The signing of Travis Hafner to a four-year extension earlier this week reminds us that acquiring the big slugger in a trade from Texas was the first bold stroke of genius by Indians’ general manager Mark Shapiro.
“Blind luck or genius?” I asked Shapiro.
It wasn’t a fair question because it’s not Shapiro’s style to boast. It was Shapiro’s first big move. He had become general manager on Nov. 1, 2001, succeeding John Hart.
He made the Hafner deal 13 months later, acquiring him from Texas on Dec. 6, 2002. The Indians sent starting pitcher Ryan Drese and backup catcher Einar Diaz to Texas, where Hart was the new general manager. Shapiro and Hart had a good relationship after working together in Cleveland for several years.
The Indians had been tracking Hafner’s career in the minors. In each of his six years in the Rangers’ system something about Hafner stood out. In his first year, 1997, he made his rookie league all-star team and ranked in the league’s top five in home runs, doubles and runs scored.
The next year at Savannah he led the team in RBI and walks and was second in home runs.
In 1999 he led the South Atlantic League and the entire Rangers’ minor league system in home runs and RBI.
In 2000 he led the Florida State League in batting average and was second in RBI. He had the same ranking in the Rangers’ minor league system.
In 2001 he underwent surgery on the hamate bone in his right wrist in March but recovered to finish third in slugging in the Texas League.
In 2002 he was third in batting average in the AAA Pacific Coast League despite a second surgery on his right wrist in the off-season.
At the time, you and I knew nothing about Hafner, but now it’s easy to see why Shapiro coveted him.
Drese, however, was one of the Indians’ starting pitchers and the Indians’ pitching was in shambles. In 2002, the Indians used 31 different pitchers — 16 different starters, 22 of them won at least one game and 23 of them lost at least one game.
With a 10-9 record, Drese was tied for second on the team in wins along with Bartolo Colon and Danys Baez. C. C. Sabathia was the Tribe’s top winner with 13. Drese had made 26 starts and had pitched 137 innings. He had an astronomical ERA of 6.55.
Shapiro had to gulp hard. What was Drese’s upside?