In explaining why he signed Raul Ibanez over a lefty-swinging DH group that included — among others — Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Jason Giambi, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman emphasized Ibanez’s familiarity and ability to play the field regularly.

The way Cashman figured, the 2012 Yankees would benefit from having at least that option. It seemed such a ludicrous statement at the time, particularly because Ibanez was such a limited fielder.

Yet, that ability to play the corner outfield on a below-average but not killer level was vital to last season’s Yankees, because it gave manager Joe Girardi an outfield option with Brett Gardner missing most of the season due to an elbow injury. And it did not tie up the DH slot, which was critical with Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez needing more days in the lineup, but off the field. Rodriguez (38 games) and Jeter (25) actually started more games at DH than Ibanez (23).

And assuming they can ever get back and stay healthy — definitely no sure thing — Jeter and A-Rod are going to need the DH respite more than ever (In fact, A-Rod came up with a tight quad yesterday in his Triple-A rehab).

Thus, Travis Hafner’s inability to play the field is about to become a larger issue around the Yankees. In fact, there are scenarios in which Hafner simply will be released, unless he regains value by recovering his power stroke.