Kipnis Back To Second Makes Sense

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.

MW

 

 

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Slow Moving Player Market Frustrating Tribe Fans

Spring training opens in about six weeks for the Cleveland Indians, and there are still questions surrounding the roster of the defending American League Central Division champs.

Off-season transactions throughout the sport are moving at a snail’s pace, except for relief pitchers, and the Tribe has lost two of them, Bryan Shaw to Colorado and Joe Smith to Houston.

A third, southpaw Boone Logan is rumored to be heading to Milwaukee, although the Indians probably believe they have filled that spot late last season with Tyler Olson.

So, the front office needs to find some bullpen help for a manager who loves plenty of arms in the ‘pen in Terry Francona.

There are still some options on the free agent market, but none are as accomplished as Shaw and Smith.  So, creativity may be needed by GM Mike Chernoff and president Chris Antonetti.

The bigger hit to date may be offensively with the loss of Carlos Santana to the Phillies, and an impending departure of late season hero, Jay Bruce.

Will the slow market allow the Indians to retain Bruce?  The longer he stays unsigned, you have to believe his demands will come down.  Will they come down to an area where the Tribe is comfortable?

When you are a contending team, you can’t have a lot of unproven players in your everyday lineup.

Right now, third base is a question mark and so is centerfield, despite Bradley Zimmer’s debut a year ago.  Zimmer has no track record, and had some swing and miss issues in 2017, so to say the team doesn’t need a back up plan is a big mistake.

We would like to think Yandy Diaz is the frontrunner at the hot corner, but the skipper frequently makes comments about his glove (despite good defensive metrics in the minor leagues), and he loves the defense of Giovanny Urshela, whose bat is suspect.

Right now, the lineup just isn’t long enough, but there is still a long way to go before the players start arriving in Goodyear.

We understand fans don’t like the inactivity, but really, outside of the bullpen movement and the Yankees trading for Giancarlo Stanton, what teams in the AL have done anything?

That’s right.  Nobody else has made a significant move, at least among the upper echelon of the Junior Circuit, and that’s where the Indians live right now.

Even though the Tribe has Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, and Edwin Encarnacion, besides the questions we already listed, they still have Jason Kipnis coming off an injury plagued, off year for him.

Michael Brantley didn’t play for much of the second half, and is coming off surgery on his ankle.

Lonnie Chisenhall missed a good portion of the season after the All Star Game, and Brandon Guyer was pretty much a non-factor either.

And don’t forget last year’s big surprise, Austin Jackson, is a free agent, and may not be back with the team.

Remember, this winter, player movement is moving at a glacial pace.  At some point between now and the middle of February, that will pick up.

With the slow movement could come bargains, which is to the advantage of the Cleveland Indians.  Something to keep an eye on in the next six weeks.

MW

 

 

 

 

 

Tribe Has Santana Hole To Fill

The Cleveland Indians we have known over the past two years, an American League Championship team in 2016, and a 102 win team a year ago is no more.

When we say that, we don’t mean the Tribe is no longer a favorite to make the post-season, and we certainly don’t mean the Indians are not one of the best teams in the AL.

With their starting pitching and the keystone combination of Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, they have the potential to get back to the Fall Classic and win it.

However, some key pieces will be missing when the squad reconvenes in Goodyear, Arizona in February.

We’ve already talked about relievers Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith departing via free agency, but now a key part of the offense is gone too with Carlos Santana signing a deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Santana, who has been with the Tribe since 2010, isn’t a superstar, but he is dependable and productive, the former being something overlooked by many.

In five of his eight years here, he had an OPS over 800, combining an excellent on base percentage (walking over 90 times every year from 2011-2016), with some pop (over 18 home runs in each full season with the Indians).

He also played in at least 143 games in each of the last seven seasons as well.

Because he’s a switch-hitter, Terry Francona knew he could put Santana’s name in the lineup everyday, and he worked hard to make himself a very good defensive first baseman.

That said, we felt the Phillies overpaid for Santana and we do not blame the Tribe front office for not paying him $20 million per year for three years.  Remember, Santana will turn 32 right after the 2017 season starts.

So, what does the Tribe do at first base for 2018?

