In our latest Believeland Mailbag, we look at questions on the immediate future of Corey Kluber and the long-term future of Jason Kipnis.
Hello, readers and friends. Welcome to our second semi-regular Believeland Mailbag. Every now and then, we’ll tweet from our site account with a request for questions, comments, and thoughts about the Cleveland Indians.
We will respond to any appropriate input from our followers, and are happy to do so. Interacting with our readers is an important step toward bringing our Tribe community together and establishing a united front against the dark forces throughout the rest of the American League.
So keep an eye out for our next one, and feel free to share whatever it is that’s on your mind with us. As for this week’s questions, let’s get to it.
Question 1: Will Corey Kluber return? If so, will he be effective? What role will he take on?
We actually fielded two questions on Corey Kluber, and both shared the same sentiment. After his rehab setback, his outlook for a return to Cleveland’s pitching staff isn’t as bright as it appeared earlier this month.
Kluber’s last appearance on a mound was on Sunday, August 18 for Triple-A Columbus. He exited the game under regrettable circumstances, and was later declared to have suffered an internal oblique injury that would shut him down for two weeks.
There is no guarantee that he will be ready to resume full-fledged baseball activities when that two-week time frame expires. Even if he is, the Indians face a serious time crunch in terms of getting him back into MLB form.
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Imagining for a moment that he is cleared to resume pitching in early September, Kluber could record a handful of rehab outings in the Triple-A playoffs if Columbus makes it far enough. The Clippers will begin a five-game series next Wednesday that could last until September 8 if it goes the distance.
If Columbus advances to the championship, Kluber’s rehab stint could feasibly last all the way up until September 17. The alternative would be to let him ramp things up at the MLB level, giving him innings limits and pitch counts over the final month.
The obvious drawback to such a plan is that the Indians are in the thick of a playoff race of their own, and can’t exactly afford to risk wins and losses on a pitcher working his way back from two separate injuries.
Erring on the optimistic side, I believe Kluber does return to the 25-man roster at some point in 2019. His effectiveness will depend on his role. While Carlos Carrasco can serve as a weapon out of the bullpen thanks to his high fastball velocity, Kluber’s arsenal doesn’t quite fit the profile of a relief pitcher (unless it’s long relief).
At this point, Kluber’s best case scenario might be as a Game 3 starter, with the additional caveat that we probably shouldn’t expect him to pitch deep into games like he has in the past.
Ideally, the Indians will be able to rely on Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger as their workhorses early in a series, with Kluber in line for Game 3 and the bullpen set to take over after four or five innings.
Question 2: What are the pros and cons of exercising Jason Kipnis’s team option for 2020?
The Indians have a $16.5-million club option on Jason Kipnis for 2020 with a $2.5-million buyout. If the Indians were to pick it up, it would be the highest yearly salary of his career (more than double what he made in either of his two best seasons in 2015-16), and exponentially higher than what he’d get on the open market.
The Indians simply cannot afford to bring him back at that dollar amount. Whether the front office has any realistic plan to extend Francisco Lindor or not, there are more productive ways to allocate $16.5 million.
But let’s look at the pros of bringing Kipnis back under different circumstances. Say the Indians decline his option, and Kipnis runs into the same problems as recent free agents in another stagnant 2020 market.
The Indians don’t have any MLB-ready, can’t-miss prospects in line to take over at second base in 2020. We’ll find out a lot about infielder Yu Chang over the next month, and the Tribe traded for reclamation project Christian Arroyo at this year’s deadline.
Both are right-handed, and neither is a proven commodity at the moment. Kipnis would be a fine left-handed platoon complement in an infield that’s getting younger if the Indians can re-sign him at a reasonable price.
Moreover, he’s the longest-tenured position player in Cleveland and has an invaluable impact on the clubhouse atmosphere. You don’t exactly send that guy packing without a second thought if there is a cost-effective and team-friendly way to bring him back. Even in a utility role, Kipnis’s presence helps the Tribe’s chances of winning in 2020.
The drawback to keeping Kipnis next season is that he could potentially create a roadblock for the aforementioned younger players. The Indians would certainly like to find out what they have in Chang, and the best way to do that would be to start him regularly next season.
Additionally, there is always the potential for Jose Ramirez to transition to second base full-time, leaving Chang at third, and opening the door for highly-regarded prospect Nolan Jones. Jones is a left-handed-hitting third baseman who hasn’t yet ascended past Double-A, but figures to factor into the MLB equation at some point in 2020.
All things considered, at the right price and in the right role, Kipnis belongs in Cleveland in some capacity next season. He’s a solid defender with a veteran plate approach and a positive clubhouse presence. As long as the Tribe’s championship window remains open, he deserves to be a part of it.
Thank you to those who participated in this latest mailbag. We’ll do another one soon, and we look forward to hearing more of your thoughts.