Can the Indians Still Afford Jason Kipnis?
In case you haven’t been paying attention, several players reached agreements with their current teams on long-term extensions recently. Most fans would hardly think much of this. After all, how does a contract extension signed by a player on a different team impact anything that the Indians are doing? Well, the fact of the matter is that it has everything to do with the Indians, especially as they begin to negotiate a long-term deal with their star second baseman, Jason Kipnis.
Now keep in mind, the Indians still have several years of team control left with Jason Kipnis’ current contract. With 2.069 years of service time, he will not be eligible for free agency until after the 2017 season. That means the Indians control him for the next four seasons, including the one they are about to begin. However, it is after this season in which the cost to employ Kipnis should increase substantially due to arbitration.
If you recall, I discussed back towards the end of January how Kipnis’ performance to begin his career combined with his upcoming arbitration years will impact his contract moving forward. I also laid out a possible scenario for how the Indians could keep him under team control, and happy, through three years of arbitration and his first two years of free agency. At that point, a five-year extension worth $50-million with an option in year six worth $14-$15-million seemed like a likely scenario.
Now? Well, now things are a bit trickier. Thanks to several high dollar extensions that have been signed since the calendar flipped to February, you could make a case that the Indians might still have to up their offer in order to tie up Jason Kipnis long-term. Add in the fact that the Angels and Mike Trout are finally beginning to lay the ground work for what will undoubtedly be the largest and most ridiculous contract extension ever, and Jason Kipnis’ value could become that much more inflated by association.
Let’s start with the deals that have been signed. Among the nine contract extensions handed out in February, five of them have belonged to the Atlanta Braves. In addition, three of the nine were signed by pitchers. Lastly, only one extension was handed out to a player with more than five full years of service time, Coco Crisp – 10.158.
When looking at these extensions in terms of average annual value, the math works out to about $11.290-million per year. The average service time of players works out to 3.962 years. The irony here is that the average annual value of the extension I Had worked out for Jason Kipnis came to $10-million per year. So, while my estimation was close, it does not appear as though I was close enough.
Looking at the recent extensions handed out, certain players will have a greater impact on Jason Kipnis than others. For starters, while pitchers do a phenomenal job of raising the price floor for all players, it is hard to compare them with position players in terms of value. It is apples and oranges thanks to two very different fundamental skill sets. From the list of positional players who just got paid, it’s Andrelton Simmons, Freddie Freeman, Michael Brantley, and Brett Gardner that will have the greatest impact on Kipnis’ deal.
Each player received at least four years from their respective teams with Simmons and Freeman securing seven and eight years, respectively. In terms of monetary value, it’s a mixed bunch ranging from just over $6-million annually to well over $16-million annually. How does Kipnis fit into all of this based on his performance thus far? Well, take a look at this chart (click to enlarge):
As you can see, things get interesting when you look at Kipnis’ performance in relation to the most recent extensions handed out. Based on his slash line, Kipnis pretty much blows teammate Michael Brantley out of the water. Andrelton Simmons’ value is derived from his defense at this point in his career, thus rendering this argument a moot point. Meanwhile, Kipnis compares favorably with both Gardner and Freeman.
Brett Gardner‘s numbers compare favorably to Jason Kipnis on the surface. Their average and OBP are near identical while Kipnis displays slightly more power. However, in terms of weighted on base percentage and weighted runs created, Kipnis is the better option, at least until you get to wins above replacement, but even then things are not as they seem. Bear in mind, while Gardner has collected significantly more wins than Kipnis, he has also done so in significantly more time, 5.072 years compared to Kipnis’ 2.069. Where will Jason Kipnis’ WAR values be at five years into his career? Lastly, Gardner is 30 years old and just signed a four-year deal. Jason Kipnis is only 26 and just now entering into his prime.
That leaves Freddie Freeman, a player who compares favorably at age 24 with 3.033 years of service time compared to Jason Kipnis. After hitting 20+ homers and increasing his RBI totals in each of the past three seasons, the Braves opted to lock up their all-star first baseman for eight years. That will keep him in a Braves uniform beyond his age 32 season and will keep him away from free agency until 2022.
If Jason Kipnis is on a similar career trajectory as Freddie Freeman, where does that leave the Indians in negotiating a long-term extension with their all-star second baseman? Can you make a case that Kipnis, as the face of the franchise could be worth upwards of $15-$16-million per year? It’s certainly beginning to look that way.
If he continues to make all-star teams and other various accolades, what could have been a 5-year $50-million dollar extension could be pushing upwards of $70-$80-million over five years or $100-$115-million over the course of seven years. Albeit, most long-term extensions are signed with the goal of providing the player with some sense of security while also being a bit more team friendly than what could be received on the open market. In that case, maybe that number settles closer to $80-$90-million.
Ridiculous? Yes. But out of the question? I don’t think so. Not with how baseball contracts have continued to inflate in recent years. And that’s before taking into account the possible Mike Trout extension. Where is that deal going to fall, 10 years for $300-million? Nine years for $250? And then what?
If Trout signs that kind of deal, what does it do to long-term extensions for players and teams in the years to come? Rapid inflation is sure to follow with even marginal players receiving what were once considered to be lucrative deals. Small market teams could be priced out of the game all together, unlikely to meet the demands of keeping their best young talents in the fold for anything longer than their arbitration years.
What is clear is that if the Indians are serious about signing Jason Kipnis to a long-term extension, and all indications appear to be that they are, they need to get it done sooner rather than later. If they continue to wait, the price tag will only continue to increase with each and every subsequent extension that is handed out. And if that happens, well the future of the Indians becomes that much more uncertain.