We believe the logical move is putting Michael Brantley there, since Dr. Smooth’s defense has declined some in recent years, and Brantley has experience at the position in the minor leagues.

That move would open up leftfield for Jason Kipnis.

We know Kipnis is supposedly on the trade block because Ramirez is now entrenched at second, but he’s coming off an off-season due to injuries, hitting just .232 (705 OPS) with 12 home runs.

So dealing him means you will likely get 50 cents on the dollar.  We would put him in left and hope he bounces back to a good year, and then, if you want to move his contract (he would make close to $15 million in ’19), you might get a better return.

Another option could be Yandy Diaz, who has to play everyday someplace with his bat, as he has no more to prove in the minors after hitting .350 at Columbus (with the highest on base percentage in the minors) last season.

Diaz hits the ball hard and can work counts too.  If the staff can get him to hit the ball in the air more often, he could have a huge year for Cleveland.

Other options outside the organization a lot of people mention would be Logan Morrison (coming off a career year in Tampa), Matt Adams (really a platoon player), and Eric Hosmer (would likely cost more than Santana).

It will be interesting to see the market for Jay Bruce now.  The longer he stays unsigned, the more the Tribe could get back in the mix, with Lonnie Chisenhall either moving to first or leftfield with Kipnis being moved.

Many fans didn’t like Santana, but his departure leaves the offense with a big hole.  We are sure Chris Antonetti and his group are on the case.

MW

Tribe Bullpen Will Need Revamping

One of the strengths of the Cleveland Indians the past several years has been their bullpen, but right now it could have a revamped look in 2018.

Sure, the back end of the relief corps is still anchored by Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, which means the 8th and 9th innings are taken care of.

The problem right now is the bridge between the starting pitchers and that dynamic duo for the last two innings.

Terry Francona has lost one of his main guys in rubberarmed Bryan Shaw, and another reliever who came aboard at the trade deadline a year ago, Joe Smith, will also not be back.

On a lesser note, Shawn Armstrong, who was kind of the swing guy between the big leagues and AAA a year ago, was traded to Seattle.

Francona said at the end of last season that it may take two pitchers to take the place of Shaw, who appeared in an American League leading 79 games in ’17, and has led the AL in games pitched in three of the last four seasons.

It is hard to see the replacements for Shaw and Smith on the current roster.

Nick Goody, picked up in a minor deal with the Yankees about a year ago, is probably the next hurler on Tito’s pecking order.  Goody was 1-2 with a 2.80 ERA in 54-2/3 innings in 2017.  He did strikeout 72 hitters last year, so he has swing and miss stuff.

Dan Otero is a guy Francona leans on early in games, so perhaps he could used in the 6th and 7th innings.  The righty was 3-0 with a 2.85 ERA in ’17, but he is more of a sinkerballer with only 38 whiffs in 60 innings.

Zack McAllister is another option, but Francona seems to be hesitant to use him in high leverage situations because he’s basically a one pitch pitcher.

Perhaps Danny Salazar, with his electric stuff and durability issues, can be moved to the bullpen, but no one knows how his arm will react to this change in roles, and can he be effective over the long haul.

There doesn’t seem to be any in the minor leagues ready to step in and contribute either, but then again, no one saw Goody as a legitimate option heading into spring training.

We are sure the front office is looking at either a deal or free agent options for the ‘pen too.

Since the current management team has been in place, the Tribe has found guys like Scott Atchison, Otero, and Goody in free agency or in minor deals, and they have provided great help in relief.

We mentioned former Indians’ farmhand Hector Rondon previously as an option. He had closer experience with the Cubs.

However, until the replacements have success when the games count for real in April, you have to wonder about them.

And you have to wonder if and when they gain Tito’s trust.  The skipper has a clear pecking order in his bullpen with certain guys pitching when the Tribe has a late lead, and the rest being relegated to pitching when the Indians are behind.

Based on the performance of the front office over the past five seasons, we have trust they will find arms to replace Shaw and Smith.

But there will certainly be a different dynamic in the Cleveland bullpen next season.  New relief toys for Terry Francona.

MW

 

 

Tribe Can’t Platoon In Too Many Spots

Cleveland Indians’ manager Terry Francona is one of the best in the league at using the platoon advantage.

