Indians GM Mark Shapiro, right, can smile even more now that slugger Travis Hafner is under contract through 2012.
Tony Dejak / AP Enlarge
CLEVELAND - Travis Hafner shrugs off the idea that unfinished contract negotiations contributed to his first-half slump.
Even if it did, the soft-spoken slugger, who signed a $57 million, four-year extension yesterday, would never blame it for his performance the last couple months.
"To me that's just an excuse," Hafner said. "When I come to the park every day, my goal is to work hard and prepare for that night's game."
Hafner's salary this year was increased by $2.25 million to $6.3 million, and $3 million was added to raise his 2008 salary to $8.05 million. He will receive $11.5 million in each of the 2009 and 2010 seasons, and $13 million apiece in 2011 and 2012. Cleveland gets a $13 million option for 2013 with a $2.75 million buyout, and the price of the option can increase by up to $2 million based on MVP voting in prior years.
Nicknamed "Pronk" in his early days with the club when he was labeled as being part project, part donkey, the 30-year-old Hafner is batting .262 with 14 homers and 57 RBIs this season - a definite drop in production from 2006 when he hit .308 with 42 homers and 117 RBIs.
While he wouldn't say the contract talks were a distraction, he said he's pleased to be able to focus on baseball for the remainder of the season. The Indians at 52-34 have one of the best records in the league and are looking for their first playoff appearance since 2001.
"I feel like I'm going to have a good second half," Hafner said. "I want to be a guy who's going to be a huge part of the offense."
Calling Hafner one of the city's "sports treasures," general manager Mark Shapiro said Hafner's combination of talent and character make him a unique player.
"We're fortunate to have Haf as a core part of our team," he said.
Hafner joins a group of players the Indians have signed to multiyear deals, including pitcher Jake Westbrook, catcher Victor Martinez and outfielder Grady Sizemore.
Shapiro believes they're a group that can lead the Indians to championships.
"We've got a bunch of superstars in that room and very few egos," he said.
Hafner, known for his offbeat sense of humor and interests that range from pro wrestling to chess, said testing the free agent market after 2008 didn't appeal to him because he couldn't imagine playing anywhere else.
His agent, Scott Parker, talked to the Indians during spring training but the deal didn't get finished. Hafner said there wasn't a lot of work to do when talks resumed over the All-Star break.
"We were so close in spring training. We had a chance to get it done now," Hafner said. "I knew I wanted to be here, so the opportunity presented itself. I really wanted to sign and stay here."
Cleveland is where he met his wife, Amy, whose local ties are another reason to stay.
The Indians acquired Hafner from Texas in December of 2002 for catcher Einar Diaz and pitcher Ryan Drese.