The news didn’t make a lot of headlines, but the Cleveland Indians announced over the weekend that Jason Kipnis would likely be the Opening Day second baseman in 2018.
That puts the infield alignment, save for newcomer Yonder Alonso at first base the same as the one the Tribe used in the 2016 World Series, with Jose Ramirez moving back to third, and of course, Francisco Lindor at second.
It does weaken Cleveland’s up the middle defense. Ramirez is a far better defender at the keystone than Kipnis, including turning the double play.
However, we never liked the idea of trading Kipnis after last season’s injury plagued season in which he hit .232 with 12 home runs and 35 runs batted in (705 OPS).
We understand the veteran’s salary takes a huge jump this season, going from $9.2 million last year to $13.7 million in ’18, making him a candidate to be moved if Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff wanted to create payroll space for another player.
And another off-season would make Kipnis virtually untradeable going into the 2019 season, with his salary jumping again to $14.7 million.
But, the second baseman should be a good candidate for a bounce back season coming up, if he remains healthy. Keep in mind he suffered a shoulder issue during spring training and then had hamstring woes as the season came to a close.
Although Kipnis turns 31 in April, last season saw him have the lowest OPS of his career (640 in 2014). Three of his five full campaigns have resulted in OPS over 800 for the season.
You would have to figure he would come close, if not surpass, that mark again in 2018.
This move also clears up one of the question marks the Indians still had as spring training approaches, who will play third?
So, the biggest question now becomes whether or not Michael Brantley can open the season in left field, and if he can’t who plays there? Also, how does Yandy Diaz fit on the roster?
Our guess is the organization will take it slow with Brantley, so as to not cause any setbacks with the ankle, and they would be fine with a debut around May 1st.
As for Diaz, who really needs and deserves a chance to get extended playing time in the big leagues (after all he hit .350 with a 914 OPS in AAA last season), perhaps he fits in as a platoon partner at first base, as Alonso has struggled vs. southpaws, or in the outfield.
Remember, the Indians still have Brandon Guyer and Abraham Almonte on the roster too.
Don’t forget Guyer has an 828 OPS for his six year career vs. left-handers.
Even with Kipnis moving back to second, the Indians are still missing a power bat in the lineup.
Santana has been replaced by Alonso, but who replaces Jay Bruce? Lonnie Chisenhall had an 881 OPS in half a season with the Tribe, compared to Bruce’s 808 figure. But Chisenhall isn’t a guy who gets pitched around often.
We would classify the Opening Day lineup for the Cleveland Indians right now as still fluid. However, deciding Jason Kipnis is returning to second clears it up a little bit.
Even if they stand pat on position players for the rest of the winter, there will still be tough decisions for Terry Francona, particularly in the outfield.