Tribe Happenings: Kipnis will be at second base next season
Some news, notes and thoughts from my Indians notebook…
Kipnis will be the Indians second baseman in 2015
With the offseason here there is going to be a lot of wishing, praying, hoping and demanding for the Indians to sign certain free agents, trade certain players and try and trade for others and change the roles of some players.
Such is life during the Hot Stove season, a season which will kick off in just a few weeks shortly after the conclusion of the World Series. In the meantime, while Indians fans impatiently await news and rumors to surface about what their team might there is a lot of rampant speculation, unrealistic hopes and rash roster decisions that are being thrown around that are not going to happen. The one that has dominated the talk the most may be a call for a change of position for second baseman Jason Kipnis.
I’ve already seen many requests in my Twitter feed, in comments in other articles on this site and from callers on talk shows that the Indians should move Kipnis off of second base this offseason and to another position (or even trade him). There is some merit to the idea of moving him off the position, but here are four big reasons why it won’t happen and how the timing of such a move doesn’t fit.
1. Limited established middle infield options. The Indians have three good shortstop prospects in Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez and Erik Gonzalez. Lindor and Gonzalez grade out as sure-fire above average or better defensive shortstops and more natural long term fits there, and Ramirez surprised with his solid to good play there in Cleveland to give the Indians enough confidence to make him their opening day shortstop going into next season.
But while Ramirez could take over for Kipnis at second base and no doubt be a better defender there because it is his more natural position, the jury is still way out on whether he can be a capable offensive player in the big leagues. He showed spurts of good play offensively and no doubt has some upside to be better, but also showed his inexperience, inconsistency and some plate discipline concerns.
Throughout the minors Ramirez has always been around a near 1:1 ratio with his strikeouts and walks, but so far in a limited sample size of 280 plate appearances in the Major Leagues he has been about 2.5:1 as far as strikeouts to walks go. Like I said, his minor league history, youth and upside point to a guy who potentially could see those plate discipline numbers even out as he gains more experience, but until he proves that to be true you can’t make a change at second base with Ramirez for Kipnis. For as good as he is defensively, if he turns out to be a low on-base slap hitting middle infielder, that’s not a guy you want in the everyday lineup unless he plays out of this world defense.
The other part of the equation in any consideration of moving Ramirez to second base is they need to have a suitable option to plug in at shortstop. Lindor and Gonzalez are not ready to assume the everyday shortstop job out of the gates next season. The Indians will work to finish Lindor off next season at the Triple-A level and manage his service time, much like they did with Carlos Santana in 2010. Gonzalez should return to Double-A and get more exposure there, and once Lindor is moved up slide right up to Triple-A as the starting shortstop there. Also, the possibility exists that one of Lindor, Gonzalez or Ramirez are traded this offseason as either one of them is a good trade chip at a position of need for other teams, something the Indians could dangle in order to fill a big need elsewhere on the roster.
Lindor no doubt could handle playing shortstop in the Major Leagues at the outset of next season, but being that it would be his first exposure to the big leagues there will no doubt be a transition period offensively that a contending team probably can’t live with. If he started at shortstop and Ramirez at second the Indians would go into a potentially Word Series contending season with a starting shortstop and second baseman who they have no idea what to expect from next season. That’s what rebuilding teams do, not contending teams. While Kipnis has had his struggles and brings concerns himself as to what can be expected of him next season, the difference with him is he has a history in the big leagues to draw from and we pretty much know the player he is capable of being when he is healthy and in better shape.
Also, Mike Aviles might be back and could start at shortstop, but what would the Indians gain by starting Aviles at shortstop, Ramirez at second base and moving Kipnis somewhere else? The gain would be small if any, especially if they are trying to improve some of the other positions on the diamond.
At some point the Indians may need to consider a move of Kipnis off second base if Lindor and Ramirez prove to be capable offensive players in the big leagues, but that time is not now. They need to see how Ramirez does in his first full season at the big league level next year and how Lindor transitions in his big league debut next year as well. It will be a season-long process. An injury to Kipnis could expedite things, but if he is healthy all next season it is hard to see them making any kind of position change with him until after next season. And for that to occur Kipnis would have had to had another rough year defensively and both Ramirez and Lindor would need to really solidify themselves offensively as players the Indians could rely on in the everyday lineup going forward in 2016.
