One of the more surprising developments out of Orlando and the Winter Meetings was finding out other teams are interested in Jason Kipnis. Specifically, the New York Mets. It’s surprising because generally teams don’t pursue recently injured players that spent several months of the previous season wavd at the Mendoza Line for a few months. Not if they’re willing to give up anything valuable anyway. Kipnis may have found himself played out of a position because of Jose Ramirez becoming a superstar, but the Indians would be foolish to trade him, for so many reasons.
Perhaps not so many. But like three or something. The first, I already mentioned, was that he wouldn’t really bring anything back. Kipnis put up an 82 wRC+ this year, his worst since that similarly injury-plagued 2014 season. His walk rate was its lowest since his rookie year. When he did get on the field he was less than stellar defensively and he demonstrated a versatility in that subpar-ness by taking to the outfield for October. Thre are calls all the time to trade struggling players, and every time they make no sense. What are you going to get back? Spare parts? The Indians have him signed through 2019 plus a $16.5 million team option for 2020. So basically, his big value in trade is being cheap for the Mets. That’s hardly tantalizing enough to bring back a fair price. Especially considering what could happen next year.
See, teams don’t just want cheap, bad players. Unless they're really blatantly tanking, and a team with the Mets rotation and Yoenis Cespedes cannot afford to do that. They want cheap players that might bounce back and be good. Which could happen with Kipnis. Amid all the bad that we saw from him last year we did see some glimmers of hope. For one, he dropped his ground ball rate to 36.3 percent, a career low, while simultaneously hitting a career high fly ball rate at 44.1 percent. He also had a miserably low .256 BABIP. Yes, hitting more fly balls is going to give you a lower average on balls in play since they can be caught for outs, but that is far too low.
But those fly balls that fell into gloves could find seats in 2018. When he’s healthy Kipnis hits the ball pretty hard. According to Baseball Savant his exit velocity in 2016 was 89.1 miles per hour, which put him in the same neighborhood as George Springer (89.3) or Jay Bruce(88.9). He just hit a ton of line drives and grounders that year. Sapped by a bum shoulder to start 2017 and then a recurring hamstring problem as the year wore on, he couldn’t muster the same power. That average exit velo fell to 85.9 mph, the realm of Andrelton Simmons and Stephen Piscotty. If he’s healthy next year there's no reason to believe he won't be more like he was in 2016 than in '17. People don’t just collapse that suddenly just because they turn 30. There’s blocks to build on there that the Mets or someone else wants to take advantage of.
It seems a bit odd, even foolish to expect some kind of breakout from a 31-year-old middle infielder who just lost his position. But Kipnis could be that solution the Indians are hunting for in left field, too. And expecting a guy to return to some kind of form after a year with nagging injuries isn't too out-sized an expectation. We see it all the time, we just have this complex as baseball fans that assumes if a player is bad one year, suddenly that's it forever. Again, he’s only 31, not exactly an elder statesman. And the Indians need to win, now. They also need as many Michael Brantley insurance policies as they can. Kipnis can be one of those. Or at least half of one in a platoon with Austin Jackson. There's still room for hope with Kipnis, and the Mets are just trying to get a borderline All-Star second baseman or decent outfielder at a bargain basement price. It's exactly the kind of deal I'd write about from the Indians side. Trading him now is a poor move on all fronts.
Oh, and the third reason? Well, think about this - do you really want to see Jason Kipnis in a different uniform? Try envisioning it. Its confusing, makes the brain hurt a bit. The Indians shouldn’t want to confuse people.