There’s been plenty of speculation about what position Jason Kipnis will play next season (and what team he’ll be playing it for), but Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that the Indians plan to move him back to second base. The move will also push 2017 AL MVP finalist Jose Ramirez back to third base, where he earned an All-Star nod last season.
Kipnis battled injuries through most of last year and didn’t get much going offensively even when he was on the field, as evidenced by his .232/.291/.414 batting line and 82 wRC+. When Kip returned from a DL stint in mid-September (his third of the season), Ramirez’ fantastic defensive play had him firmly entrenched at Kipnis’ natural position. In order to get his bat in the lineup, the Indians deployed Kipnis in center field to replace Bradley Zimmer, who was out for the season with a hand injury.
With Zimmer projected to return to health well before spring training, and Ramirez offering a fantastic up-the-middle defensive combo with All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor, Kipnis seemed to be lacking a clear role on the team, such to the point that over 50% of MLBTR readers thought that the Tribe ought to trade him during the offseason. Trade rumors never gained much momentum, however. The Mets were weakly connected to Kipnis at one point, but there was always healthy amount of skepticism over whether the two teams could actually reach an agreement.
For the time being, it seems that the Indians will solve a seemingly complex issue with the simplest solution. After all, Kipnis is only a year removed from consecutive 5-WAR seasons. Notably, those seasons were a strong rebound from Kipnis’ last subpar campaign in 2014, so there’s plenty of reason to believe he’ll be able to bounce back again in his age 31 season. In any event, banking on better offensive production from Kipnis seems like a better option than relying on an offensive breakout from Yandy Diaz or Giovanny Urshela at third base, or hoping that top prospect Francisco Mejia can successfully shift to the hot corner with limited experience.
While we can’t rule anything out with certainty, this news seems to take Kipnis off the trading block. Teams looking for second base help must turn to trade market options such as Starlin Castro or Cesar Hernandez or else explore a thin free agent market at the position, which includes Neil Walker, Eduardo Nunez and Howie Kendrick. The news also increases the already-strong likelihood that Mejia will open the season in the minor leagues.