Tribe, Hafner agree to extension
'Pronk' to remain in Cleveland through 2012 season
CLEVELAND -- CLEVELAND -- Travis Hafner doesn't have extravagant plans for the money he reaped through the contract extension he signed with the Indians on Thursday.But Hafner, as most Indians fans know, isn't exactly an extravagant man. His most comfortable attire, after all, is a pair of jeans and a black T-shirt -- the very outfit he's wearing on a bobblehead figurine the club is distributing later this season. "I don't have any room," Hafner said with a smile, "for any more black T-shirts." But the man known as Pronk has plenty of time to think about how to spend his newfound cash. In another of their long line of long-term commitments to core players, the Indians have exercised their 2008 option on the 30-year-old Hafner and signed him to a four-year extension through 2012. They also hold a team option for 2013. The value of the extension is $57 million. And in lieu of a signing bonus, the club is dumping additional dollars into Pronk's 2007 and '08 salaries, which had previously stood at $4.1 million and $5.05 million, respectively. Hafner's contract contains limited trade protection and includes awards-based -- not numbers-based -- incentives, according to his agent, Scott Parker of Legacy Sports. At the press conference announcing the signing of the designated hitter, general manager Mark Shapiro said going long-term with Hafner, even in the midst of what hasn't exactly been Pronk's most dynamic season, made sense for the Tribe. "Anybody who watches this team play understands its resiliency, toughness and work ethic," Shapiro said. "Haf personifies those things." Getting to this point took time, however. Shapiro's assistant, Chris Antonetti, and Parker had several discussions about an extension during Spring Training and built the framework of a deal. But no dotted lines were signed. "To some degree," Parker said, "we ran out of time." Parker also said his client wanted to see how the '07 installment of the Indians played together before he re-upped. By the time talks gained momentum again at the All-Star break, the club was 52-36 -- a game out of first place in the AL Central. "That helped build enthusiasm," Parker said. "At some point, Travis said, 'I'm comfortable here and ready to make a commitment.'" Hafner had already committed to northeast Ohio on a personal level last winter, when he married the former Amy Beekman, a Cleveland native. That family tie might have been the Indians' best bargaining tool, because they certainly didn't have to sell Pronk on the benefits of the city. In fact, his contract calls for what Shapiro called "unprecedented" contributions to Cleveland Indians Charities, the team's humanitarian wing in the area. "I'm very excited to stay in Cleveland," Hafner said. "My wife and I really enjoy the city, and the fans have always treated me great." Beyond his accomplishments on the field, which include a career average of .292 with 148 doubles, 132 homers and 437 RBIs in 604 games, Hafner's nickname helped endear him to the fans -- to the point where, in 2006, the Indians named their right-field mezzanine section "Pronkville." "It's pretty cool to have a part of the stadium named after you," Hafner said. With some extra money in Pronk's pocket, it was pointed out to him that he could, perhaps, be a bidder for the available naming rights to Jacobs Field. After all, Pronk Park has a nice ring to it. But the Indians hope this contract buys Hafner something more valuable -- peace of mind. After becoming just the second Indians player in history (Jim Thome being the other) to hit 40 homers, draw 100 walks, score 100 runs and drive in 100 runs in a single season in 2006, Hafner hasn't been the same hitter this season. He entered the break batting .262 with 11 doubles and 14 homers, though he does rank 11th in the American League with 57 RBIs and first in walks with 65. Hafner has been adamant all year that the preseason contract talks, in which he turned down a multiyear offer, played no part in his mind-set this season. His teammates, who reported to Jacobs Field for a post-break workout Thursday, disagreed. "It weighed on his mind quite a bit," third baseman Casey Blake said. "He's only human. You can't help but think about it." Now that the contract is complete and the Indians are gearing up for a second-half battle with the Twins and Tigers, Hafner can put the negotiations behind him. As second baseman Josh Barfield pointed out, "He has $57 million reasons why he can relax now." The Indians, on the other hand, have more negotiating to be done. Though it has already invested nearly $100 million into Hafner and Jake Westbrook this season and has ensured Hafner, Westbrook, Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, Grady Sizemore, Fausto Carmona, Ryan Garko and Barfield are all under contractual control through at least 2010, the team still has its sights on locking up staff ace C.C. Sabathia, who is eligible for free agency after 2008. Those negotiations, however, barely even got off the ground in Spring Training and aren't expected to pick up until this winter, at the earliest. "I would be very surprised," said Parker, who also represents Sabathia, "if we talked about that in any substantive way prior to the offseason." Given the money that is likely to be available to Sabathia in a market that is favorable to starting pitchers of his ilk, the Indians know they would have a challenge on their hands. The money already committed to other core players, team president Paul Dolan admitted, further complicates matters. "That will make it slightly more challenging," Dolan said, "but it doesn't preclude it from happening. It's too early [to tell]."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.