Saturday, May 31, 2008

Hopefully They Have A Phone Booth

News that Travis Hafner has hit the DL because of a right shoulder that has, apparently, bothered him all season (the only better question than “Isn’t this obviously why he hasn’t he been able to drive the ball?” is “Why are we finding out about this after Memorial Day, particularly if he’s been icing it after games in plain view of reporters?”) has set into motion a few roster moves and some likely lineup shuffling for the Tribe as the team tries to get fat on the sliding KC Royals to gain some momentum on a long road trip.

Hafner’s placement on the shelf opens up a spot for the BLC on the roster and allows the Indians to keep Michael Aubrey’s bat (and glove) on the parent club for a time. The additional appearance that Andy Marte will get some significant time at 3B because as Anthony Castrovince puts it, “Indians manager Eric Wedge has tried everything else…he might as well try Andy Marte” allows the rest of the situation to crystallize.

For the next few weeks, as Hafner tries to rest his shoulder, then tries to build his confidence back up playing against Hagerstown and Altoona instead of MLB pitching, the lineup should resemble something like this:
C - Martinez
1B - Aubrey
2B – Cabrera
SS - Peralta
3B - Marte
LF - Francisco
CF - Sizemore
RF - Choo/Gutierrez
DH - Garko/Dellucci

While that lineup is full of inexperience, the Indians’ defense improves greatly with Aubrey at 1B instead of Garko, Marte over Blake at 3B, and the removal of Dellucci from the defensive equation. The bench suddenly becomes a strength with Blake being used in the super-sub role that he’s been best suited for now for 3 years, good defenders on the bench in whomever is not being used in the RF platoon to go with Shoppach and Carroll, and a nice balance of LH and RH options.

Now, some may say that Hafner’s injury could lead to the Indians raising “the white flag on a season that keeps getting worse the deeper they get into it” (anyone else glad Hoynesie isn’t navigating this ship, given his eagerness to cry uncle this early, 5 games back in the Central), but Hafner’s OPS is sitting .010 higher than Casey Blake right now. Sure it would be great to have Pronk back and it would certainly make victories easier to come by, but this “Hafner” guy? He of the career .969 OPS vs. RHP who has posted a .660 OPS against those same RHP this year?
Let’s hope that he stays down in the sticks and sends his alter ego (you remember him, the ½ project, ½ donkey, all offensive terror) back up.

Truthfully, I can’t say that the lineup above is any worse without Hafner than what we’ve seen with him in it as Francisco figures to continue to get every opportunity to stay in the everyday lineup as Choo’s return won’t cost him any plate appearances because Dellucci can now move to DH vs. LHP as Garko will DH against RHP. Marte gets a chance to improve on Blake’s aforementioned .660 OPS at 3B and it looks like Blake will spell Garko at 1B from time to time in his super-sub role as Garko continues to scuffle. Gutierrez and Garko are slotted to face only LHP, while Dellucci and Choo would be slated to only match up against RHP.

Is it an ideal situation?
Certainly not, but if the move gets Hafner’s health and, more importantly, his confidence back, the team will be better off for it while having an opportunity to see what they have in some of these young players to find out if there are any real prospects in a group that is looking more and more suspect.

But back to the Hafner situation, if you figure that Hafner’s stint on the 15-day DL is retroactive to Monday (the first game he sat out), he would come off of the DL around the second week of June. That would likely be followed by a stretch of rehab starts in the sticks, which puts the team at an interesting part of the schedule as it pertains to Hafner. The Indians head out west on June 13th, playing the interleague portion of their schedule in NL West parks, which means that Hafner would be of no use to the Tribe for that 10-day stretch as the Indians would have no need for a DH. The result would be a longer rehab stint (where he can hopefully enter a phone booth some night in Classic Park or in downtown Akron and emerge as the superhero we all miss) that would keep the lineup as constructed above intact until late June. After their trip out West (where I’ll take in the Sunday game in Chavez Ravine, by the by), the team returns on June 24th (when the Giants come to town) which is when the team would figure to activate Hafner back to the 25-man.

Using that math and perusal of the schedule, the Indians would have a three-week stretch to evaluate where the likes of Aubrey, Cabrera, Marte, and Chootierrez (yeah, I just went there) are in their development before making a move with Hafner and affecting playing time. Remember that Aubrey, Cabrera, Francisco, and Garko all have options remaining that can be used as well as the fact that Dellucci may prove to be the redundancy on the lineup and could be moved to a team looking for a LH OF (Arizona, I’m looking at you) to clear space for Hafner.

All that being said, the Indians just gave Hafner about a month to rest his shoulder in an attempt to recover some semblance of his former self, then gave him an ideal stretch of the schedule (when he’s not needed as a DH) to remember what it’s like feasting on pitches thrown by the likes of the Erie Sea Wolves pitching staff.

It’s been real, Travis…now send Pronk back.


Rockdawg said...

CSU, I completely agree with your take on how the negative vibes sent off by the media and fans can filter down and greatly affect a team. Just look at the city of Philidelphia, who have had really good teams of late, but their fans, in leiu of enjoying a good thing, continue to do things like call for McNabb's head and torture the likes of Iverson, Howard, and good old Uncle Charlie.

Looking over the last 6 games, the Tribe is averaging over 5 runs per, while hitting 9 nine taters over that same stretch (one of which was a salami). Patience darlin', patience.

Am I the only one who has thought from time to time that Hafner's downfall (which we all know started last year) coincides with 'roids/HGH crackdown? (I will probably get killed for this)

csusi said...

No harm rockdawg. All my buddies who have other teams that they pull for rag me continuously about the hafner/roids possibility. As simplistic of an answer it is and having no backing to really prove it, i just dont buy it.

Random thought: Ill be the first to say that winning is good. And it feels good to see the Indians do so. But, out of all teams to beat, does anybody else feel slightly bad beating the royals? I dont know what it is. I think I have a soft spot in my heart for the royals. Ive always respected the way they do things. Scrappy, hard nosed ball players. But, especially since last night marked their 12th loss in a row, i felt for them when they were showing inside their dugout after the game. They looked miserable, obviously. And we freak out over the tribes issues. Anyways, it is what it is I guess.