Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Would you trade Travis Hafner for Mark Reynolds?

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Study in futility: Would you trade Travis Hafner for a used car? Wait -- that comes far more harshly than I intended it. How about this: Would you trade Travis Hafner for Mark Reynolds?

Hafner, the Yankees' one-year patch at designated hitter, was a career .278/.381/.507 hitter in 1,101 games entering the season. From 2004 through 2006 he had been one of the best hitters in baseball, hitting .308/.419/.611. Even then, though, he struggled to stay on the field, and in the years between then and now his ability to produce has declined as his days on the disabled list have increased in frequency. In his last five seasons prior to joining the Yankees, he hit .259/353/.436 while playing in 429 of 810 possible games.

For more on the Yankees and Indians, read The Pinstriped Bible and Let's Go Tribe

Nonetheless, Hafner retained power and Raul Ibanez had just demonstrated that Yankee Stadium can take a fading lefty power-hitter and reinvigorate them with a friendly hug. Hafner had other limitations, mainly that he hasn't played the field since 2007and only wears gloves to the opera, but the Yankees weren't in the position to be choosy. They gave Hafner a one-year, $2 million deal with incentives for playing time.

In the early going Hafner seemed to be Ibanez II, hitting .318/.438/.667 with six home runs in April. And since? In 55 games and 204 plate appearances Hafner has hit .174/.255/.299 with six home runs. You know your season is not going into the books as a major success when they pinch-hit Brent Lillibridge for you in the seventh inning of a key intra-division game.

Mark Reynolds (USA TODAY Sports)

Cut to Cleveland. Mark Reynolds has always been the ultimate all-or-nothing hitter, either putting the ball over the fence or striking out. He's been over 200 three times, and while he has cut his strikeout rate over the last few seasons, his home-run rate has dropped as well. Still, he had a solid second half for the Orioles last year, hitting .231/.334/.462 with 16 home runs in 74 games. He also made the move across the diamond from third to first, in the process going from a mediocre hot corner man to a first baseman who was, if not Keith Hernandez, at least a fielder with above-average reaction time for the position.

The Indians signed Reynolds to a one-year contract worth $6 million, with incentives for playing time and other achievements. He made Chris Antonetti and pals look like geniuses in the early going, hitting .301/.368/.651 with eight home runs in April. Like Hafner, he has since disappeared:

G

PA

H

2B

3B

HR

BB

K

AVG

OBP

SLG

Hafner

55

204

32

5

0

6

19

59

.174

.255

.299

Reynolds

69

265

42

2

0

7

29

93

.181

.279

.280

The Yankees' path to the playoffs is complicated by the presence of three better teams in front of them, by their need to have a 39-year-old shortstop and a 37-year-old third baseman/designated hitter (who may well be suspended before he ever gets back) and a 32-year-old center fielder who struck out in a third of his at-bats last year ride to the rescue of the offense they neglected to fix in the offseason. The Indians have to get past the Tigers and their own lack of starting pitching, because it seems entirely possible that both American League wild cards will come out of the East. In short, neither has much room for error.

When making the playoffs is a matter of winning an extra game or two, it's incredibly self-defeating for a team to absorb this kind of hitting over the long term. Both clubs have undoubtedly been restrained by the lack of solid in-house alternatives. In the Yankees' case, matters will come to a head as soon as the oldsters start coming back and they take Hafner's PAs -- it's entirely possible he'll be released fairly soon. As for the Indians, their farm system is truly thin when it comes to promising position players at the higher levels, though one wonders what Cord Phelps might accomplish with a few turns at DH -- the switch-hitter is averaging .271/.330/.484 from the left-side at Triple-A this year. Those aren't great numbers, but they're superior to what Reynolds has done while in his fugue state.

Hafner is 36 and could be done. Reynolds is only 29 and it seems unlikely that he's washed up, but it is equally true that the Indians have given him a lot of rope and can't afford to give him much more. He's signed for only this season after all; his redemption, should it come, is unlikely to benefit the Indians franchise.

So here's the question: If you're a team with nothing to lose and everything to gain, how long do you wait to make a move? When do you give up on a player and decide that a no-name guy who might successfully put the ball in play every once in awhile will do more to help you get to where you want to go?

The answer to the question I posed earlier depends on whether your perspective is oriented towards the Yankees or the Indians. If you're the Yankees, you would certainly trade Hafner for Reynolds because, even if the latter is utterly incapable of making contact right now, at least you gain some flexibility by virtue of the fact that he can play some defense. If you're the Indians, you either hold on to Reynolds or take the used car.

And if that used car actually proves to be a metaphor for "hitter" as opposed to "pitcher," that's not such a bad thing. The Indians have gone pretty far on their pitching, such as it is, by pounding the opposition. In baseball, if you can't raise the bridge, you can sometimes lower the river. Many roads can lead to success, but in this case standing pat seems unlikely to be one of them.

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This article originally appeared on SBNation.

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