regards to their starting rotation next season? The Indians have Ubaldo Jimenez, Corey Kluber, Justin Masterson, Zach McAllister, Chris Seddon, Josh Tomlin, Scott Barnes, Carlos Carrasco, Jeanmar Gomez, Roberto Hernandez and David Huff. So, who in that mish-mosh is going to fill the rotation?

Sure, you would have to believe that Masterson and Jimenez are the top two guys there, but reality dictates that these two just aren’t #1 or #2 guys. Fact is though, there isn’t likely going to be anyone better.

You’d have to think that the Indians are hoping that Roberto Hernandez can take over the role as #3 starter. He’ll make his return on Wednesday, and you’d have to believe that the Indians are going to pitch him as much as possible to see what the soon-to-be 32-year old has to offer. Is he the middling guy that the Indians have watched over the past few years, or will he be a guy that breaks out without the stress of hiding his identity.

Past that, who knows? I have to believe that Zach McAllister and Jeanmar Gomez are the front runners for the #4 and #5 spots, but at the end of the day, are they really going to be major league starters? Is McAllister about to turn into a Cliff Lee or Jake Westbrook sorta starter? Is Gomez all about his mechanics? Hell, are any of these guys going to be any good?

So that leads to the question of trading or trying to sign a starter this offseason. I don’t see any alternative at this point. This rotation could be very bad.

The bigger question for the Indians are whether or not the Indians are viable for the 2013 season as a true playoff contender. This team clearly has holes, but is it really time to blow things up?

The Indians need a first baseman, unless you believe Carlos Santana is going to move to first, which is possible. The Indians also need a DH…again…unless you believe that Santana is going to take over that role. There’s the hole in left field that needs addressed as well. Are there options in Columbus or with the Indians right now who can take over these slots?

Absolutely not.

The only trade commodities that the Indians have right now are Shin-Soo Choo, who is going to be a free agent in a year, Chris Perez, who is going to make too much cash, and guys like McAllister and Gomez, who have limited value at best.

So, with holes that look similar to the ones that have us ready to pull out our hair this season, can this team win?

I don’t see major signings this offseason, but I do see a bunch of “great” season from guys currently on the roster. Still, there’s some breakout capability. Guys like Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis certainly have more in them than they’ve been showing. I know that there are question marks about Michael Brantley, but he’s a player. He may not be a star, but he’s a guy in the right situation that can be a major factor on a team.

The one player that they CAN count on to produce that many have written off or forgotten about is Lonnie Chisenhall. I don’t think folks realize how big a deal his getting hurt has meant to this club. I’m not expecting a break-out sort of year, but Chisenhall is a good little ballplayer, and I don’t care what anyone says, he’s a future all-star.

The bullpen, with or without Chris Perez will be a factor again. Vinnie Pestano is just too good, and if Perez stays, that’s the best 1-2 punch in all of baseball. With Joe Smith, Rafael Perez and Cody Allen, as well as a bunch of other intriguing arms, this pen has the look of being something special. Of course, those words have been uttered by me before…and…well…you know how bullpens go.

But that rotation is just not good. Can Ubaldo turn it around? Those of you thinking that the Radinsky firing is going to signify a Jimenez revitalization…well…it just ain’t happening. Is Masterson really a top-end starter? Truth is, we still don’t know. He’s had moments this year where he’s been every bit as good as last year, but there have been equal and opposite moments as well.

McAllister looks great, but is he? Is he a guy that can mold into another former Yankees pitcher, Jake Westbrook, or even Cliff Lee before his 2007 implosion, and 2008 explosion. I don’t know. Is Gomez a guy in the mold of those old Atlanta pitchers, that just figures ways to win? Will Tomlin ever come back? Is there a sleeper in the mix, like a T.J. House or McFarland, or even a Danny Salazar that can step up at some point? Can the Indians sign someone, or make a trade that changes the landscape?

I just don’t have any faith that this ownership group, or this front office will do much of anything.

Let’s not forget that there’s a bunch of 2012 left, and that means there’s plenty of time for the Indians to get a taste of what they have in Columbus. So, who in Columbus needs to come up? Well, some are already up here. Jason Donald needs to get a look. The fact that someone uttered the statement that he needs every day playing time so that he can ultimately be a utility infielder is crazy. He should have gotten more of a look this season, although I didn’t hate Jose Lopez in that role.

Ezequiel Carrera has been just tearing off the cover of the baseball in C’Bus, and should have been up long ago instead of Aaron Cunningham. He’s definitively the fourth outfielder of the future…at least for now. Of course, there are a couple of other intriguing guys down there that they need a look at as well.

Some are potential starters, and some potential utility guys. There’s Tim Fedroff, who has been doing it all at Double and Triple A. There’s Jared Goedert, who is still waiting for his shot. There’s Cord Phelps, who has the look of a uber-utility guy going forward. There’s Russ Canzler and Lars Anderson, and yes, Matt LaPorta. I wouldn’t even be adverse to a guy like Thomas Neal getting a look from Akron.

We all know how thin Akron and Columbus is, so let’s see them all. This is the time to get a look at these fringe guys.

I’m curious to see if there’s late movement in the minor league system. With Akron looking at the playoffs, I could see the Indians sending up some Muddies to get a look at Double A life. Might someone like Jesus Aguilar, Ronny Rodriguez, Giovanny Urshela or Tony Wolters lend a supportive hand? [Editor's note: Aguilar was promoted to Akron today]

Point being, it looks like the Indians are going to be patient with these prospects.

