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Possibility of moving Jason Kipnis to center field gives Indians much-needed flexibility

The Indians need all the flexibility they can get right now.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Indians desperately need outfield help, we all know this, but what if the solution to their center field woes is already on the team? Jason Kipnis, who will be heading into his sixth year as the Tribe’s starting second baseman once 2016 rolls around, has previous experience manning center field and the idea of moving him there opens up so many more trade opportunities for the Indians.

You will not find any history of playing center field on Kipnis’ MLB player pages (in fact, he has never played a single defensive position besides second base in his career), but it was a different story in college. Kipnis played a mix of second base, left field, center field, and right field in his three years at the NCAA level--one at Kentucky, two at Arizona State--so the history is there.

Moving Kipnis to center field would diminish Kipnis' offensive value, but only slightly. His 114 wRC+ over the last three years has him as the 6th best-hitting second baseman in the league while that total would make him the 10th best center fielder. Considering the Indians have a less-than-zero chance of acquiring any of those center fielders who are better hitters than Kipnis, the drop-off is nominal.

Kipnis is an athletic second baseman, and similar to teammate Lonnie Chisenhall, he could use that athleticism to the transition easily to an outfield position. Granted, moving from the infield to center field is more difficult than doing the same thing to right field, but Kipnis has the previous college experience, so the idea of playing center is not coming out of nowhere. In doing so, it would open up a whole new world of trade possibilities for the Tribe.

Instead of looking solely at center fielders, which could come at a big expense in the trade market, the Indians could shift their focus to an infielder. They are already reportedly doing this, having shown interest in A’s infielder Brett Lawrie, who can play third base or second base effectively. Acquiring Lawrie solely as a third baseman would be fine, but adding him as a second baseman, while bumping Kipnis to center is even more value for the Indians. That scenario would leave Giovanny Urshela’s high-caliber glove at third base while Lawrie would replace Abraham Almonte in the lineup.

The Indians really only have one position of depth from which to trade, and that is pitcher. If they find a team that has an outfielder available, but does not need a pitcher they are out of luck. However, for instance, while the Indians have not yet officially been linked to the Chicago Cubs, they have the pitching the Cubs desire, and a trade for someone like Javier Baez at second with Kipnis in center field would be a great addition. Moving Kipnis to center field would make a Baez acquisition (or someone similar) that much more valuable.

Juan Uribe, a free agent the Indians have been very interested in this offseason, would also make a solid second baseman for a season or two, depending on his contract length.

In an offseason where it looks like the Indians will make only one big trade--at best--before everything is said and done, the ability to move Jason Kipnis to the outfield in order to acquire an infielder gives them much-needed flexibility. Let’s just hope they that advantage correctly.