With that being said, Terry Francona and crew are already looking at their options to fill Kipnis' boots on Opening Day, and I am going to do the same thing. Let's take a look at some of the guys the Tribe can send out there:
Considered by most to be the clear favourite to take Kipnis' place, Ramirez could slide over from his home at third base with relative ease. The versatile 24 year-old has spent time in many different positions and shown he can fill in adequately all over the infield, so second base is no stranger to him.
There is some hesitation on Francona's part however: "I think our first choice is not to (move him to second), but we'll see," the skipper said. After a few years as the Indians' utility man, Ramirez seemed to have found a nice home for himself at third base so I understand why the club are unwilling to shift him around again, especially off the back of a superb 2016 performance. In a perfect world Ramirez could use 2017 to really make third base his own but he's also the best option where this particular problem is concerned.
If Ramirez is chosen to replace Kipnis then it leaves a hole at third base. Thankfully this is a position where the Indians have some depth. Giovanny Urshela is my choice to fill Ramirez's spot and it could be a great opportunity for the 25 year-old Colombian to showcase his skills. We've seen in the past what a defensive wizard he is at the hot corner but his bat has always held him back from sticking in the bigs full time. Urshela has only appeared in 9 games for the Indians so far this spring but has hit well (he's spent the rest of the spring with the Colombian team at the WBC). He spent all of 2016 at Triple-A Columbus and had a decent year, slashing .274/.294/.380 (BA/OBP/SLG) with 8 home runs and 57 RBI over 117 games for the Clippers. I'm a huge Urshela fan and would love to see him have an impact with the club this season, so seeing him feature early on would be a plus.
The other candidate to fill in at third would be Yandy Diaz, who I wrote about recently. Diaz has been limited this spring with a right groin issue (just 8 appearances), which has likely hindered his chances to crack the Opening Day roster. I'm excited about Diaz's future in Cleveland but he's almost certain to start 2017 with Columbus, given he has no major league experience. It would be a big test for the rookie to chuck him in the deep end on Opening Day, whereas Urshela has been tried and tested.
Erik Gonzalez, Michael Martinez, Ronny Rodriguez
This trio from the Dominican Republic are Ramirez's closest competition for the second base spot. If Francona is truly against moving Ramirez from third base then one of these guys will likely be partnering Francisco Lindor on Opening Day.
So far all three of these gentlemen have seen about the same amount of action thus far this spring but let's take a look at them individually.
Erik Gonzalez is probably the best option to spell Kipnis until the All Star is ready to return, plus he's already on the 40-man roster, unlike Martinez and Rodriguez. Cleveland's number 8 prospect saw some time in the majors last year, although he only had two starts over a 21 game span where he was almost always used to pinch hit/run in the late innings. In his limited time at the plate he didn't hit well but then I wouldn't have expected him to given how rarely he got the opportunity. Down in Columbus however he was much more productive, slashing .296/.329/.450 with 11 home runs and 53 RBI, good enough for a 122 WRC+. Gonzalez is a natural shortstop but his path to the majors will be blocked for many years to come by Francisco Lindor. Second base is going to be Gonzalez's best opportunity to show off his abilities because if the Indians don't have a future place for him, somebody else will and they'll be willing to trade. If the young infielder is given the chance to play well and put himself in the shop window, then that will only serve to benefit both himself and the club. Gonzalez is certainly a safe choice if Kipnis isn't expected to miss significant time, and he can easily be optioned back to Columbus.
Michael Martinez is the veteran option and you pretty much know what you're going to get where he's concerned. The 34 year-old has spent 6 years in the majors and is now on his second stint with the Tribe. Francona has always supported Martinez, despite the player having his many detractors, and trusts him in late inning situations. He's a career .197 switch-hitter and most often suited to a bench role, but his versatility in the field makes him useful in a crisis. I would argue that the Indians have better options than Martinez and despite his usefulness, the club should be looking to move forward without him.
Ronny Rodriguez is the wildcard in this pack. He, like Martinez, is also of the utility infielder category but I just can't envision Francona opting for Rodriguez as his starting second baseman over the other options he has at his disposal. As Rodriguez is the least experienced of this trio, his chances of filling in for Kipnis are slim at best.
Ultimately the Indians and their fans will be hoping Kipnis' absence is brief and his replacement just a temporary visitor at second base. If he has to miss some time, even if just for a few weeks, I'd be much more comfortable with Ramirez covering for him, and Urshela being given a chance at third base. If Francona doesn't want to unsettle Ramirez on the corner, then I'd like to see Gonzalez be given a chance as an everyday player. He certainly looks the best option, at least defensively, and will likely emerge victorious from his battle with his compatriots.
Thanks for reading.