Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 22
Bob Toth | On 07, Mar 2018
While the offseason has been historically slow and the winter has crawled along at an even slower pace, we at Did The Tribe Win Last Night look ahead to the warmer days of the 2018 season by remembering Tribe players past and present.
Countdown to Opening Day – 22 days
Just a couple of short months ago, it seemed like there was a fair chance that Jason Kipnis’ days in the number 22 for the Cleveland Indians would be coming to an end.
Now, a few weeks into spring training, holding on to the two-time All-Star second baseman is looking like the right move.
There were rumors in the offseason that Kipnis could be on the move. With one of the most expensive contracts on the roster and coming off an injury-riddled 2017 season, he seemed like a candidate to be dealt to give the front office some roster and financial flexibility. The New York Mets were thought to be a team looking, which made sense with their hole at second base and former Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway familiar with what Kipnis could bring to a clubhouse. The Milwaukee Brewers also seemed a logical choice, as they had a glaring hole at both second base and pitcher with an overabundance of outfielders, while the Indians had Kipnis and extra pitching to deal while in need of some answers or upgrades in the outfield.
Obviously, no deal came to fruition and the 30-year-old has started the spring with a little extra pep in his step while looking like a man with something to prove on the diamond.
Kipnis sat out the first two games of the Cactus League schedule, but has hit the ball with some authority since making his spring debut on February 25. He is one of the club’s top hitters thus far in spring training action, putting up a .529/.529/1.588 slash through six games. He has six homers in those contests, going yard in five different games. Each of his last three hits have been homers and the long ball accounts for two-thirds of his hit total in the spring.
Is it unreasonable to think that a healthy Kipnis could mean a return of the old second baseman for the Tribe?
Health has always been the key factor for Kipnis. When it is on his side, he has contributed in big ways to the Cleveland lineup. He hit .273 in 36 games in 2011 after his midseason call-up in his first Major League action. He hit 14 homers and drove in 76 while stealing 31 bases and batting .257 in his first full season in 2012. The following year, he was an All-Star for the first time, hitting .284 with 36 doubles, 17 homers, and 84 RBI with another 30 stolen bases.
The good run to start his career stopped during his 2014 season, which was drastically altered by an early oblique injury that seemed to tap his ability to drive the ball with authority. He hit just .240 with 25 doubles, six homers, and 41 RBI, but he bounced back the next season with a .303 average in 141 games with 43 doubles and seven triples. He was an important part of the team’s World Series run in the 2016, playing in a career-high 156 games while hitting .275 with 41 doubles, a career-best 23 homers, and 82 RBI.
Last season was a different tale as he started the year on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation. He was in the lineup and healthy for two and a half months before straining his right hamstring and missing a month. He aggravated the injury in late August and missed three and a half weeks down the stretch and returned without a job, as his numbers had dipped throughout the year and manager Terry Francona opted to go with the tandem of Giovanny Urshela and Yandy Diaz at third base and All-Star third baseman Jose Ramirez at his natural second base position upon Kipnis’ return. With his customary path blocked, Kipnis returned to his college roots and assisted the club in its injury-depleted outfield, leading to more questions than answers about what his role would be with the Tribe in 2018.
Kipnis has worked at second base so far this spring, which follows the plan mentioned in January by Francona, who shared with the media that “More than likely, he plays second…The way we’re aligned, it certainly looks like that’s the right thing to do. He’s preparing for that.”
A healthy Kipnis at second could help an Indians offense make up for the departed production of Carlos Santana and Jay Bruce. It would also help the club feel much better about the $13.7 million owed him this season and the $14.7 million on the books for 2019.
Other notable 22s in Tribe history (51 players in total): Wes Ferrell (the first in 1929); Roy Weatherly (1938-42), Jim Bagby (1944-45), Mike Garcia (1948), Sam Jones (1951-52), Al Luplow (1963-65), Jim Bibby (1975-77), Ted Cox (1978-79), Bert Blyleven (1981), Mike Fischlin (1981-85), Glenallen Hill (1993), Candy Maldonado (1990-94), Brian Giles (1996-98), Mark Langston (1999), Juan Gonzalez (2001).
Photo: Ron Schwane/Getty Images