2. $50 million reasons. Barring some big mega trade that comes out of nowhere, another big reason for him staying at second base is the $50 million the Indians just committed to him this spring to be their second baseman for the foreseeable future.
When a team makes a big monetary commitment such as the one the Indians made to Kipnis just a few months ago, it is a commitment over the long haul and also will give a player a much longer leash when they struggle. The Indians don’t have the financial wherewithal to just sweep his contract under the rug and limit his role to a lesser position just one season into his big deal. At least initially they will be patient, stick to their original belief in why they gave him the contract in the first place, and hope he comes out of his funk next season. If the struggles continue deep into next season, then it is open season and they have to start looking past the dollars and use more sense in their handling of him going forward.
3. History speaks for itself. The Indians have never shown themselves to be impatient with players, particularly players they have invested a good chunk of change into and who have had at least a decent amount of prolonged success at the Major League level.
Kipnis is one year removed from an All Star season in 2013 when he hit .284 with 17 HR, 84 RBI and .818 OPS, and they made the big aforementioned monetary commitment to him just a few months ago. They are not about to pull the plug on a guy they view as one of their cornerstone players and start moving him around the field to find another home for him elsewhere on the diamond. Especially after a season they know he was hurt early on and was not 100% healthy all season.
Now, the health issues with Kipnis could be a shortsighted excuse for poor play that overlooks a potentially much bigger issue with him. I tend to agree. But the fact of the matter is that the Indians are going to give him the benefit of the doubt and see what happens in 2015. He will be the opening day second baseman and get ample time to return to the player who impacted the team in 2013; however, if his struggles from 2014 carry well into the 2015 season, then you could see a possible change made at the position near the end of the season but more likely next offseason as long as other options prove capable of playing there.
4. If not second base, then where? Kipnis was drafted as an outfielder and converted to second base a few months after the draft. He came out of the draft as an average defensive outfielder with a below average arm, so the main reason for the change to second base was a belief he could be a plus Major League player as an offensive oriented second baseman and that he would play adequate defense there – something he has done for the most part in his four years in the big leagues.
At this point, second base appears to be the only option for the Indians to have Kipnis on the roster as an everyday player. Third base would be a poor fit for him as he doesn’t have the arm to play there every day and would probably lack the lateral quickness to get to hard hit balls to his left and right. He can surely play left field, but his stock would take a hit as he would only be more of an average player there as that is a position typically reserved for defensive challenged players who usually provide more offense than what Kipnis provides. League average for a left fielder this year in Major League Baseball was a .257 average, 16 HR, 72 RBI and .723 OPS, something Kipnis has pretty much been at over his career. Meanwhile, league average for second base this season was a .256 average, 11 HR, 63 RBI and .683 OPS, a place he has mostly been above average at for his career.
For a player the team just committed $50 million to, again, a move to left field to essentially marginalize his role would be an extreme at this point given his history with the team and his status as one of their core players. It is why a position change is not coming this offseason, though is not out of the question down the road if his struggles persist and other suitable options prove themselves capable of replacing him there.
Other non-changes for next year
Barring something out of the ordinary happening, here are some other things not to expect the Indians to do this offseason:
Bullet points one and two kind of go hand in hand because Nick Swisher, if healthy, will be in the regular lineup next season and the money committed to him will limit their ability to spend for any high-priced bat.
Depending on what the Indians do with a few of their roster decisions with club options and arbitration eligible players, the Indians should go into the offseason on the hook for about $70 million in payroll next season (give or take $2-3 million). They bumped up payroll this past season to the mid $80M mark, but it remains to be seen if they will go that high with attendance figures continuing at the bottom of the league despite a winning baseball team on the field the past few seasons.
If the Indians keep payroll around $80-85 million next season then they have about $10-15 million to spend this offseason. Considering that they have more than one need, that doesn’t allow them much opportunity to sign a big bat. That doesn’t even include the fact that any qualifying offer for a player would take them out of the running for such player.
