Nov 2, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis reacts after striking out against the Chicago Cubs in the 9th inning in game seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Kipnis is going to be out of the Cleveland Indians lineup for the next four to five weeks. What can they do to replace him?
One big part of the Cleveland Indians lineup won’t be there when they begin to defend their American League crown and attempt to finish the job this year after losing the World Series to the Chicago Cubs.
Jason Kipnis has been limited to just two games this spring due to a nagging shoulder injury and that injury isn’t getting any better.
Some Indians injury updates–Jason Kipnis, after second opinion, has shoulder inflammation and is expected to be out about another 4-5 weeks
Kipnis was a huge cog in the Indians machine last year. In 156 games, Kipnis hit .275 with an .811 OPS, a career high 23 homers and 82 RBI. With Michael Brantley being out most of last season, Kipnis was the only true left-handed pop the Indians had in the lineup other than their switch-hitters.
He not only impacted the offense, but saved four runs defensively as well. He combined with Francisco Lindor to form one of the best double play combinations in baseball.
Four to five weeks isn’t a big deal, however, Kipnis did miss significant time during the 2014 and 2015 seasons. The Indians should be okay without him for that time, but how should they address the problem at hand, and should they explore options to cover themselves just in case?
Here are five of the most likely outcomes they can do in order to protect themselves if Kipnis’ injury is a lingering problem.
Mar 19, 2017; Goodyear, AZ, USA; Cleveland Indians third baseman Jose Ramirez (11) jogs to first during the first inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Goodyear Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
This is the most likely outcome out of all of them. Ramirez is someone who found a home at third last season and produced in a big way. He also has experience in the outfield and he has played 58 games at second base during his big league career as the injury replacement for Kipnis.
Urshela impressed during his stint with Team Colombia during the World Baseball Classic and this injury to Kipnis gives him another chance to show what he can do at the major league level.
He played 81 games in the majors during the 2015 season where he hit .225 with a .608 OPS. At AAA last year, Urshela hit .274 with a . .674 OPS in 117 games. Urshela may not be viewed as a huge prospect anymore, but he’s entering his age 25 season and maybe spending last year in AAA will help him play better getting another chance to show what he can do in the majors.
If the Indians don’t want to go this route, they still have some options available to them.
Sep 9, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; New York Mets third baseman Kelly Johnson (55) hits a RBI double as Atlanta Braves catcher Tyler Flowers (25) and home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi are shown on the play in the eighth inning of their game at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
The Indians could win the award for who trades Kelly Johnson in July to the Mets after the Braves have done it over the past couple of seasons. Johnson is a veteran guy who can play literally everywhere on the diamond except for catcher and would give the Indians another left-handed option.
Last year for the Mets and Braves, he hit .247 with a .698 OPS, 10 homers and 34 RBI. He can come off the bench and deliver a big pinch-hit, something that the Indians have had in recent years like during the short-lived Jason Giambiera.
Once Kipnis comes back, Johnson can go right into that bench role for the Indians and give some extra depth all over the diamond.
This may not be the most desirable option due to payroll constraints. Johnson won’t take anything less than a major league deal, but the Indians have spent a ton of money of late. They signed Edwin Encarnacion and Boone Logan this off-season plus will have Andrew Miller‘s contract for the whole season this year. Do they want to push it even more for a utility player or maybe save some money and use it towards the deadline to pick up another player?
Feb 28, 2017; Fort Myers, FL, USA; New York Yankees first baseman Rob Refsnyder (38) works out prior to their game against the Boston Red Sox at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
The 25 year old hit .250 with a .637 OPS in 58 games while playing in the outfield and every infield position but shortstop. In AAA, he hit .316 with a .767 OPS in 54 games.
Refsnyder could be a buy low opportunity for someone like the Indians. He has a minor league option left so when Kipnis comes back, he doesn’t necessarily have to stay up with the big club. He’s someone who can be a platoon option in the outfield as well if need be.
The Indians and Yankees have made trades over the past couple of seasons, so it isn’t inconceivable that they could do something again. Refsnyder does have potential and it may be that he just needs a change of scenery and consistent playing time to unlock it.
The Indians number eight prospect according to MLBpipeline.com, Gonzalez broke in for a 21 game cup of coffee with the Indians in 2016. He hit .296 with a .779 OPS in 104 games in AAA last season. Gonzalez played second, short, third and the outfield during hit brief stint in the bigs.
A gifted defender at shortstop, Gonzalez has the hands, actions and range needed to stay at the position, not to mention arguably the strongest arm in the Indians’ system. Those tools also make him a capable defender elsewhere on the diamond, as he also logged two games in right field (including his first Major League start), five games at second base and two games at third base during his time in the big leagues. He’s likely to serve in a utility role once again in 2017, though many scouts believe that he could be a solid everyday middle infielder if given the opportunity.
Gonzalez is just 25 years old and maybe if he is given a chance to get some everyday playing time in the big leagues can show what he can do. If not for the Indians, maybe as a trade chip down the line for something that the Indians need down the road during the season. With the Kipnis injury, I think he may make the club anyway, so they may as well give him a shot to play at second base.
Mar 19, 2017; Goodyear, AZ, USA; Cleveland Indians second baseman Michael Martinez (1) lines out during the third inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Goodyear Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Add a non roster invitee
The Indians have two non-roster invitees that could fill the void. One with major league experience and one without. The one with is Michael Martinez, who was on the team last season and who made the last out of the World Series. Martinez can play multiple positions and has bench experience which could give him a leg up on other competition. He is also hitting .359 so far this spring which certainly can’t hurt his case.
The option without experience is Ronny Rodriguez. Rodriguez has played all over the infield and even added some outfield reps as a part of his game last season. In 116 games in AAA, Rodriguez hit .258 with a .693 OPS 10 homers and 58 RBI. He is hitting just .231 this spring.
If I had to guess at this, Ramirez will play second and Urshela at third while Kipnis misses time. However, you never know how shoulder injuries will progress and impact the season, so it wouldn’t shock me if the Indians explore other options inside and outside the organization in an important season for the franchise.