Friday marks Major League Baseball's deadline for teams to offer contracts for the upcoming season to any arbitration-eligible players. Any players who are non-tendered -- not offered a contract -- will join the free-agent pool this winter. Hannahan, who earned $1.135 million last season, is a non-tender candidate for the Indians.
When deciding whether to tender a contract to a player, teams must weigh that player's expected role and his projected salary through arbitration. Two previously arbitration-eligible players (pitcher Kevin Slowey and infielder Brent Lillibridge) have already elected free agency after being outrighted off Cleveland's 40-man roster earlier this winter. Another, southpaw reliever Rafael Perez, was designated for assignment on Wednesday.
The Indians' crop of eligible players has subsequently been trimmed to Mike Aviles ($1.2 million in 2012), Shin-Soo Choo ($4.9 million), Justin Masterson ($3.825 million), Lou Marson (first time), Chris Perez ($4.5 million), Tony Sipp (first time) and Joe Smith ($1.75 million).
"With Jack," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said, "we've got to make probably our most challenging tender decision."
Part of the reason the decision is challenging is Hannahan's versatility and skill on defense. He is a stellar defender at third base, but the 32-year-old can also handle shortstop or first base. With Lillibridge out of the picture, Hannahan joins Jason Donald and Aviles as in-house options as utility infielders. If the Indians trade shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera (a possibility), Hannahan adds important depth.
Antonetti said Hannahan's value extends beyond the diamond, though.
"He provides stability with what he brings defensively," Antonetti said. "But he also has some leadership skills that can have an impact on the clubhouse."
Hannahan joined the Indians as a Minor League free agent prior to the 2011 season but worked his way into the starting third-base role that spring. In two seasons with Cleveland, the lefty-swinging Hannahan has hit .247 with 12 home runs, 32 doubles and 69 RBIs over 215 games. He hit .244 with four homers, 16 doubles and 29 RBIs in 105 games in 2012.
Hannahan was hindered by a nagging back injury last year.
"I would've loved to have played a full season and not get injured," Hannahan said. "Getting off to a hot start like that, and then coming back [from the injury] and not being able to do what I did, it was disappointing."
Over the season's first 30 games, Hannahan hit .287 with three home runs, 18 RBIs and an .801 on-base plus slugging percentage last year. That was before the lower back issue forced him out of the lineup on May 13. The third baseman returned on May 26 but went on to hit just .180 with one homer, seven RBIs and a .485 OPS in his next 59 games.
"It's no secret," Hannahan said. "When I came back from my injury, I was horrible. My back was still barking and it was something I was trying to maintain and deal with. Looking back on it, I probably should've missed some more time, but I felt like I missed too much time to begin with."
Hannahan knows the Indians are serious about handing third base over to Chisenhall, but the veteran still feels he can be an everyday player.
"Absolutely," Hannahan said. "I think anybody in this clubhouse would tell you the same thing. That's something that I still want to do. I'd love to get an opportunity where I can stay healthy and get 500 at-bats and see what kind of numbers I can put up.
"At the same time, I'm older. I'm one of the older guys on the team, and I've been a role player before. When I am a role player, that's something that I accept. I'll help the team out and be ready to play."