As much as Victor Martinez would be a great fit for the Indians in the batting order, he would be a poor fit financially and on the roster. Martinez at this point in his career is almost a DH-only kind of guy and the Indians simply can’t spend $15 million or more a season for multiple years on a DH, not with all the pressing issues they have defensively. Plus, with Carlos Santana entrenched at first base and Nick Swisher around (if healthy) playing some backup first base, some outfield and a lot of DH, it leaves little room for someone like Martinez to fit on the roster.
This also means that guys like Pablo Sandoval, Chase Headley, Hanley Ramirez, J.J. Hardy and Nelson Cruzare longshots as well since most of these players will receive a qualifying offer which immediately takes them off the Indians list and/or they will command top dollar in free agency. Headley might be the only possibility in that group.
If the Indians want to add a big bat it will need to come via trade where they can use their prospects as currency to give them the ammo they need to “spend” on a bat and at the same time control the financial cost of such player with getting into a bidding war with other teams that have better financial resources. If they do anything in free agency, I could see another David Murphy-type of signing to find a role player to help shore up a spot in the lineup or on the bench.
As for Swisher, in early August the Indians hinted about him seeing more time in right field next season, though that was before he had double knee surgery later in the month. At this point the health of his knees is a big concern going into next season and may limit him to mostly DH-only duties next season. He is untradeable at this point, the Indians are not just going to release him, and he is not going to be a bench player out of the gates, so if he is healthy enough to play then the DH and occasional first base-right field role is where he will fit into things and the Indians will just have to be hopeful that he can come back and be something close to the player he once was before signing with the Indians. Even if he just bounces back and performs like he did in 2013 would be a boost to the lineup.
As for Lindor, I touched on it briefly above, but he is not ready for a transition to the Major Leagues. First and foremost, there is no reason to rush him based on his talent alone and start his service clock because the team could essentially waste a year or two of club control on that transition to the big leagues. They want that transition period to be much shorter so they get more return from him during the six seasons they would control him. It makes little sense to potentially waste one or two seasons finishing him off at the Major League level when it may only take a half a season or less if they don’t force the issue.
Secondly, and almost equally as important, Lindor is not ready to contribute offensively at the big league level. He no doubt can contribute from a defensive, baserunning, makeup and leadership standpoint, but the bat is something they need to be sure is ready before they throw him into the Major League fire on a daily basis. While everyone believes he will be a good hitter in the big leagues, they don’t want to force him up where some early struggles could push him back.
Lindor also had some struggles at Triple-A this season with the bat where his approach and discipline took a huge leap back, so they want to see that corrected first before pushing him to Cleveland. He is slated to play in the Arizona Fall League this offseason – it starts up play on Tuesday and I will be there - so that may be a good chance for him to get his advanced approach showing again and serve as a springboard going into next season.
Bottom line, there are a lot of things that we all probably hope the Indians will change going into next season. While some changes are coming, and potentially a big change or two could be coming down the pipe, the expectation should not be there that they will be active in free agency. The trade market looks to be where they will try to make a splash or two, and free agency will be used to round out the roster. And as far as internal options go, there should be few if any position or role changes going into the season.
Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.
And mikec we kicked Santana off third this year because he sucked over there, we are not putting him back smh.
If you remember with Carlos and Swisher and Murphy were hurt who played 1b and the team with young players started winning.
Carlos came back and started hitting and played a good first base. Remember when Terry let Chris Gimenez play first and he drop a bouncer and we lost that game. Terry made so many bone coaching errors if is a wonder we won. Just go back and check each game, stats don't lie. I hope Terry has learned from his errors. Axford, Swisher striking out and still starting and Kipnis pulled his back against Weaver and brought back too early. We had a playoff team but poor decisions from coaches cost us the season.
Too much pressure on Terry to play everyone and not riding the horses that brought you there.
We need a right fielder and DH to make the team solid. We might had those two in our young players and spring training will tell.