It helps that his team has a number of switch-hitters who are regulars:  SS Francisco Lindor, 2B Jose Ramirez, and 1B Carlos Santana were everyday players in 2017.

It enables Francona to platoon in right field where he used Lonnie Chisenhall and Brandon Guyer until both were injured and the front office acquired Jay Bruce.

He also did the same in center, using rookie Bradley Zimmer and veteran Austin Jackson out there.

In 2016, he did the same, using Tyler Naquin and Rajai Davis in center for the American League champs.

The players have to have decided platoon advantages for the strategy to work.  Guyer is lethal vs. southpaws, and Jackson hit .352 against lefties last season.

We mention this because with Santana and Bruce now free agents, many people look at available free agents and wonder about fits for the Tribe.

One name that came up was 1B Matt Adams, recently non-tendered by Atlanta.

Adams, who swings from the left side, has an 828 career OPS vs. right handed pitching with a .286 batting average.  We like Adams, who has been production even though he’s been an everyday player just one season.

However, there is one problem with the platooning.  Francona also likes to carry 13 pitchers, including eight relievers.  That means there are only 12 position players, which limits how many spots the manager can use a platoon system.

Plus, two of those dozen position players are catchers, so if you aren’t platooning with that position, it means there are only two spots that the manager can use different players against left-handers and right-handers.

And don’t forget the need for a utility infielder, preferably someone who can play shortstop defensively so you aren’t playing a statue when Lindor gets his infrequent days off.

So, if the Indians don’t re-sign Santana, they will either need a full time option there or decide that Zimmer has to play everyday in centerfield.  Either that or have one less pitcher in the bullpen for Francona.

As things are right now, you have to think the current platoons will be Chisenhall and Guyer in right (again) and Zimmer and a right-handed bat to be named later in centerfield.

That’s why we still believe if Santana goes elsewhere, Michael Brantley will move to first base with Jason Kipnis playing left field.  If Santana returns, we could see a deal involving Kipnis.

If you want to look at a player from another team that was non-tendered, how about reliever Hector Rondon.

The right-hander was in the Tribe organization until 2012, and had seasons of 29 and 30 saves for the Cubs in 2014 and 2015.

Last season, he was 4-1 with a 4.24 ERA for Chicago, with 69 strikeouts in 57-1/3 innings, so he still has swing and miss stuff.

We know the Indians like to reunite with former players, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if the reliever came back to Cleveland, especially since the front office has to be looking for arms to replace Bryan Shaw, who is a free agent.

With the Winter Meetings starting on Sunday, the Indians’ roster changes should start to take place.  Just remember the number of platoon options are limited unless full time players are acquired as well.

MW

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sign Lindor This Winter? Don’t Hold Your Breath

We said this many times throughout this past baseball season, perhaps the best thing about the Cleveland Indians is that their two best players are 25 and under in Jose Ramirez (25) and Francisco Lindor, who just turned 24 a couple of weeks ago.

Lindor, who has two straight top ten finishes in the American League MVP voting at his young age, is under the Tribe’s control through the 2021 season, giving him four more full seasons with the Indians.

The Cleveland front office would undoubtedly like to sign their shortstop to a long term deal to keep him with his home ballpark being Progressive Field for the foreseeable future, but Lindor seems to understand his value gets higher every season, particularly if he keeps performing like he has.

At his age, he is getting nothing but better, and even with a slump last year in May and June, the switch-hitting Lindor still had a career high 842 OPS, mostly due to a career high .505 slugging percentage.

He had 81 extra base hits, made his second All Star team, and won his first Silver Slugger Award, in addition to being a finalist for the Gold Glove at short.

We are sure Lindor won’t sign this off-season either as he will likely wait until Bryce Harper’s free agency is resolved next off-season.

It has been said Harper could become the sports’ first $400 million player.  If he gets that amount, you’d have to think Lindor will get close to that amount, if not exceed it.

Granted when Harper finished his third big league season, he was just 21 years old, two years younger than Lindor was when last season ended.

In those first three seasons, the highest finish in the MVP voting for Harper was 30th in his rookie season.  He won the award the following season, his fourth year, but hasn’t been in the top ten since.

