It's early in the season but the Cleveland Indians have already managed to accomplish one of 2014's major goals: they've locked up second baseman Jason Kipnis to a six-year, $52.5 million contract extension that comes with an option for a seventh year, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Paul Hoynes.
If you remember the 90s, you remember that contracts like this were what brought the Indians from their days as the believable star of baseball movie classic "Major League" to a legitimate powerhouse that tore through the American League for much of a decade. While they've still got a lot to prove before they can return to those glory days, locking Kipnis up is a wonderful start, as this contract not only buys out his three arbitration seasons, but also guarantees two free agent years while giving the Indians the option to secure a third.
Kipnis broke out in 2013, his second full campaign in the majors, by batting .284/.366/.452 while stealing 30 bases and playing a steady second base. His season helped lead the Indians to the playoffs for the first time since 2007, and in 2014 he remains an integral part of the lineup. While Cleveland already had him under control through 2017, this time frame makes the most sense for them in both the present and future. Kipnis just turned 27, and now should be in Cleveland for his entire peak, and maybe a little longer, depending on how he ages. It gives the Indians what should be the very best years of their best player, and a homegrown one at that, and could help them down the road when it's time to let Kipnis walk: it's easier to say no to a second baseman entering their mid-30s than one who just crossed the wrong side of 30. With the way second basemen age historically (hint: poorly), it's even more important in this specific case.
Kipnis will earn $2 million this season, $4 million in 2015, $6 million in 2016, and then a jump to $3 million for 2017. The first free agent year bought out by this year will pay Kipnis $13.5 million, the second $14.5 million, and the option year for 2020 will pay $16.5 million. If the Indians buy it out, Kipnis still gets a $2.5 million buyout.
It's a massive jump in pay per year, considering Kipnis was making just a little more than the league minimum at present, but even if the Indians end up paying a little more during arbitration than they otherwise would have, the discount on his free agent years will more than make up for it, as will the fact they will have those free agent years at all: if Kipnis had hit free agency four years from now, and was still productive, he would have likely priced himself out of Cleveland's modest budget.
This extension will also likely be reassuring to a fan base that just watched the Indians bungle reasonable negotiations with impending free agent starter Justin Masterson. They still have a chance to lock him up and keep their top position player and top starter together during years where the Indians should be competitive, but for now, at least Kipnis' deal is out of the way.