Blue Jays and Cleveland: Possible Trade Partners?

KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 18: Jason Kipnis
KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 18: Jason Kipnis /

Could the Jays and Indians match up as trade partners this offseason?

MLBTR recently held a poll asking fans to predict what Cleveland would do with Jason Kipnis this offseason.  The favourite answer was that Cleveland would trade him.

Kipnis has been a star second baseman for Cleveland for many years, with a 4.8 WAR in each of 2015 and 2016.  But in 2017 he was injured, affecting his performance and giving rising young star Jose Ramirez a chance to show what he could do at the keystone position.  Going into 2018, it is not clear that Kipnis still has a full-time position with the Indians.  But he still has two years + an option year ($44.5 million total) on the contract he signed in  2014 – too much to pay for a bench player, and a substantial amount for a Cleveland team with a 2017 opening season payroll of $125 million.

Could he be a fit for the Jays?

Start with the obvious.  A veteran second baseman with above-average defense and offense, recent experience batting leadoff, and above-average baserunning skills.  What is there not to like in 2018, when Devon Travis‘ health is still an issue?

Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays /

Toronto Blue Jays

But Jason brings even more to the table.  He was originally drafted as a centre fielder, and even played 8 games there in 2017.  His defense was not great, but (a) centre field is not easy and (b) he had not ever played there at the MLB level.  As a general rule, any player who can play even passable centre field can also play in left. Jason’s 120 wRC+ over 2015 and 2016 would be more than adequate for a left fielder.  So if Devo were to be healthy and producing, the Jays would have an option to keep Kipnis’ bat in the lineup.

And finally, Kipnis is a good enough athlete that he could turn into a mini-Ben Zobrist.  He could move from second to third when/if the Jays lose Josh Donaldson (ever hear of Paul Molitor?) until (and if) Vlad is ready to take over that position.  He could likely also play at first and DH as required.  And having him under team control for three years could provide the Jays with that super-utility option that teams appear to increasingly value.

Of course, there are negatives too.  Jason’s 2017 was one of the worst of his professional career, in terms of performance (both offensively and defensively) and in terms of games lost to injury.  He will play 2018 at age 31, so the hamstring and shoulder injuries may not be ancient history.  That said, Jason had over 640 PAs in each of 2015 and 2016.  It is possible that the Jays might believe that his best days are over.

Next: Blue Jays: Don’t be surprised by Morrow’s bullpen success

The bottom line

There is a lot to like about Jason Kipnis.  And with his poor 2017, the other second basemen rumoured to be on the market (Ian Kinsler, Jed Lowrie, Dee Gordon, etc), and the other demands on Cleveland’s payroll, it is possible that Cleveland could be motivated sellers.  A gamble by the Jays, but one with potentially significant upside?