Harper and Mike Trout might be the faces of baseball, but Lindor’s definitely on a level right below those two.  His personality and the obvious joy he plays with are things MLB should market, and will as he continues to get better as a player.

We made the point last off-season that if Lindor plays 10 years in an Indians’ uniform, he will be the greatest position player in franchise history.  So, the stakes to keep him with the Tribe long term are very high.

In our lifetime, we haven’t had that player like George Brett, Derek Jeter, Tony Gwynn for this franchise.  A truly great player who plays their entire career in Cleveland.

Remember that when Jim Thome goes into the Hall of Fame, perhaps next summer, he will be the first player to spend the majority of his career with the Indians to go into the Hall since Lou Boudreau.  He was inducted in 1971!

Despite all the great players who were here in the 90’s:  Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Kenny Lofton, Omar Vizquel, Thome, none of them can claim to have never worn another uniform.

We understand that’s not the way the sport is now, but wouldn’t it be nice if Frankie Lindor was that guy for our team.

We are sure the Dolan family, Chris Antonetti, and GM Mike Chernoff would like it to happen too.  Lindor is that kind of player.

MW

 

 

Tribe Readies Roster For Winter

The Cleveland Indians put the final touches on their 40 man roster today by making a series of roster moves, mostly made to protect prospects for the Rule 5 Draft at the Winter Meetings.

In order to make room for four minor leaguers, the Tribe designated righthanded pitcher Dylan Baker and southpaw Kyle Crockett for assignment.

Crockett will catch on someplace else we believe, because he will be useful as a situational lefty out of the bullpen.  He was called up less than a year after he was drafted and had a 1.80 ERA in 43 games as a rookie.

But he never really had Terry Francona’s confidence going forward and this past season, made just four appearances with the big club.

We understand many people think the Tribe made a mistake here, but if the pitcher doesn’t have the confidence of the manager and pitching coach, it’s best that he moves on.

Baker has battled arm problems for years and has pitched just 74 innings since the end of the 2013 season.  Our guess is the Indians will sign him to a minor league contract this winter.

The Indians added right handed starter Julian Merryweather (7-9, 5.32 ERA at Akron and Columbus in ’17) and a trio of shortstop prospects:  Eric Stamets, Yu-Cheng Chang, and Willi Castro.

Stamets came over from the Angels in 2015 for David Murphy as a good glove, no hit middle infielder, but he has developed power in recent years, hitting 16 homers in the minors last season, after not hitting over seven in any season prior to 2017.

Chang, just 22, hit 24 home runs last season with a .220 batting average (774 OPS).  He struck out 134 times a year ago, so he needs to make more contact and get on base more going forward.

Castro will turn 21 next season and played at Class A Lynchburg in ’17, hitting .290 with a 761 OPS and a career high 11 dingers.  He has been one of the younger players in the league in which he has played throughout his career.

Cleveland also claimed infielder Rob Refsnyder on waivers from Toronto.  Refsnyder was highly regarded by the Yankees as he advanced through the system, and actually started the Wild Card game for the Yanks in 2015.

However, he has never gotten more than 152 at bats in a season at the big league level, hitting .250 with a 637 OPS.

His AAA numbers are pretty good though, with a .294 batting average and a 799 OPS.  He’s a patient hitter, a second baseman by trade with experience in LF and RF.  We all know how Francona values versatility and he now has another player he can use in a variety of ways.

He also attended the University of Arizona like Tito.

It’s an under the radar move that could pay big dividends in the 2018 season.

Now, with three weeks until the Winter Meetings, the focus for the organization will shift to signing one of their key free agents, either Carlos Santana or Jay Bruce, and making some trades to get the roster ready for ’18.

With a core of the talented Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez and one of the best pitching staffs in the game, the Tribe is certainly the favorite to win the AL Central next season.

But keep an eye on guys like Merryweather, Castro, and Refsnyder.

MW

Could Be A Busy Winter For Tribe

The hot stove league has officially started in Major League Baseball with the GM Meetings this week, and the Winter Meetings taking place in a few weeks.

After the past few years when the 25 man roster was pretty much set in stone, the next few weeks could be filled with several moves for the Cleveland Indians.