Best stuff i've read yet so far brother, no sarcasm here, telling the truth. J-Ram would be way better defensively than Kipnis or any other jabrone.
"Santana sticking at 3rd." ??? This is where I stick needles into my eyes. Please for the love of God, again, I hope they would never try that experiment AGAIN.
I'm with you, I expect the Tribe to trade Chisenhall for a RH hitting 3b. Preferably part of a pkg to get Donaldson or Frazier.
This is if we can get Victor Martinez, Santana should move to 3rd and stick there. Chisenhall has hit his ceiling on defense, and possibly his offense. Trading him while he has value is a good thing. However if we do not acquire Victor, then status quo would have to be maintained, with Santana at 1st and Chisenhall at 3rd.
The key is dumping Bourn and even eating some salary if needed. Someone desperate for a cf with deeper pockets than us can pay him 9 a year and we eat 5. His numbers are below avg and he Ks a ton and doesn't walk. Or steal. We are paying Murphy 7. So it can be done.
Now just find someone to help us free up from 9 to 14 a year!!!!
1. Option 1 - sign a right handed 3b and move Chiz to RF. That means some existing OF lefty must go - perhaps even 2.
2. Trade Chiz for someone of similar potential for a right handed 3b. He should have some value and perhaps we could sweeten the pot with some other player. That means Rayburn must rebound or be replaced.
IMO option 2 is the one that makes the most sense - especially if the replacement 3b is a good defensive player. The only surprise in the equation would be if some deal could be worked out for Bourn.
If we were to create a "cyber betting pool" on the issue my bet is Chiz is traded for a right handed 3b.
How can Santana get better at 3B? His offense was crippled in the beginning of the season due to the transition to 3rd base. How do you know his offense wouldn't be shaky again if they experimented with him at 3B again? Was Santana stellar defensively when he played at 3B for the short period of time earlier this season?
Unless we can get a big RF stick via trade what else do you want done. Albert Joey Belle is not walking through that door, Victor could though... and we need the bat
Victor is in great shape and can definitely still play first base. I have no doubt about that. Esp in a platoon w Swisher. Santana has value, and could be traded easily, maybe for another RH hitting OF, or he becomes the centerpiece, with Chiz, of a Donaldson trade.
Of course, this has a less than 1% chance of happening, but if it did, it puts a clearly superior hitter into the middle of the Tribe lineup.
Everyone jumps on me for suggesting Viciedo, and saying, "we have too many DH'S as it is." Now many of you want a DH that being Victor Martinez.
Do I think Lindor, Urshela and Ramirez would be any worse than Chisenhall, Cabrera and Kipnis? From a defensive and athleticism standpoint, obviously not. And I am hopeful for what they all could provide offensively and on the bases as well. That said, I am no fan of starting the season off with Lindor at shortstop. It is poor roster management if they did that. They essentially throw a year of control away on a player viewed to be a core player going forward. And while Lindor and JRam may not be worse than Kipnis and Cabrera, I've seen too many prospects bottom out after struggling from being rushed. Look what happened with Xander Boegarts....that is something to consider with Lindor and why you have to be careful with the need to rush a guy to the big leagues.
I think Robert has it right....they open with JRam and Kipnis as the keystone combo and reassess near the All Star break once Lindor is up or is already up with the team.
Even if Lindor bombed offensively , they would improve the Indians infield defense tremendously and would provide significant help toward balancing the lineup. One of the problems with the Indians line up is endless procession of left hander that the oppenents are able to bring out of the bullpen. I believe at worse the improvement in defense and batter balance in the line up would more than offset any growing pains the Indians would have waiting for Lindor and Ramirez to mature offensively.
I happen to like Kipnis and feel he will bounce back in 2015. However i feel his ideal position on this team is at DH and once again the Indians have Swisher as an anchor.
Come July it will be truth time. If JRam is playing better than Kipnis (as I think he will) and LIndor is playing well 9t will be decision time.
None of that addresses 3b. Also none of it addresses the overwhelming left handedness of this team - which IMO limits the ability to move Chiz to RF.
