With Spring Training less than one month away, the Cleveland Indians still have no answer for the man who they’ll rely on for offensive production in a lineup that has been drastically reshaped from a season ago. The designated hitter was one of the Tribe’s biggest holes to fill this offseason, but the team has yet to reach for the shovel.
There aren’t any boppers left on the open market, so Cleveland is going to have to get creative. It isn’t yet clear if the club will have a dedicated DH in the lineup, or if they will use a hitter by committee. There are several players in-house that could fill the role, but those actions could create weaknesses in other areas of the field. For example, Nick Swisher could be a prime candidate as the Tribe’s designated hitter, but the club is relying on him to play right field and perhaps even log some innings at first base. First baseman Mark Reynolds could DH, but either Swisher or catcher Carlos Santana would be forced to shift to a secondary position.
Other possible options on this team to fill the DH role could be Mike Aviles, Yan Gomes or Chris McGuiness. All three of these guys are newly-acquired players. Aviles certainly isn’t the power threat many teams look for out of the position and Gomes and McGuiness have minimal big league experience between the two of them. Time will tell if these two even make the team coming out of camp. It just never seems to add up for a current Indian to DH this season.
Outside options include two former Indians. Travis Hafner and Jim Thome have been rumored to have drawn interest from the Tribe. Certainly Hafner has the advantage in the age category, but the usability of the two could be argued. Hafner will turn 36 in June and hasn’t played a full season since 2007. The Indians declined the option on the final year of Hafner’s monster contract earlier this offseason, but the team brought back Grady Sizemore for 2012 in a similar situation.
Jim Thome is 42 years old and at the very end of his Hall of Fame career. There’s no mistake that he’s lost a step, maybe even two. However, Thome is an Indian legend. Clevelanders would love to see him in town for a third stint. He seems like a long shot to make the team because the power isn’t there anymore and he wouldn’t be able to play every day, even at DH.
Hafner can contribute to this team, if he’s healthy. He’s had several strong seasons in 2009, 2010 and 2011, but they’ve all resulted in shortened seasons caused by injuries. If the Tribe can get him at the right price, he’d be a good fit. The Tribe opens Spring Training in Goodyear, Arizona on February 11th. Time will tell if a full time DH will report.