Surveying the Injured DH Market | The Process Report

Surveying the Injured DH Market

Last winter the Rays took a risk by signing Luke Scott to a one-year deal with a club option. Scott had underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum months earlier, a condition that may have sabotaged part of his 2012 season along with the final three months of 2011. The relative failure of Scott serves as a reminder about the risks involved in dealing with injured or injury-prone players. Gamble correctly and the player can provide immense value. Gamble incorrectly and you look the part of the fool.

With that in mind, it’s worth examining the oft-injured players on this year’s market that could provide value as designated hitter.

Travis Hafner, otherwise known as “Pronk,” has tallied 400-plus plate appearances once since the Rays changed their name following the 2007 season. He missed nearly three months last season due to back and knee issues, and made two trips to the disabled list in 2011 as well. On the rare occasion when Hafner is healthy, he proves himself as a decent all-around hitter. He hits for an okay average, walks plenty, and offers some pop—albeit not as much as his home run-heavy past suggests. In an ideal world, Hafner’s injury woes would stem from reckless defensive play, or overly aggressive baserunning. Unfortunately, Hafner’s most recent fielding appearance occurred in 2007 and he does not run well.

Grady Sizemore, one of Hafner’s former teammates, raised his star with a rare power-speed blend from 2005-09. He appeared on his way to a Hall-of-Fame-worthy career but injuries have since taken the life out of his prospective candidacy. Sizemore has endured surgeries on both knees and his back since 2010. In the past Sizemore provided enough offensive production to play at offensive-demanding positions. Limiting the miles on his legs by parking him on the bench during defensive half-innings could help preserve his health. But realistically Sizemore seems beyond saving.

The same cynicism applied to Eric Chavez, who, until last season, found himself in a Sizemorean predicament. The Rays reportedly had interest in signing Chavez last winter, though the former Gold Glove-winning third baseman opted to remain in New York. Chavez’s decision paid off: he played in more than 100 games for the first time since 2006 and posted his best OPS+ since 2004. The Yankees credited Chavez’s offensive production to a healthy back, which allowed him to employ more torque in his swing. Whether Chavez can maintain the health and production is a tough question to answer. More transparent is Chavez’s annual struggles against left-handed pitching. The Rays would need a right-handed sock to pair with Chavez.

Perhaps the biggest wild cards of the class are Lance Berkman and Jim Thome. Both have spent small traces of time in the division but neither has experience much success. Berkman stayed off the shelf in 2011 before missing significant time in 2012 due to right knee issues. He has expressed a desire to play the field before, and may shy away from an agreement where his only task is to hit. Thome, on the other hand, has missed significant time in each of the past two seasons. Given the Rays’ lukewarm interest in Thome despite reasonable price tags, it’s fair to wonder if the club has concerns about his ability to thrive in the division.

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