PS: Can someone post the JRam numbers after he became a regular player? Tony seems to me to give the full year numbers to justify his position - but IMO the initial numbers are not representative of what JRam developed into in just a half of a year. I would also ask - where was Kipnis when he was 21?
jesus, underwood is just the absolute worst. he's horrible at life.
First, at least give lip service to the possibility of competition at 2B. Nothing inspires more than the sight of somebody else that wants your job.
Then have Kipnis get a personal trainer to loose weight and get in great condition for the season.
Kipnis is looking like Baerga, (but not with the bat).
Bourn, on the other hand, is at least conceivably tradeable. It would be nice to dump a left-handed bat, Brantley could slid easily into CF, and we have plenty of corner/fourth OF depth in the minors. A healthy Kipnis could also take over in the leadoff spot. I guess the question comes down to how much salary we'd have to eat and whether ownership would have any interest in eating it. Paying half of Bourn's salary makes him about a $7-7.5M player for the acquiring club, about what we're paying Murphy right now. In this current "dead ball" era of offense, there has to be one team out there who would take Bourn on for that number. The only thing I can see giving teams pause is the hamstring injury and the fact that Bourn, unlike Murph, has 1-2 years left on his deal post-2015. Is this something the Indians FO and ownership would be open to, Tony?
To put it more succinctly, Tony is right that the Indians are on the hook for only about $71M in payroll for 2015 at the moment, but unless they move some significant contracts, they're on the hook for about $88M in payroll for 2016 already.
So, if they were going to add a FA piece this winter, it would likely have to be a 1-year deal, as they are already maxed out for the 2016 season. This is yet another reason why trading for an asset makes much more sense than signing one in free agency.
Todd Frazier is a great player and absolutely would love to see him in a Tribe uni, but let's be realistic. He was the Reds' best position player last year and is only 28 and under team control for another 3 seasons. Why would they move him? The offer would have to be incredible.
I'm sick of the Indians overpaying on short term deals. Minor league FA's (Raburn, Atchison, Giambi) are fine, but the Murphy, Axford, Meyers, Reynolds, Kotchman, Lowe type contracts are killing us.
Either sign an impact bat or save that money for next year.
If the Rangers non tender Rios than he would be FA that would be worth to go after. The question would he cost to much to get. Is Cuddyear a FA? If yes will the Rockies give him qualifying offer?
I don't agree that they can't trade Ramirez. If a premium player at a position of need can be had in a trade and the team wants Ramirez in the package, I do it without a second thought. But I agree in that they shouldn't just throw him away in a deal. Has to be the right move. I'd be fine with a significant pickup in exchange for him and then going with Aviles to start the season at SS until Lindor is ready.
I like Ramirez a lot. Been on his bandwagon since he truly broke out during the 2012 season. But there are still some question marks that need answered before we just throw the guy into the top of the lineup everyday.
There's a significant possibility that this is who he is......
Can't trade JRam until you know what you have in Kipnis.
In my opinion, the player most likely to be traded is Chisenhall and the position most likely to be upgraded by trade is third base. Todd Frazier! Chis is cheap but after his 6 weeks of glory, he hit very poorly.
Ramirez does many enough things well that make him ideally suited as a top of an order batter. Besides having the ability to turn walks and singles into doubles wit h his speed: he is an extremely effective base stealer. I was at the game he was caught stealing by Avilia in Detroit and it took an absolute perfect throw. In addition he led the American League in sacrifices playing in only 40% of the games. He is a made order second baseman who can also play shortstop very well
I respect your opinion and insight but sometimes the right move isn't always what happens. Ramirez is either going to be traded or start the season at shortstop since the Indians have made a substantial commitment to Kipnis and really don't know what to do with him. I do agree that Lindor will experience ups and down at the plate before being ready to contribute consistenlly in the majors.
I think that time would be much quicker if the Indians were willing to bite the bulling with both Urshela and Lindor. With three switch hitters in the infield the Indians lineup would be extremely balanced. They could use either Kipnis or Chisenhall in a trade to procure a quality right handed outfielder like Van Slyke or Garcia to make the team even more competitive.