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Indians, Hafner part ways, possibly for good

CLEVELAND -- Travis Hafner made a home in Cleveland. On the field, he rewrote sections of the Indians' record book with fantastic displays of power in his prime. Away from the ballpark, he adopted the city as his own, started a family and pushed away any thoughts of suiting up for a different team.

A decade spent in one town can feel like a lifetime for a ballplayer.

"When it's happening," Hafner said, "you just feel like you'll be in one spot forever."

That mentality changed drastically on Wednesday, when the Indians announced that they had declined Hafner's $13 million club option for the 2013 season. Given the aging designated hitter's decline in production, and his lengthy history of injuries, the price was simply too much for Cleveland to pay.

Hafner knew the decision was coming. During his season-end sit-down with Indians general manager Chris Antonetti, Hafner was informed of the direction the ballclub planned on going. Hafner will receive a $2.75 million buyout, as well as a chance to dip his toes into free-agent waters this winter.

"I wasn't surprised by it," Hafner said. "At this point, you just kind of sit back and wait, wait for free agency to start. You just kind of see what the interest is like and go from there. At this point, I really have no idea what's going to happen."

In a conference call, Antonetti made a point -- unprompted -- to thank Hafner for all he has given the team over the years.

"Travis, in his decade with us, not only made a huge impact for the organization on the field, but he and [his wife] Amy really immersed themselves in the Cleveland community and really made an impact here with a lot of their charitable work," Antonetti said. "We're very appreciative of all of their contributions, and certainly wish them well moving forward."

That made it sound as though Indians fans have seen the last of Hafner in the hometown blue and red.

Antonetti said Cleveland will keep an open mind about re-signing the DH.

"We remain open to it," Antonetti said. "We'll have to see how our roster takes shape this winter, and he'll obviously have to evaluate his alternatives."

If there is an opportunity to return, the 35-year-old Hafner would have interest in doing so.

"It's something that we kind of agreed to sit down this offseason and kind of discuss it then," Hafner said. "I'd definitely have interest, but I'd say it'll take some time. I don't see anything happening quickly. We'll kind of sit down and gauge interest on both sides and see the direction the organization is taking, and go from there."

Hafner spent 23 games with the Rangers as a rookie in 2002, but was dealt to Cleveland the following winter. Over 10 years with the Indians, he launched 200 home runs and collected 688 RBIs. Those figures would have been higher had it not been for a variety of injuries that took a toll on Hafner over the course of the past five seasons.

From 2008-12, Hafner hit .259 with a .353 on-base percentage, with an average of 12 home runs and 43 RBIs in 86 games per year. That was a steep drop-off from his production from 2004-07, when he hit at a .296 clip with a .410 OBP, and posted an average of 32 homers and 108 RBIs in 140 games per season.

This past season, Hafner was limited to 66 games due to right knee and back woes, and he hit just .228 in the process.

"He established himself as one of the best and most feared hitters in the American League," Antonetti said. "Unfortunately, as the last few years unfolded, he suffered a number of injuries that probably impacted his ability to be the same type of hitter that he was in the past."

The frustration felt by Hafner stems more from the fact that his tireless work off the field did little to stop the rash of injuries from occurring.

"You spend a lot of time," Hafner said, "behind the scenes and in the offseason, just working out and getting yourself strong and ready to go so you can make it through a whole season. And then you set goals for yourself as well on an individual basis. When an injury happens, it's very frustrating.

"You want to play the full season and see how good of a year you can put up, and you want to be out there every day helping your teammates and win as many games as possible."

Hafner said he is feeling good at the moment.

"At this point," he said, "it's just kind of go through a normal offseason and get ready for next year."

Antonetti was asked if the Indians might consider moving away from carrying a full-time DH, opting instead for a more flexible approach to the position.

"With the right hitter," Antonetti said, "as I think David Ortiz has demonstrated in Boston, it can still be a competitive advantage. But short of having a run producer that's a proven run producer, the flexibility that the DH spot provides gives the manager the flexibility to look at matchups a little bit more, and to rest guys."

The Indians haven't had that kind of flexibility in a long time.

Hafner knows it might be time to move on.

"It feels like this is really all I've known for my big league career," Hafner said. "There's so many people in the organization that you've known for 10 years. It's basically like an extended family. ... Now that your future is uncertain, you just kind of gauge interest and go from there.

"The organization, the city and the fans, I've had a great experience here."

Cleveland Indians, Travis Hafner