It was not surprise that the Tribe offered free agent Carlos Santana the qualifying offer, nor was it a shock when he turned it down.

Many experts expect Santana to return to the Indians after seeing what offers are out there, but president Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff have plenty of questions to answer before the team reconvenes in Goodyear in February.

Santana is the key to Cleveland’s off-season in our opinion.

The team would probably be interested in a reunion with Jay Bruce if the market comes back down much like it did with Edwin Encarnacion a year ago.  But they probably won’t go more than two or three years for the veteran outfielder.

And what to do with Jason Kipnis?  If Santana returns, there doesn’t seem to be a fit for him, as Michael Brantley would play LF in that scenario.  However, if Santana departs, Brantley would likely go to 1B, with Kipnis playing left field.

The Indians do have some trade assets, although we believe they aren’t interested in trading their top prospect C/3B Francisco Mejia, one of the top 10 prospects in all of the minor leagues, nor would they be anxious to move Triston McKenzie, one of the premier pitching prospects in baseball.

We would think the organization would want to keep Mejia and OF Greg Allen in AAA to start the season and get them more experience.

However, we could see players such as Erik Gonzalez, Yu-Cheng Chang, and Willi Castro, all shortstops by trade who would seem to be blocked here by the presence of Francisco Lindor.

We also don’t know how the organization feels about the future of 1B Bobby Bradley, whose power is unquestioned, but he has a lot of swing and miss in his style.  Does the front office think he can be a viable big league hitter?

With reliever Bryan Shaw also likely to be elsewhere in ’18, who fills his role in the bullpen.  It has been rumored that perhaps Danny Salazar moves to the bullpen with his electric stuff as a bridge between the starter and Andrew Miller and Cody Allen.

If not, no doubt the brass will be looking for another bullpen arm.

The rotation shouldn’t see changes, but if Salazar does go to the ‘pen, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Tribe look for a starter on the free agent market, probably toward spring training when the prices come down.

The Indians have a strong core with Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Miller, and Allen.  Unless he fails with the bat, Bradley Zimmer probably has a lock on centerfield.

The rest of the spots are fluid and the front office has some choices that are currently on the roster, young players on the uptick, and perhaps adding more pieces in deals.

There could be plenty of new faces in spring training for the Indians, and many of those spots hinge on Santana’s decision.

MW

 

 

 

Reflecting On Kluber’s Magnificence

The Cleveland Indians lost the American League Division Series about a month ago, and it still is a disappointment, not in the team, but considering how well the Tribe was playing going into the post-season, we all fantasized about winning the World Series.

That feeling should not make everyone overlook the fact the Indians won 102 games, the second highest total in franchise history and had the best record in the American League.

They have four finalists for the Gold Glove.  SS Francisco Lindor is trying to win his second in a row, and he is joined by Jose Ramirez at third base, Carlos Santana at first, and Yan Gomes behind the plate in finishing in the top three in the voting.

Yesterday, more accolades came the Indians’ way.

Terry Francona is a finalist for AL Manager of the Year, an award he has won twice before, in 2013 and 2016.

Jose Ramirez is second Tribesman in the last four years (Michael Brantley in 2014) to finish in the top three of the MVP voting.  Ramirez had a remarkable season, setting career highs in every major statistical category save for stolen bases.

However, the highest honor will probably go to Corey Kluber.  Kluber should become the first Indian pitcher to win two Cy Young Awards during his tenure with the Indians, capping a season in which he went 18-4 with a 2.25 ERA and 265 strikeouts in 203 innings.

He would be the 19th pitcher in the history of the award (started in 1956) to win it multiple times.

It will also mean that Kluber will have finished in the top three for this award three times, finishing third a year ago.

There are four dominant starting pitchers in the sport right now:  Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, and Kluber.

In the past four years, the right-hander has led in the AL in wins twice (’14 and ’17), in complete games twice (’15 and ’17), in shutouts the past two seasons, and in ERA this past campaign.

He has finished in the top four in strikeouts each of the past four seasons, and has ranked first or second in pitchers’ WAR in three of the past four years.

