An MRI performed on Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis revealed a fracture in the hook of the hamate bone in his right wrist, the team announced Tuesday. The team is currently scheduling a followup appointment for him, but surgery is expected to be required, which would sideline Kipnis for four to six weeks and ostensibly remove any chance of him appearing in a potential postseason series. Cleveland has recalled infielder Andrew Velazquez to add some infield depth in the wake of the injury.
The injury not only brings an end to Kipnis’ 2019 season but could very well bring an end to his career with the only organization he’s ever known. Cleveland’s second-round pick in the 2009 draft, Kipnis was a heralded top prospect who made an immediate impact upon debuting in 2011 and eventually signed a six-year, $52.5MM contract extension covering the 2014-19 seasons. That contract carries a $16.5MM option for the 2020 season, but the Indians are likely to opt instead for a $2.5MM buyout given Kipnis’ recent decline. It’s possible that he could be brought back at a more affordable rate, but both he and the organization will be able to explore alternative options once he reaches free agency.
Kipnis, a two-time AL All-Star, signed the contract early in the 2014 campaign. At the time, he was a 27-year-old coming off a superlative .284/.355/.452 (130 OPS+) showing. He’d swatted 17 home runs, swiped 30 bases and played generally solid defense at second base during his breakout 2013 campaign and looked every bit the part of a potential building block in Cleveland. Injuries, namely an oblique strain, may have hampered Kipnis in 2014, as he floundered through a lackluster season. But he bounced back with a second All-Star nod in 2015 and turned in another strong effort in 2016. Between those two seasons, Kipnis batted a combined .289/.357/.460 with 32 home runs and 27 steals.
Since that time, it’s been a steady downhill trajectory for Kipnis, though. This season’s .245/.304/.410 slash is well below league-average production (84 OPS+), and dating back to 2017 he’s managed only a .236/.305/.403 output. Along the way, he’s been slowed by shoulder, hamstring and calf injuries in addition to his current wrist issue. He’ll quite likely hit the open market on the heels of that unproductive trio of seasons as he heads into his age-33 campaign, making a one-year deal the likeliest outcome for him.
The Indians, meanwhile, will look to a combination of Velazquez, Ryan Flaherty and Mike Freeman to pick up the slack at second base. Velazquez, who has a career .260/.316/.415 batting line in 163 games of Triple-A experience, is in the lineup and getting the nod tonight. He only appeared in a dozen games with Cleveland’s Triple-A affiliate this season, spending the rest of the season in the Rays organization. Velazquez joined the Indians in an early July trade — he was injured at the time, hence the minimal time with Cleveland’s top affiliate — so he’d be postseason-eligible should the Indians secure a Wild Card spot and wish to carry him.