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January 28, 2014

Rumor Roundup

Extension Tension

by Daniel Rathman

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Jason Kipnis is all ears if the Indians want to discuss an extension
For Indians general manager Chris Antonetti, the past few days have brought both good news and bad news on the extension front. Cleveland Plain-Dealer beat writer Paul Hoynes wrote on Monday that the team has given up, at least for the time being, on reaching a long-term agreement with its ace, Justin Masterson. But that report came on the heels of a promising statement from second baseman Jason Kipnis, who told reporters at Sunday’s fan fest that he is “absolutely” open to negotiating a multi-year hitch.

Kipnis and the Indians failed to come to terms when they sat down before the 2013 season, but the Arizona State product is optimistic that the second time will be the charm. With two years and 69 days of service time under his belt, the 26-year-old Kipnis will be eligible for arbitration after the 2014 campaign, and some degree of cost certainty could benefit both sides. Kipnis has been a below-average defensive player at the keystone to this point in his career, but his power-and-speed toolset makes him one of the most valuable offensive contributors at the position. He was worth 4.9 WARP last season, despite striking out 143 times in 658 plate appearances.

There is little precedent when it comes to pre-arbitration signings by elite second basemen, but the Red Sox’s December 3, 2008, match with another Sun Devils alumnus comes to mind. Dustin Pedroia was two years younger at the time, coming off of his age-24 season, and he had won the American League Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards back-to-back, but he broke out—much like Kipnis did—in his second full year in the majors. That agreement was an extremely club-friendly six-year, $40.5 million outlay, which ran through the 2014 season and carried a team option for 2015. The Red Sox have since swapped that deal out for a new eight-year, $110 million contract, which at the time marked the first-ever $100 million guarantee for a second baseman.

Just how willing Kipnis is to trade arbitration paydays for an eight-figure security blanket remains to be seen. He spent three weeks on the disabled list with a hamstring strain during his rookie year and a week on the pine with a sore left elbow last April but has escaped serious injury. Jose Altuve, Robinson Cano, Brandon Phillips, and Kipnis are the only players who have made at least 145 appearances at the keystone in each of the last two years.

Hoynes tweeted that the sides are likely to resume discussions when Kipnis reports to spring training in Goodyear, Arizona, next month. That timeframe would give the sides about a month and a half to come to an agreement, because Kipnis indicated that he would table negotiations if no deal has been reached come Opening Day.

David Ortiz seeking multi-year deal from Red Sox
Thirty-eight-year-old players and multi-year contracts don’t often go together. David Ortiz is hoping to become an exception to that rule.

The Red Sox’s designated hitter said in an interview on Sunday with CBS4 in Boston (relayed by ESPN Boston’s Gordon Edes) that he would like to finish his career with the club, but he won’t hang up his cleats when his current contract runs out at the end of the 2014 season, and it appears that he wants to play beyond 2015, too. Apart from a strained and inflamed Achilles tendon in his right foot, Ortiz has largely been healthy since 2008, when he missed 45 games with a torn tendon sheath in his left wrist. He lost weight before the 2012 season to get into better shape, and he might not break down physically as quickly as other late-30s players, because he seldom plays in the field.

On top of all that, Ortiz has hit better in the last two years than he did in the previous four. His True Average was .343 in 2012 and .332 in 2013, following a four-year stretch during which it did not exceed .307. From 2010, the previous time he hit 30 home runs, to 2013, when he reached that mark again, Ortiz shaved more than nine percentage points off his strikeout rate, from 23.9 percent to 14.7 percent. He is a different hitter now—but in many ways, a better one.

Still, Ortiz is 38, and any multi-year extension would stretch into his 40s. The Red Sox have not signed a player that age for more than one season since the two-year, $5 million extension Tim Wakefield signed in 2009—and that deal did not end well for the club, as the knuckleballer was below replacement level in 2011, his last big-league season.

Ortiz refused to set an endpoint on his playing career during the interview, telling the station, “It can be two years, it can be three years, it can be 10 years.” He will earn $15 million in the final season of a two-year, $26 million pact, which increased to $30 million when he recovered from the aforementioned Achilles injury just two weeks into the 2013 season.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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