I’m not saying the Indians should rush these kids up, but I wouldn’t be upset if they took the Carolina crew, bounced them up to Akron at the tail end of this season, and then got them ready to move to Columbus early next year. I don’t even care if they leave them there for a year and a half, but it’s time to start filtering these guys up, if they’re ready.

Some of them are.

Cleveland’s 9 ½ games in back of first, and this team is not built for winning a bunch in a row, so this season is over…right? Stranger things have happened…and you just never know. There are too freakin’ many games left. Boy…-108 run differential though…

Jim is currently the senior editor and Columnist, as well as  the host of IBI's weekly online radio shows, Smoke Signals and Cleveland Sports Insiders. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IBI, or contact him via e-mail at jpete@indiansprospectinsider.com.

User Comments

Rich
August 15, 2012 - 7:38 AM EDT
Don't forget Hafner now has a bulging disk in his back - not a minor thing. I'm not sure you can swing a bat pain free with that going on, plus he'll be another year older.

I always wonder if Hafner snookered the Tribe in '07. He hit 42 HR's the previous season while missing the last month. They failed to reach a contract agreement with him prior to the season and it looked like nothing would get done until after the season was over. In the meantime, Hafner's HR rate dropped 50% in the first half of '07. He ended up with only 24 HRs that year despite more at-bats than '06.

Suddenly in the middle of the '07 season it was announced Hafner had signed a five-year deal. I suspected at the time that he was still not 100% and he knew it, and told his agent to get a deal done quickly. This is just a suspicion, but the timing of the deal in mid-season after a serious injury and with his HR rate down 50% makes me think he knew he wasn't OK.

It doesn't matter now, but I think the Indians really hurt themselves with that contract and they should have been more cautious.

I would not resign him in hopes he can have an .800 OPS in 100 games.

I don't see much hope for the starting pitching. Best case scenario is to find five guys who can consistently go six innings and give up 3-4 runs (like Tomlin the first half of last year or Lowe this year) and count on the offense to average 5 runs and the bullpen to lock it down.
Seth
August 14, 2012 - 10:01 PM EDT
Agree Brian, I wouldn't want them to resign Hafner. He's a clog on the 25-man roster when it comes time for interleague play, and he's a clog on the 40-man when he's on the DL, which you have to figure is half the year. I think he'll have a hard time finding a job at all with the injury history and inability to play a position, so if anything, he could be more of an in-season sign by someone who ends up with a serious DH need. If he started playing in late July, he might actually make it through the year ... the last 2 years he's been really hot for the first few weeks and then tailed off considerably, his body breaks down quickly when he starts swinging the bat and running the bases.
brian
August 14, 2012 - 5:08 PM EDT
Im all in for some all out platoons next year. Oakland is showing the league how productive good platoons can be, but there is not one player on that team that can't play the field. Jim nailed it. Hafner's production has not been the problem. The fact that he cannot play a position has absolutely destroyed our ability to be flexible and creative with our lineups. It has prevented us from getting extended looks at our young players, and I'm sure it has had an effect on our ability to bring in free agents. I love the guy, but a small market team cannot have a player with this little versatility clogging the lineup.
Tony
August 14, 2012 - 4:26 PM EDT
I'll re-post what I said about Hafner in the Tribe Happenings comments section.

I by no means am endorsing resigning Hafner, but I would understand bringing him back. He's been consistently productive the past few years even with the injury issues, so it is a lot different than the Sizemore debacle if you ask me.

Hafner has been a productive player the last few years when healthy. No doubt about it.

2009: .272 AVG, .355 OBP, .470 SLG, .826 OPS, 120 OPS+
2010: .278 AVG, .374 OBP, .449 SLG, .824 OPS, 130 OPS+
2011: .280 AVG, .361 OBP, .449 SLG, .811 OPS, 128 OPS+
2012: .239 AVG, .355 OBP, .453 SLG, .808 OPS, 126 OPS+

His batting average is down some this year, but he is walking a little more and getting on base just as well as previous seasons and slugging at the same rate.

He's actually right in line with performance of that of Adam Dunn this season when you look at on-base percentage and slugging percentage. There are only two DHs in the league better and that is Ortiz and Butler.

Yes, he is not worth $13 million....but if you bring him back at $3-5 million I can see it as he has been a steady performer the last four seasons when he is playing. You just have to know if you sign him that going in he can be counted on for only 90-100 games, so maybe you platoon him. Again, not saying I would fully endorse this move.....but just rationalizing something that very well could happen this offseason.
Jim
August 14, 2012 - 2:59 PM EDT
Just look at his numbers over the past five years...Hafner's that is...

bust doesn't even come close to describing him...
Jim
August 14, 2012 - 2:58 PM EDT
Jeter...I actually agree 100%...I was just looking at it out of the eyes of what we currently have.

I think, in light of everything, I'd hope for Masterson to finish strong, then deal him in the offseason as part of a bigger deal...of course...when you are looking for starting pitching...it's hard to deal it...
Richard
August 14, 2012 - 2:49 PM EDT
Time to move on from Hafner. His career took a u-turn a few seasons ago. He did provide some memories though.
JeterCP
August 14, 2012 - 2:01 PM EDT
funny thing is, i honestly dont see one lock in the rotation next year. i mean we can argue maybe masterson, but as we heard rumors last month, im pretty sure the indians are open to trading him if the right deal came along... ubaldo is ubaldo, who knows whats gonna happen with him. seriously could have 5 new pitchers next season, however, knowing this front office it will be the same staff of stiffs that is mediocre after masterson.... sigh...

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