The writing has been on the wall since Jason Kipnis’ hit .232 in 2017 with an 80 wRC+ and has two guaranteed years remaining on his pre-arbitration contract, and his exodus, unlike that of Trevor Bauer is a relatively quiet one. Kipnis had a throughly productive career in Cleveland, and was the sort of competitor to which the Mid-West attaches itself. Alas, this will not be a comprehensive summary of Jason Kipnis’ career in Cleveland, nor the virtue of his clubhouse impact.
Rather, the presumption is that Kipnis has dirtied his last Cleveland jersey, injured his last oblique, and short-armed his last double-play turn. With this in mind the question raised is how the Indians will replace Kipnis, and what exactly upgrading on Kipnis would look like.
Jason Kipnis accumulated 3.7 fWAR over the past three seasons with an OPS under .710. Essentially, Kipnis has produced like a good bench player overmatched by starting. His offense was roughly 15% below average and defense average, making him somewhere south of league average player and somewhere north of replacement level player.
The Indians have internal options, Yu Chang, upside play Christian Arroyo, or nightmarishly replaceable Mike Freeman. Yet, between Kipnis exit and Jose Ramirez willingness to move to second, the parameters guiding this review are free agent 2B or 3B compared to Kipnis who posted at least 1 WAR in 2019.
Brock Holt 1.3 WAR, 103 wRC+, 32 years old.
Jonathan Schoop 1.3 WAR, 100 wRC+, 28 years old.
Brian Dozier 1.7 WAR, 99 wRC+, 33 years old
Anthony Rendon 7 WAR, yeah this is not happening.
Josh Donaldson 4.9 WAR, this either.
Mike Moustakas 2.8 WAR, 113 wRC+, 31 years old (Mutual option).
Asdrubel Cabrera 1.9 WAR, 98 wRC+, 34 years old.
Based on the 2018/2019 free agent market, any of Holt, Schoop, Dozier, and Cabrera will command $10 million or less, and Moustakas potentially a bit more. Moustakas is perhaps the most interesting with an above average bat and a now proven ability to defend both second and third base.
Holt’s competent bat and versatility is a dynamic advantage but as a primary 2B he probably is not a substantive upgrade on Kipnis. What one quickly notices on the above list is that the Indians can probably upgrade offensively at second easily but defensively Kipnis had some actual value.
Of course, with Ramirez, Lindor, and Santana also occupying on infield positions, selling defense at 2B to improve offensively makes a lot of sense for the Indians offense.
Once one accepts that assertion, one must pick the favorite of Cabrera, Moustakas, Schoop, Holt, and Dozier. Moustakas is the clear best player but may not hit the market, and if he does should command one last multi-year deal.
Beyond Moustakas, the most interesting piece to me is Schoop, just 28 years old, above average power, and real upside shown in the last three years.
For the Indians, there are a handful of real options, each with significant warts and a non-zero probability of underperforming Kipnis’ mediocrity. If the Indians want a true upgrade, the trade market will be the place to go.