With the lack of a #HotStoveSZN percolating around Cleveland, and reports that most of the offseason moves have been made, Indians fans are left to hang on every bit of news that comes out about the players already on the roster. Insert the report over the weekend from cleveland.com Indians beat writer Paul Hoynes saying Jason Kipnis will move back to second base for the 2018 season after injuries and the play of Jose Ramirez in his stead forced him to centerfield for the last month of the season as well as the team’s brief playoff run.
This “announcement” came after manager Terry Francona has hinted that Kipnis was “positionless” and might be best used in left field.
Indians plan on moving Jason Kipnis back to second base for 2018. https://t.co/AkCyOAKnQp
— paul hoynes (@hoynsie) January 6, 2018
The decision to return Kipnis to the keystone is filled with both good and bad facets that make this team and offseason wildly frustrating.
Good: Kipnis has been good at second base before
Fans tend to have a hard time with short-sightedness. The culture of fandom is truly a “what have you done for me lately” type of relationship, and as such, Kipnis’ 2017 season left much to be desired. Injuries sucked playing time away from the field and the result was a 0.7 WAR season.
Digging into the numbers shows a different story, however, as Kipnis’ ISO was only .009 points away from his 2016 4.8 WAR season. A precipitous drop in BABIP (.356 in 2015 and .324 in 2016 down to .256 in 2017) is the cause for some of the struggles at the plate, and can be explained away due to the hamstring issues that forced him to play in only 90 games. Those struggles and a return to health should put things into a much rosier light as 2018 comes into focus and the return to second base for one the locker room leaders adds up to surplus value for a team always in need of squeezing every ounce of WAR out of its payroll.
Bad: Jose Ramirez wanted to stay at second
While it has never been expressly vocalized by the player himself, a tweet sent out by Jose Ramirez’s agent cast an ugly pall on the second base situation. The tweet was eventually deleted, but screen shots live forever.
It remains to be seen why exactly Rafa Nieves and, through him, Ramirez wanted Kipnis traded to Toronto. The most common assumption is that Ramirez wants to stay at second (his best position) and Kipnis’ presence on the roster posed the greatest threat to that. While catering to one player’s preference is not the way to run a baseball team, Ramirez does have the leverage to swing how he wants. He was a top three MVP finisher in 2017 and is signed to one of the most valuable contracts on the roster. It’s important to keep Ramirez happy, and a move back to third might upset the GOAT.
Good: Kipnis in the outfield was a nightmare
The sample size we got from last year’s excursion in center field was entirely too small to report good or bad And while the diving catch to save an extra-base hit in the ALDS with the Yankees was mighty pretty, moving the aging Kipnis to the outfield is not something that many would have done willingly. The existence of Michael Brantley on the roster gave way to the idea that Kipnis was marked for left field as a replacement for the oft-injured-and-still-rehabbing former MVP, and left field in Progressive Field is one of the easier areas to play in the majors, but keeping Kipnis in the infield is where his offensive profile would project the most value. Remember, the name of the game for Cleveland is always surplus value, and while Kipnis’ bat at second is near the top of the league, that same production coming out of left field is average at best.
Bad: Less Yandy Diaz
Unless the plan is to move Diaz from third to a super utility role in the outfield or platooning with free agent signee Yonder Alonso at first, Kipnis at second and J Ram back at third means fewer at bats for a player who is projected to be the third highest WAR earner amongst position players (as highlighted by WFNY’s resident genius Mike Hattery on Monday). The projections may be a bit high for a player with 179 plate appearances, but while the goal is to squeeze every piece of value out of the roster, sitting a player with the offensive profile Diaz has is less than exciting. Diaz, 26, is entering his prime years of performance and should be given every chance and opportunity to be an everyday player.
Good: Kipnis was not dumped
Dumping the two years and $30.5 million Kipnis is guaranteed ($28 million in salary over the 2018/2019 seasons and a $2.5 million buyout of a team option $16 million in 2020) in the same offseason the team picked up the $12 million option on Brantley—while not knowing what was coming from him—would be malpractice. Kipnis was readily available, reports from numerous sources have indicated, with the returns ranging from minor league prospects to Ian Happ of the Chicago Cubs (Danny Salazar was included in those rumors, but Kipnis was nonetheless involved). Without knowing the exact return, but with the knowledge that a trade would be a salary dump, the team is better off keeping one of the top 10 second basemen in the league.
Given the way the roster is currently constructed, playing Kipnis at second is the best use of assets available1. It remains to be seen how healthy Brantley will be since he can’t participate in baseball activities until February at the earliest and the training staff for Cleveland has left much to be desired. If you remove Brantley from the roster, the best position for Kipnis would be left field. But alas, those eggs have been cracked and you may as well make the omelet.
- While being even more of a testament to the value of Ramirez [↩]