It's gonna be a long walk home
So, if you’re Travis Hafner and the Indians, are you relieved that no structural damage has been found in Pronk’s shoulder and the surgical procedure performed was a relatively tame arthroscopy, or are you just all that much more perplexed?
This injury has been about as mysterious as they come. I don’t fault the Indians for delaying surgery as long as possible. Given that the MRIs on the shoulder turned up no need for structural repair, it seemed reasonable to have Hafner try to build up his strength through rehab. But when that strategy failed, it was back to the drawing board — or, more accurately, off to the surgeon’s table.
Now that the “cleanout” surgery has been performed, the Indians are operating under the assumption that Hafner will be at 100 percent strength by the start of next season.
But here’s an assumption the Indians must be considering: Even at 100 percent strength, there is a very good chance the Pronk of 2009 won’t be the Pronk of 2006 or even ’07. His bat speed had slowed long before he ever told the Indians his shoulder was bothering him, and the time lost due to injury won’t help matters one bit.
The Indians are really handcuffed here. Hafner’s contract hinders them from seeking out backup DH options on the open market, so any “Plan B” would have to come in-house.
I had once been in favor of exploring Kelly Shoppach’s trade value this winter, but the ever-evolving Hafner saga leads me to believe the Indians will have little choice but to stay flexible with that whole Shoppach/Martinez/Garko mish-mosh at catcher and first base. If Hafner is still ailing or remains a shell of his former self at the plate, the Indians could give Martinez more time at first and Garko more time at DH — at least until Matt LaPorta is ready to contribute.
Only one truly positive scenario exists out of this mess, and that’s Hafner returning at full strength and contributing at the plate — perhaps not at the level he did in ’06, but I’m sure the Indians would sign up for 100 RBIs and an OPS above, say, .850. That scenario, unfortunately, has looked less and less believable as this year has evolved. And it’s hard to be convinced that an athroscopic procedure is going to cure all that ails the man known as Pronk.