Former big-time slugger Travis Hafner -- who hit 141 homers from 2003-07 but only 34 since -- likely will force the Indians to consider releasing him after the season if he cannot demonstrate recovery from chronic right shoulder problems that have cost him much of his productivity over the past three years.
The prediction comes from Cleveland Plain Dealer baseball writer Paul Hoynes, who foresees a more likely outcome that the left-handed designated hitter will remain under contract after playing in about 115 games in 2011, hitting 15-20 bombs and driving in 50-60 runs.
Continuing his upnote in Sunday's editions, Hoynes noted that Hafner now seems to resemble the hitter who batted .329 with 15 doubles, five homers and 21 RBI in 44 games after the All-Star break last year, demonstrating continued potential usefulness to the rebuilding team.
The Indians have signed former Angels first baseman Casey Kotchman, who can back up Hafner at designated hitter and first baseman Matt LaPorta, both of whom have missed significant playing time in recent seasons. Though Kotchman has never hit for power, he is thought to have a good eye at the plate and can be effective around the bag.