Did the Indians Miss a Chance on Kipnis?

At the age of 26, Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has established himself as one of the top players at his position. Currently 2nd in WAR, 3rd in RBI, 2nd in wRC+, 2nd in stolen bases, and 3rd in OPS, Kipnis has taken a step forward from his productive first half of 2012, when he hit .277/.345/.419, to become the Indians’ top position player. His transition can be attributed to many things, but primarily his ability to hit left-handed pitching:

In 2012: 

vs LHP as LHB1082412094542224162439.
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/14/2013.

In 2013:

vs LHP as LHB691551394215142811235.302.366.511.87771.380
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/14/2013.

The increase in production from Kipnis has kept the Indians within contention for most of the season. As he continues to show his offensive prowess to the league, should the Indians’ front office worry if they waited too long to discuss an extension with their All-Star second baseman?

After the 2012 season, Jason Kipnis was still a highly valuable asset to the club. He was going to be a fixture in the lineup, even if he had to move to third base or the outfield to make room for one of the Indians’ plethora of middle infield prospects. After his first full season, 2012, Kipnis showed enough talent to lockup and build around, showing enough speed, power, and on-base skills to maintain his value for the club for the next several seasons.

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For comparisons sake, the Indians locked up Carlos Santana in April of 2012 to a five-year, $21 million deal, buying out his arbitration years and gaining a club option on the 2017 season, which would have been his walk-year. Santana’s 2011 season was excellent, as he posted an .808 OPS while smacking 35 doubles and 27 home runs while driving in 79 runs.

Can the club do the same type of deal with Kipnis this offseason?

Kipnis isn’t eligible for arbitration until 2015, so he could have his contract renewed in 2014 after making $509,000 in 2013; however, offering Kipnis a similar contract to Santana, a five-year, $21 million deal, would buy out all of his arbitration years and one season of free agency.

Why would Kipnis do that at this point?

If Jason Kipnis maintains his current production over the remainder of the 2013 season, he would finish with 36 doubles, 20 home runs, 93 RBI, and 28 stolen bases. In 2005 and 2006, another left-handed hitting second baseman averaged 39 doubles, 30 home runs, 103 RBI, and 15 stolen bases. In 2007, that second baseman, Chase Utley, received a seven-year, $85 million extension from the Philadelphia Phillies.

While Kipnis hasn’t been quite as productive as Utley was in those two seasons, when Utley’s WAR was 7.1 in both seasons, he could make a case for earning $10 million or more per season as early as 2016, especially when Robinson Cano gets a huge deal this offseason and Utley just signed a two-year, $27 million extension at the age of 34.

After Utley’s fourth season, 2006, he was given his extension.  The 2014 season will be Kipnis’ fourth season in MLB. What kind of contract should the Indians offer him this offseason to lock him up, or, better yet, what would Kipnis accept to avoid the potential for huge raises through the arbitration process?

Somewhere between this very moment and the time that pitchers and catchers report to Arizona, the Indians would be wise to approach Kipnis about an extension. With any luck, they may be able to lock him up for a Santana-like deal, but it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that something pricier is necessary after his breakout 2013 season.