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Indians Still in Search of DH for 2013


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The Cleveland Indians have addressed several concerns this offseason. They have found themselves a first baseman in free agent Mark Reynolds who should be an improvement over Casey Kotchman and Matt LaPorta last season. They also overhauled their outfield by cutting ties with Grady Sizemore and shipping Shin-Shoo Choo to the Reds for left fielder Drew Stubbs. The Tribe then found themselves a solid replacement for Choo in free-agent Nick Swisher, whom they wooed from larger markets by playing on his Ohio background and who seems legitimately happy to be a Cleveland Indian for the foreseeable future.

The Indians have also invited a slew of players to camp on Minor-League deals such as Ben Francisco and Ryan Raburn to compete for utility spots, as well as veteran pitchers like Scott Kazmir who is expected to compete for a spot in the Tribe’s rotation. But there is one roster spot that remains unfilled this offseason, and that is the role of the Tribe’s designated hitter. The Indians allowed their veteran DH Travis Hafner to walk away in free agency following the 2012 campaign. Hafner had once been looked at as a power-hitting first-baseman who was destined to become one of the league’s elite threats at the plate. Instead, Hafner turned out to be an injury-prone liability for the ball club, missing large portions of the past five seasons due to injuries. When he was healthy, Hafner provided several memorable moments during the Indians’ surprising 2011 campaign, but injuries began to catch up with Pronk last season, and the Indians could no longer justify keeping him around for the kind of money that they were paying him at the time.

It was during one of Hafners’ stints on the DL in 2011 that the Indians decided to turn to an old friend and bring Jim Thome back to Cleveland for one more go around as the club made one last desperate attempt to stay in playoff contention. Thome was welcomed home with open arms and some in town hoped that the Tribe might extend his stay by signing him to a contract in 2012. Thome had other plans though, and instead surprised everyone by signing a deal with the Philadelphia Phillies to play first base for the club in the absence of Ryan Howard. Thome’s comeback in the field was short-lived, but he did manage to make an impact during interleague play that caught the eye of the front office for the Baltimore Orioles. The club traded for Thome in July and brought him in to give a veteran presence to a ball club that looked destined for big things during the post season. The Orioles would make the playoffs, but they went down in five games to the Yankees in the ALDS. The club has expressed little interest in bringing Thome back for the 2013 season.

Now as the Indians sit just a few weeks from Spring Training in Goodyear, Arizona, the ball club must take a look at their roster and decide if they want to sign a full-time DH, or allow it to be a rotating position using the men already on their roster. Catcher Carlos Santana, first baseman Reynolds and outfielders Stubbs and Swisher could all be legitimate candidates to be the Indians’ DH this season. With all four men expected to hit somewhere in the heart of the Tribe’s batting order, the team could use the opportunity to substitute for any of the four in the field and still keep them in the line-up while resting their legs for the day.

Another option however would be for the Indians to consider bringing back either Hafner or Thome to be their DH for the 2013 season. As of this writing, neither man seems to have received much interest from other teams, and the Indians could get one of them for a decent price if they were interested in doing so. Hafner seems a no-brainer decision because even though he has missed significant time over the past five seasons, when he has been healthy he has produced for the club. The Tribe could sign him to an incentive-laden deal with a guaranteed salary of $1 million and bring him back for one last tour with the club.

Thome might come at a bigger cost; after all he has 611 home runs, is one of the biggest names in team history, and is almost certainly a hall-of-famer. Much like last season though, Thome is likely going to be looking for a contender to sign with considering it will almost certainly be his final season. With either option, they are not going to be able to play in every game, even as a DH and the Tribe would most likely get a maximum of three games per week out of either one. They would however, both be an added threat off the bench against right-handed pitching, which would give the Tribe an interesting option in pinch-hitting situations. One thing appears certain to me though, and that is if the Indians decide to go with a full-time DH this season, and not rotate the position throughout their roster, it will be one of these two guys. The only question that remains is, which one will it be?



By Robert Gonzalez
Cleveland Indians Correspondent