The Indians have already announced the long term signings of two young players this Spring, but that wasn’t enough for the Tribe. After bringing in Michael Brantley and Yan Gomes long term, Cleveland has finally locked up their greatest player for a very long time. The deal, announced before the Home Opener, is for six years and $52.5M with an option for 2020. Kipnis turned 27 yesterday, beginning the magic age that generally starts the prime of a players career. He was already under team control for the next three years under the arbitration rules, but this deal will avoid the type of confrontations that Vinnie Pestano and Josh Tomlin had to go through this March. In addition, his first two seasons of free agency are covered as well as a third year under an option. Assuming the Indians use this option, which is valued at $16.5M, Kipnis will be an Indian through his age 33 season.
While this is a great deal for both sides (Kipnis will now be a millionaire for the first time), it is a tremendous deal for the Tribe. While many other teams are giving out long term deals to players already in their 30’s, after their prime, the Indians will be getting all of Kipnis’ prime seasons. At the same time, the Mariners will be paying $24M per season for Robinson Cano’s age 32 through 40 seasons. There is almost no chance that Kipnis will not be a more valuable player than Cano in 2020 and even at it’s highest point, his contract will still be $8M less than Cano’s.
There are two major reasons why this deal should be very exciting. First, the Indians now have two players signed through 2020 (Kipnis and Yan Gomes) and eight through 2016 (Michael Brantley, Carlos Santana, Nick Swisher, Ryan Raburn, Michael Bourn and David Murphy). In addition, players like Danny Salazar, Cody Allen and Francisco Lindor will be under team control even longer. This is the third time the Indians have worked to sign their core to long term deal, the first being in the early 1990’s. That time, the Indians extended Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez and Charles Nagy among others and it lead to two World Series appearances. In the mid-2000’s the Indians did it again, retaining Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore and Jhonny Peralta, leading to a near World Series appearance in 2007. This time the Indians will have at least four more chances at their first World Series championship since 1948 with their core players.
Secondly, Kipnis now has a chance to become the greatest second baseman in team history, in addition to one of the best in the league today. Kipnis has a very rare combination of power, speed and glove work that is seldom found in a middle infielder. It is even more rare among Indians second basemen historically, and Kipnis is already among the top 15 all time. Kipnis already ranks seventh in home runs among Indians second basemen and fifth in steals. By the end of this season both of those rankings are likely to rise as Kipnis has hit at least 14 home runs and stole at least 30 bases in each of his first two full seasons.
While not every long term contract has worked out in Indians history, this one seems to be pretty safe. His $8.6M average yearly value ranks around Howie Kendrick, who signed a shorter deal around the same point in his career in 2012. It is significantly lower, however, than Dan Uggla (-1.3 WAR in 2013) and Chase Utley’s (3.2 WAR in 2013) current deals, two players he is already worth more than in terms of WAR (Kipnis earned 5.9 WAR in 2013). While many fans are still disappointed about not signing Justin Masterson, Kipnis was significantly more important to retain long term. While Masterson may be the best pitcher on the Indians, Kipnis may be the best second baseman in baseball. There is very little chance the Indians will regret this one.