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Indians nearing decision on Hafner's future

Indians nearing decision on Hafner's future

Indians nearing decision on Hafner's future
CLEVELAND -- There is no denying the Indians have respect for Travis Hafner. That is evident in the organization's unwillingness to come straight out and announce that the designated hitter's club option for next season will not be picked up.

But that is the unspoken reality of a situation that is only days away from presenting itself.

Three days after the conclusion of the World Series between the Tigers and Giants, Cleveland will need to make the call on Hafner's $13 million club option for the 2013 season. The Indians are expected to decline the option, sending the aging DH into the free-agent pool this winter.

"I won't really think about it until some time after the World Series," Hafner said at the end of the season. "There's really nothing to think about at this point. I have no idea what's going to happen. I just kind of have to wait and see."

What is going to happen -- barring the unexpected -- is that Cleveland will pay the 35-year-old Hafner a $2.75 million buyout and thank him for his years of service. Asked if there was any way the injury-prone Hafner, or outfielder Grady Sizemore, could be back in the fold next season, general manager Chris Antonetti would not commit in either direction.

"It's possible," Antonetti said at a season-ending sit-down with reporters. "I think the level in investment would be very different than it's been in the past."

That is a GM's way of keeping all doors cracked open.

Hafner and Sizemore accounted for $18 million in payroll in 2012, but combined for just 66 games on the field. Those were all credited to Hafner. Sizemore -- a free agent this winter -- spent the entire season rehabbing from knee and back injuries.

After a decade spent wearing an Indians uniform, Hafner knows what might be ahead.

"There's a lot of uncertainties right now," Hafner said. "I haven't talked to anybody, but the organization, I've been here so long and a lot of these guys are like family. I've really enjoyed playing in this city. The fans have been great. I've had a great time here."

Such sentiments sound like a player realizing he might be looking for a new team this winter.

"It'll be different," Hafner said of the offseason ahead. "There will be some excitement."

Over 10 seasons with the Indians, Hafner went through stages as a both a prolific and broken-down slugger, launching 200 home runs along the way.

Before a variety of injuries took their toll, Hafner averaged 32 home runs and 108 RBIs per season from 2004-07, hitting .296 with a .976 OPS along the way. Over the next five years, including his recent injury-marred 2012, Hafner hit .259 with a .789 OPS, averaging 12 home runs, 43 RBIs and just 86 games per season.

This season, surgery on his right knee and a herniated disc in his back shelved him for roughly three months combined. Hafner hit .357 with a 1.081 OPS through 12 games to open the season, but ended the year hitting .198 with a .710 OPS across his final 54 contests.

"It's been disappointing," Hafner said. "You spend a lot of time working in the offseason. You work hard. You get off to a great start to the season, and then I went through a stretch where I felt I swung the bat great and just had some brutal luck. Then I had the knee injury. I was just inconsistent."

It has been the story of Hafner's tenure with the Tribe, since inking a four-year extension with the club during the 2007 campaign.

Hafner is haunted by his injury history, but he feels he did all he could to prevent the setbacks.

"It's been very frustrating," Hafner said. "But, at the same time, I feel like I work as hard as anybody in the offseason to stay healthy and be in shape. There's really nothing more I could've done. I mean, if I wouldn't have done anything and got hurt, then you'd feel bad about it.

"I can look back and say I've done everything I can to be healthy and to be in shape."

Now, the Indians need to look back and determine whether it makes sense to invest in Hafner for another season.

With $2.75 million already on the books via Hafner's buyout, Cleveland might consider offering him a reduced contract to get the most for their money. The Indians might also decide that now is the time to cut the cord, taking a more flexible approach to the DH role and giving some younger players a chance to step up as team leaders.

For what it is worth, Hafner has not closed the door on coming back to Cleveland.

"It's a possibility," said Hafner, who makes his home on the city's west side. "The fans have been great. The organization has been great. This basically becomes your second family. So I've definitely enjoyed my time here. It's been a great experience."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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