"I think we have to go into next year thinking that he is our DH," Indians manager Manny Acta said on Sunday. "We can't control the injuries."
The Indians have financial reasons for wanting to keep Hafner in the lineup. The 34-year-old DH is under contract for $13 million this season and will be owed the same next year. Given Hafner's recent history of injury, and his inability to man a position, that is a hefty contract to trade.
The other part of the equation is Hafner has proven to be an effective run producer when he is healthy and in the meat of the batting order. Through 82 games this year for the Tribe, Hafner has hit .281 with 11 home runs, 49 RBIs and an .812 on-base plus slugging percentage.
Hafner also missed a month between May and June with an oblique injury.
"He's done a fine job for us when he's been on the field," Acta said. "Hopefully, this thing is going to be behind him."
Hafner's injury -- described by head athletic trainer Lonnie Soloff as a strained tendon on the bottom of his foot -- first became a problem on April 27, when he slid awkwardly into home in a game against the Royals. Hafner missed a handful of contests before returning to the lineup.
On Aug. 21, Hafner aggravated the injury while rounding first base after collecting a sixth-inning single against the Tigers at Comerica Park. Hafner tried to stretch the hit into a double, but he was hobbled when a sharp pain flared in his foot. He was thrown out while retreating to first base and was forced to leave the game.
Over the next couple of weeks, Cleveland will monitor Hafner's progress in game action to determine whether he will need surgery on the foot this winter. Hafner said earlier this weekend that he was optimistic about his chances of avoiding an operation.
If discomfort persists in Hafner's foot, Soloff indicated that surgery could help alleviate the pain by moving the tendon within the foot. Removing the tendon surgically is not an option. Hafner reported no issues while testing his foot during running drills in recent days.
"[Friday and Saturday] were key," Acta said, "being able to run the bases the way he did, he didn't feel any pain or anything like that. He's actually felt better than how he has felt in the past."
Hafner increased his running regimen gradually over the past week, moving from an anti-gravity treadmill to "land-based" activities at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago. The DH ran the bases prior to Saturday's game and received clearance to rejoin the lineup one day later.
As things currently stand, Hafner is slated to split the designated hitter duties with veteran Jim Thome, who was acquired in a trade with the Twins on Aug. 25. Neither Hafner nor Thome are everyday options at this point, so using one in the DH spot while the other rests is an ideal situation for the players.
"He's going to split time with Jimmy," Acta explained. "Right off the bat, it's not fair to throw him out there every day coming back from the injury. Both are pretty much in the same boat, so we're going to try to match them up the best way possible and try to keep both of them fresh.
"It gives us that luxury to have one of those two guys in the lineup just about every day."
Due to injuries, Hafner has struggled to be an everyday player for the Indians for the past four seasons. Since 2007, when Hafner appeared in 152 games for Cleveland, he has been limited to fewer than 100 games in three of four years, including the current campaign.
Prior to this season, Hafner was hindered by a persistent right shoulder injury.
One positive within this trying season has been that the DH has not had similar issues with the shoulder problems that plagued him over the past three years.
"That's good," Acta said. "One at a time."