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Criminally-Unowned Hafner Deserves Some Love

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There isn't a reputable player in baseball I'm less interested in dealing with than Justin Morneau, and that includes Adam Dunn and Dan Uggla. Morneau deserves his own WebMD endorsement after all the injuries he's sustained in the past year, from the pinched nerve in his neck to a sprained wrist to his sore left shoulder to the concussion he had last season. I'll give Peyton Manning the benefit of the doubt with a neck surgery, but when Justin Morneau goes under the knife to get his neck fixed -- and it's one of only four body parts hindering him from playing baseball -- that's where I draw the line.

But here's the thing. Justin Morneau is still owned in 69% of Yahoo! fantasy leagues. Travis Hafner, who has more home runs, RBI and a significantly higher batting average in 12 fewer games, is owned in a paltry 38% of leagues. The discrepancy baffles me.

Hafner, of course, is not an easy person to get behind. He's been mostly irrelevant since 2006, when he hit 42 homers, drove in 117 and batted .308. Although some are quick to attribute his past statistics to "steroid era" boosts, even if he wasn't an active participant (though there have certainly been rumors), mostly he's been plagued by injuries. A bum shoulder makes him incapable of throwing a baseball, and has prevented the Indians DH from contributing anything more than a pinch hit for the last week.

Now that interleague play is over, however, Hafner is an excellent addition for anyone needing a cheap source of power. With a .336 batting average, 7 home runs and 29 RBI, Hafner is locked into the No. 4 or No. 5 spots in the Indians order. If those numbers seem paltry, it's because he's spent half the year on the disabled list with a strained oblique, which is largely why he remains unowned in two-thirds of Yahoo! and ESPN leagues. Still, how productive he's been in the little time he's been out there needs to be appreciated. He's averaging 0.2 home runs per game, a rate slightly higher than that of Troy Tulowitzki, David Ortiz, Ryan Howard, Chris Young and (for what it's worth) Albert Pujols.

Now consider that those averages factor in the past week, when he's made nothing but pinch-hit appearances that have dragged those averages down. Naturally, it isn't a selling point that he's been injured a lot lately, and most will say his .336 average is doomed to come down. But in an age where Lance Berkman, David Ortiz, Johnny Damon and Paul Konerko are magically as good as they were five years ago, does it really make sense for Travis Hafner to be less owned than Justin Morneau? When owners are scratching their heads trying to find a replacement for Adam Dunn, is Hafner really less attractive than someone fresh off a neck job?

After all, if you double his numbers to account for the games he's missed and the ones he's merely pinch-hitted in, you're looking at someone otherwise universally-owned. Even if you reduce the batting average by 50 points to account for luck, you'd be looking at someone with 14 home runs, 58 RBI and a .286 average. And in his prime years from 2004 to 2006, when he was healthy, Hafner hit over .300 in all three seasons, so a drop-off in batting average shouldn't be nearly as drastic if he's truly overcome his injuries.

I'm a believer. He was fantastic in April and in his one pre-NL-visiting week since coming back from the oblique issue, he hit .308 and collected 2 home runs with 6 RBI. I'm not saying you should trade Ryan Howard for him or anything, but he's absolutely deserving of a chance if he's available on your waiver wire. With matchups against the high-octane Yankees and Blue Jays this week, the Indians slugger isn't a bad play at all, which is more than I can say for Justin Morneau.