It's not often that one player makes or breaks a teams season or even one game (outside of basketball lets say). But if the Indians needed to pick one player that they needed the most to have a good season, it would be Travis Hafner.
Hafner is coming off of more rehab and surgery of the his problematic right shoulder, that has plagued him since his 'subpar' year in 2007.
Yes, the Indians need Fausto Carmona to bounce back to 2007 form, and need guys like Carl Pavano, Kerry Wood, and Anthony Reyes to avoid the trainers room, but the Tribe's last two seasons biggest issues were slow starts due to their inability to put runs on the scoreboard.
Whatever injuries the Indians pitching staff might occur (cross your fingers Cleveland), a big reform in numbers and health from the man known as Pronk might be able to overshadow it.
The Indians reached the ALCS in 2007 (the year Hafner's shoulder problems began), and were within one game of the World Series with a mediocre season from the big left-hander from North Dakota.
A mediocre season for Hafner was classified at 24 home runs, 100 RBI, and a .266 batting average, to go with a Pronk sub par OPS of .836. The Indians were saved by a Cy Young performance by CC Sabathia and Fausto Carmona and a gutty season from Joe Borowski.
This time around the team is much better built in the bullpen, and the offense around him. A return to classic Pronk (2004-2007 an average of 34 home runs per year, .308 average, 111 RBI and a 1.031 OPS). In 2009, he will have even better protection than he's had.
With a supposedly healthy shoulder finally, added with a healthy Victor Martinez, the offensive emergence of Kelley Shoppach and Shin-Soo Choo, and Jhonny Peralta being the newly minted cleanup hitter, adding a healthy Hafner in the lineup would do wonders for the Tribe's offense that has been stagnant for long stretches (August of 2007, the Indians averaged 2.4 runs per game), as well as struggling the first half of 2008.
As Eric Wedge and Mark Shapiro have suggested a return to 2006 form from Hafner (6 grand slams) isn't extremely reasonable, but if he comes back to somewhere between 2006 and 2007 form the Indians offense could reasonably carry a pitching staff that only includes Cliff Lee that has had sustained consistent success.
The AL Central is a bit weaker than in years past, and a healthy shoulder from Hafner and pitching rotaion could have the Indians in nearly better position than in 2007.