CLEVELAND -- When Jason Kipnis felt pain shoot all the way through the back of his right hand and into his palm after whiffing at a pitch on Sunday, he knew it was different than the discomfort he’d felt in his wrist a few weeks earlier.
It’s in that moment when a player feels a different type of sting, especially in the final few weeks of the year, that a panic of sustaining a season-ending injury sets in. But for Kipnis, it was also a realization that the end of his Indians career may have come a few weeks early.
“It sucks. There’s no need to sugarcoat it,” Kipnis said. “It just sucks, because it’s just been that much fun of a trip for me. I have very few regrets about the last eight years. It’s been an absolute joy to play here.”
After spending the entirety of his nine-year big league career in Cleveland, the final year of his contract is coming to an early end due to a fractured hamate bone. Assuming the team does not pick up his $16.5 million option for 2020, the two-time All-Star concludes his tenure with the club owning a .261/.333/.417 slash line with 123 home runs in more than 1,100 games played.
“There’s tons that I’m proud of,” Kipnis said. “One of the most unfortunate parts of this is that I don’t get to try to finish what I started eight years ago with a bunch of guys, the mission. I think we turned around a franchise. I think we turned around an organization. We raised the bar here. Sometimes, I fell short of the high standards we set here and I’m OK with that, because I’m proud that there are higher standards here.”
For the first time in his career, Kipnis has no idea what his future holds, as the timer until he becomes a free agent suddenly seems to be ticking a little quicker.
“I’ve been lucky enough to play for roughly eight years for the same organization,” Kipnis said. “Even luckier that it’s been Cleveland. It’s been a thrill to be here. I’ve loved this city from Day One. It’ll be missed. It’ll be hard to part ways. There will always be part of me here. But the unknown can also be exciting, too. We’ll keep our head up and look forward to whatever comes with the next challenge, wherever it may be.”
Kipnis’ 2019 season came to a screeching halt against the Twins on Sunday when he fractured his hamate bone on a swing-and-miss just like teammate José Ramírez. He completed his at-bat and was able to hit a double before he was pinch-hit for before his next plate appearance. Dr. Thomas Graham, a hand specialist in New York who also performed Ramírez’s surgery, will likely operate on Kipnis on Monday or Tuesday.
“It’s not the ride off into the sunset you hope for as a player when you’ve been with a team for a long time,” Kipnis said. “Right now it’s all you can do, is being there for your teammates and letting thoughts creep into your head.”
The 32-year-old began the year on the injured list with a mild calf strain. He was activated on April 15, missing the first 15 contests of the season. Kipnis went on to hit .245 with a .715 OPS, 17 homers and 65 RBIs in 121 games.
“Overall this season, it was a grind again,” Kipnis said. “But from where we started, I’m proud of the way that I didn’t pack it in or give up. I kept competing and I refused to be a non-factor this year. I knew it was my last year and I knew this team needed me to step up.
“I don’t know if being an All-Star early on in the career or having these hot streaks or that May, I held myself and I know fans kind of hold me to that standard of, ‘Well why don’t you do that all the time?’ If I could I would, trust me. It’s a tough game. I was just very happy that I kept at it. And I had a lot of good reasons to in this organization.”
Many do not expect Kipnis’ option to be picked up at the end of the year (Kipnis included), but the second baseman said that as he begins to start looking at his value and market price as a free agent, he’d be open to having conversations with the only organization he’s called home.
“If Cleveland thinks that’s something that we can agree on a number, I don’t think it would be too hard to get something done,” Kipnis said. “But that’s also in their hands now. I’ve always loved playing here. I’ve always said that. But they by no means have to. If they feel the need to go in a different direction, that’s more than OK, too. That’s their job.”