It is entirely possible we’ve seen Jason Kipnis in an Indians uniform for the last time.
Sadly, it’s more than possible.
Kipnis was lifted from Sunday’s game with wrist soreness. An MRI revealed a broken hamate, one of the carpal bones in his right wrist. The break will require surgery, shelving him for 4-6 weeks, which means even if the Indians make a deep postseason run – which seems less probable by the day – he probably won’t be able to return for the Indians this year.
His injury is the latest in a snakebit season for the Indians, who have seen many of their prime contributors waylaid by injury. Jose Ramirez will miss the remainder of the regular season. Corey Kluber is still trying to come back after a broken arm. Carlos Carrasco is getting limited use while he battles leukemia. The Tribe has been unable to stay healthy all year – and will still probably win at least 90 games, which is really an achievement in itself.
The Indians hold a club option for Kipnis next year for $16.5 million. However, the option includes a $2.5 million buyout, and it’s hard to imagine the Indians – whose pragmatism is exceeded by their penury – doing anything but sending him on his way.
Kipnis will turn 33 shortly after the start of next season, and his offensive numbers have trailed off since an injury-plagued 2017 season – after which it appeared a deal was in place to send him to the Mets. But the Mets called off the deal – and given his production in the ensuing two seasons, may have been wise to do so.
Still, it’s hard not to feel a touch of sadness at what appears to be Kipnis’ imminent departure. After the good times of the 1990s, the 2000s were mostly lean years. The Indians showed a marked inability to draft wisely throughout that decade and remained indifferent to the free agent market. They were able to put together a second-half run in 2005 that came up just short of a playoff appearance, and won the division in 2007, advancing within one win of the World Series, but most of the time were eminently forgettable, particularly with the ascent of the Tigers in the late 2000s.
Kipnis was a second-round pick of the Indians that year (the first-round pick was pitcher Alex White, who’s probably most notable for his involvement in the trade that brought Ubaldo Jimenez to Cleveland in 2011. White was out of baseball shortly after that). His grimy style of play – his first major league manager, Manny Acta, called him “dirtbag,” and the nickname stuck – was endearing, and one of the few positives of the Acta era, before Terry Francona became manager and all the talent the Indians had accumulated really started to blossom. And however you feel about Kipnis, he was a gamer. He played in the outfield out of the team’s need in 2017, and acquitted himself reasonably well. (He showed initial promise as an outfielder in the Indians system, but was switched to second base. Of course, nobody could have foretold Ramirez’ rise in that same position.)
Thursday marks the one-year anniversary of one of Kipnis’ greatest moments: A walk-off grand slam against the White Sox for his 1,000th career hit. But it would have been a blip on the radar had he gotten a little better hold of a slider off Aroldis Chapman in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 of the World Series. For an instant, it looked like the Indians’ World Series drought was over. But the ball tailed into the first-base stands foul, and well, I don’t feel like I have to rehash everything that came after that.
It’s one of the great “what ifs” in baseball history, right up there with what Herb Score could have become had he not been hit by Gil McDougald’s line drive, or if Willie McCovey had hit the screaming liner that turned out to be the final out of the 1962 World Series a little higher.
The home run would have made him a hero unlike any other in Indians history. Instead, he was eclipsed by brighter stars in the Indians’ lineup and his lackluster production made him thought of nearly as an albatross weighing the team down. He deserved better.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images (from 8/10/2011)