It all made perfect sense at the time. The "Project Donkey" would be the anchor of the Cleveland Indians' lineup for years to come.
Travis Hafner was imposing—that icy glare boring holes in an opposing pitcher's psyche, a 40-homer, 100-RBI mainstay who hit for average similar to the Belles, Ramirezes or Thomes of the Rockin' Jake days. He was, by all appearances, exactly the kind of guy that would be in the AL MVP race for many years to come. He was dominant.
Adversely to the typical way of their financial doings, the Cleveland front office threw the beleaguered fanbase (who are used to seeing their developed superstars prosper in bigger markets) a bone by extending Hafner to the tune of a four-year, $57 million contract. To date, it's the largest contract ever doled out in franchise history.
So, all was good. It was deserved completely by Hafner. It was one of the few necessary risks that the awful Dolan ownership have taken to date. And it gave the Indians fans some peace of mind: This guy stayed, and he took less money to do so.
As Indians' luck would have it, however, it usually goes bad, and goes bad fairly quick.
Injuries are a cruel adversary. They are the bane of every athlete's existence, and like Father Time, it has a fairly ridiculous winning percentage. It might not be undefeated, but it's sitting pretty in the high .990s.
It started with Hafner's shoulder. It essentially left the newly christened "Pronkville" in right field a virtual tumbleweeding ghost town. His balky knees were certainly on display even this season, as he would labor for extra bases with all of the gracefulness of an elephant shot with a tranquillizer dart before and after midseason surgery. And now, as reported by the team's official Twitter account, his back lands him on the shelf, possibly for the remainder of the lost season.
And with a club option at the price of $13 million, his final hit with the Indians could very well have been home run No. 200—a nice round number that seems short-changed when looking through the prism of his short run of dominance. It's a disappointing outcome to one of the most sensible baseball investments in recent memory.
To wistfully wonder what could have been is a favorite pastime of many Indians fans. The presumably sad end to the tenures of once-great players like Travis Hafner shows the world of sport in the truest of senses. It reminds us to enjoy the greatness while it lasts.