A few days ago, the Cleveland Indians announced 2B Jason Kipnis was about 4-5 weeks away from returning to the lineup.
First off, many people went crazy thinking Kipnis wasn’t going to be able to do anything for 4-5 weeks, meaning his return to the lineup would be about two months away. Apparently, those people didn’t read correctly.
However, it does mean that the second baseman will miss most, if not all, of the first month of the season, so Terry Francona has to find someone to partner with Francisco Lindor as the team’s keystone combination.
It is not a coincidence that when the amount of time became specified by the Cleveland training staff, we started seeing Jose Ramirez playing in place of Kipnis.
Our guess is if Kipnis was going to miss a couple of weeks of the regular season, Francona would have went with a mixture of Michael Martinez and Erik Gonzalez at second, and left Ramirez at the hot corner, where he played so well in the second half of 2016.
But when it appeared to be a full month, he felt it necessary to move Ramirez back to his natural position, and use find someone else to play third.
In his heart of hearts, Tito probably knows Ramirez is stronger defensively than Kipnis, and a double play combination of Lindor and Ramirez could be among the best in the league.
What to do at 3B? The primary candidates are Giovanny Urshela who is very good with the glove, but his hitting is questionable because he doesn’t handle the strike zone.
Then you have Yandy Diaz, who looks to be ready with the bat, hitting over .300 combined at Akron and Columbus last year. The brass seems to be very concerned about his glove, although the defensive metrics show he is solid at third.
A dark horse would be Richie Shaffer, who spent the winter bouncing from team to team, but has made some changes in his swing and approach which has caused his power to spike.
Both Diaz and Shaffer would have to be added to the 40 man roster.
Urshela would be the safe pick, but remember the Indians are in a different situation than in the past. They are the defending American League champions, they aren’t a contending team anymore, so they should be making decisions to win right now.
We have heard people say Diaz shouldn’t get the nod because they don’t want his service time to be an issue.
This was an issue in 2015 with Francisco Lindor, but the Indians weren’t the top dog in the league at that time. Of course, the failure to bring him up sooner than June 14th may have cost the Tribe a spot in the playoffs.
But Diaz is 25 (Lindor was 21), so when he does become eligible for free agency, he will be 32 years old, past his prime years.
Our belief is to go with the offense, which means giving Diaz the job. If you have the lead after six innings, then go to Gonzalez or Martinez, whoever wins the utility man job, for defense.
It’s great news that Kipnis should only miss a month, but they have some options to fill in for him until he’s ready to go.