Kluber’s career WAR total (according to BaseballReference.com) is now at 26.9.  Consider the franchise’s all time leaders among pitchers in this category:

Bob Feller              63
Stan Coveleski      51
Bob Lemon           48
Mel Harder           43
Addie Joss             43
Sam McDowell    41
Early Wynn         39
George Uhle         37
Wes Farrell          36
Willis Hudlin       33

With a season with a WAR of six next season (that was Kluber’s 2016 season), he would tie Hudlin for the 10th highest total in club history.  And he would have done it in a five year span.

It would not be a reach for Kluber to wind up as high as 4th in Tribe history among hurlers, behind the Indians’ Hall of Fame triumvirate of Feller, Coveleski, and Lemon.

If he wins in 2017, keep in mind there are only nine pitchers (could be a 10th if Scherzer wins this year) to win three or more Cy Youngs.

And those pitchers are a who’s who of the greatest pitchers in the last 60 years:  Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Steve Carlton, Greg Maddux, Sandy Koufax, Pedro Martinez, Jim Palmer, Tom Seaver, and Kershaw.

He won’t turn 32 until early next season (April 10th).

That’s a historical perspective on Kluber, who will find out next week if he will be recognized once again as the best pitcher in the AL.

It’s been a remarkable four years indeed.

MW

 

More Tribe Decisions: Kipnis, Gomes, Shaw.

Last week, we wrote about the dilemma the Cleveland Indians have surrounding the club option they hold on Michael Brantley, and the free agency of Carlos Santana and Jay Bruce.

There are also other decisions that need to be made regarding the make up of next year’s roster for the Tribe.

The first involves longtime Indian Jason Kipnis.  Kipnis is scheduled to take a huge jump in pay in 2018, a $4.5 million raise, and he’s coming off an injury plagued poor season, hitting just .232 (705 OPS) with 12 home runs last season.

It appears by their actions at the end of the season that Kipnis no longer is the Indians’ second baseman either.  When the veteran returned from a hamstring issue in September, he moved to centerfield, with Jose Ramirez staying at second.

So, with Bradley Zimmer seemingly the incumbent in center, and a likely platoon (if Bruce doesn’t return) in rightfield of Lonnie Chisenhall and Brandon Guyer, if Brantley does return in ’18, where does that leave Kipnis?

Many have speculated that Kipnis will be dealt, but with the off year in ’17, a deal this winter will not bring the return the club would receive with a bounce-back season next summer.

So, it looks right now like the front office will be forced to choose between Brantley and Kipnis.  Certainly not what they thought when the two signed contract extensions prior to the 2014 season.

The third player inked at that time and identified as a core piece was catcher Yan Gomes.

Gomes had a stellar ’14 season, hitting .278 (785 OPS) with 21 homers and winning the Silver Slugger Award.

Since then, it’s been all downhill.  Injuries haunted the catcher in 2015 and 2016, with his offense all but disappearing in the latter year (.167 batting average, 527 OPS).

He rebounded a bit last season (.232, 14 HR, 56 RBI), but seemed to lose playing time down the stretch to Roberto Perez, a better pitch framer.

Gomes is still a very good defensive catcher with a plus arm, and could be a significant trade chip to a team looking for stability at the catching position.

If the organization wants to give Perez the bulk of the playing time going forward, Gomes could be a player who can bring something very valuable in return.  We believe that will be the direction the front office is going in.

Bryan Shaw is also a free agent this off-season.  For all the back and forth between his fans and critics, Shaw is durable and dependable, leading the AL in appearances three of the last four years.

With the bullpen craze the sport has seen in recent years, Shaw is going to get paid.

We would be interested in keeping him at a reasonable deal, but we feel another team is going to make him an unbelievable offer.

And with the wear and tear on the right-hander’s arm, it’s a risk to sign him long term.

Our fear is Shaw could follow the same career path as Scott Linebrink, who appeared in 70+ games from 2004-08 with San Diego and Milwaukee.  The veteran went to the White Sox in 2009 and never had the same effectiveness, and was out of baseball at age 35.

Again, as a non-large market team, the Indians can’t afford to be paying a lot of money to someone who cannot contribute to the major league team.

With the World Series ending this week, these decisions will have to be made as early as this weekend.

Coming off an 102 win season and a division title, the Tribe front office has some tough calls to make.

MW