Cleveland Indians: Finding an exact role for Jason Kipnis is an issue

GOODYEAR, AZ - FEBRUARY 21: Jason Kipnis of the Cleveland Indians poses for a portrait at the Cleveland Indians Player Development Complex on February 21, 2018 in Goodyear, Arizona. (Photo by Rob Tringali/Getty Images)
GOODYEAR, AZ - FEBRUARY 21: Jason Kipnis of the Cleveland Indians poses for a portrait at the Cleveland Indians Player Development Complex on February 21, 2018 in Goodyear, Arizona. (Photo by Rob Tringali/Getty Images) /

There are options to consider with Jason Kipnis in the lineup and how the Cleveland Indians want to use him. The issue though is finding the right spot.

Talk about a problem that Cleveland Indians fans didn’t think they’d ever have to worry about. Cleveland is facing an absolute logjam in their infield. Superstars like Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez are automatic locks for playing time and first baseman Yonder Alonso will also get the nod.

Players like Josh Donaldson and Jason Kipnis, however, will have their playing time in question. The highlighted player in this situation will be Kipnis.

Kipnis has been a serviceable player in recent years and has batted .249 since the beginning of the 2016 season. Kipnis had one of the best months by a second baseman in Indians franchise history when he slashed .429/.511/.706.

The only problem for Kipnis is that not every month is May of 2015.

Since that month, it’s been a struggle for Kipnis to produce at a consistent level. Kipnis tends to struggle during the start of seasons and 2018 was more of the same as he batted an abominable .160 during April.

The Indians have lacked depth at second base during Kipnis’ eight seasons. The lack of depth and Kipnis playing slightly above average in recent years has helped keep his job secure. Kipnis has however been positioned out into center field a handful of times.

Back in July, Indians manager Tito Francona stated that it would take a “compelling reason” for Kipnis to be pushed out to the outfield. Fast forward to the month of September where the Indians have added a key piece into the infield and you see a completely different scenario.

Kipnis has played in center field already this month but hasn’t produced. Not to mention he isn’t the best fielder they can put out there. Greg Allen and Rajai Davis have appeared in center field for the Tribe as well but Kipnis has taken the duties in the recent week. Kipnis has eight at-bats this month as the center fielder and has recorded two hits.

The bulk of Kipnis’ playing time in the outfield came last season when the Indians played the New York Yankees in the ALDS. Bradley Zimmer‘s injury was the reason for Kipnis’ exodus from the infield and Kipnis thrived in the ALDS out there. Kipnis’ highlight was an absolute fielding gem.

An idea that could benefit the Indians would be splitting time between Kipnis and Edwin Encarnacion at the DH position. Encarnacion has battled injuries in the recent month and he missed 10 games in the month of August.

Speaking of which, Encarnacion also suffered an ankle injury in the division-clinching victory against the Detroit Tigers on Saturday afternoon. Splitting the time between the two would help keep the rust off and allow them to recover.

If the Indians were to remove Kipnis from the infield entirely and move him to the outfield, center field would be his next destination. In the last three seasons, Kipnis has 49 at-bats while playing in center field and a whopping 4,100 at-bats while playing second base. He certainly lacks experience in the outfield but as mentioned earlier, his time out there has been during high stake situations.

Adding Donaldson could possibly be the reason the Indians make it to the World Series but it’s also the reason they currently have a logjam in the infield. Now, this isn’t a bad problem and it could be a benefit come playoff time, as it’s never a bad thing to have more firepower in October.

Since 2016, Donaldson has batted .260 with 76 homers and 64 doubles and in the 2016 season, he finished fourth in MVP voting in the American League.

Now comes the really difficult part of the problem. It’s hard to keep Donaldson out of the lineup, even with only appearing in a measly 36 games this season. Donaldson has produced in spots with the Indians already this season and in three games he has one home run.

As it’s been shown with Donaldson in the starting lineup, Ramirez is moved to second base and that makes Kipnis the odd man out.

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The Indians have clinched a playoff spot and it’s more and more looking like an ALDS matchup with the Houston Astros. The Indians have 13 games left and they should take this time to review their roster going forward and see how Kipnis is viewed when the postseason arrives.