Why Re-Sign Hafner: There are plenty of reasons why the Indians wanted to give Hafner a contract extension. From 2004-2006, Hafner was one of the best hitters in the AL and gave the Indians fantastic production in the middle of the order. At the time the extension was signed in 2007, Hafner was just 30 years old and seemed to have a number of very productive seasons ahead of him.
Furthermore, the Indians wanted to lock up Hafner because the feeling was that if Hafner hit the free agent market, then there was no chance the Indians would be able to compete for his services. The only chance the Indians had to retain Hafner was to sign him to an extension well before he hit free agency.
As GM Mark Shapiro noted in January 2007:
What Went Wrong: Injuries, injuries, injuries. Hafner's was actually declining statistically in the beginning of the 2007 season, but the Indians decided to sign him to a contract extension anyway. Hafner missed a majority of the 2008 season and a large chunk of the 2009 season because of injuries and he has not put up MVP type numbers since 2006.
Beyond that, however, the Indians will have to shell out large sums of money if they're going to ensure that Sabathia and Hafner don't become the next wave of players to sign their first big contract with the Tribe and their second elsewhere.
"Those guys have become great players in the American League, so it would take a significant contract to extend those guys," Shapiro said. "I would imagine they're willing to listen. It still will be a challenge in light of what's happened this offseason in free agency.
"We'll see if there's enough common ground to extend them, recognizing there are multiple junctures ahead to look at extending these guys. There's Spring Training this year, there's next offseason and there's the following offseason before these guys are no longer Indians."
Future Implications: There is no doubt that this contract will significantly limit the Indians financial flexibility over the next few seasons. Hafner is owed $37.5 million over the next three seasons, a figure that makes him almost impossible to move at this time. Luckily for the Indians, Hafner's contract expires the same season as Grady Sizemore's, which could help the Indians deliver a competitive offer to their superstar centerfielder.
Lesson Learned: Once again, we've found that the Indians getting unlucky with injuries. The Indians thought they had a franchise player in Hafner, but injuries have prevented him from putting up huge numbers. In my opinion, Hafner was a worthwhile risk for the Indians and even though the move has not panned out so far, the Indians aggressiveness has to be commended. However, it's hard for a team like the Indians to commit so much payroll to a DH, but clearly the Indians viewed Hafner has an exceptional talent, who they needed to keep.
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