CLEVELAND -- The Indians are the only organization that Jason Kipnis has known. Cleveland drafted him eight years ago, developed him as a second baseman and watched him turn into a two-time All-Star, a clubhouse leader, fan favorite and one of the faces of the franchise during its recent run of success.
The uncertainty hovering over Kipnis this offseason has been foreign to him. His name has always been written in pen, but now Kipnis is not sure what position the Indians want him to play, or even if he will be with Cleveland when Spring Training begins. The trade rumors are real, but Kipnis is not ready to leave. He wants to bring a World Series to Cleveland, especially given how close the team has come the past two years.
"Why would I want to be traded?" Kipnis said in an interview with MLB.com. "We're a 100-win team in the middle of our window. Why would I want to go anywhere else? And it's with all my best friends. I want to be with the Cleveland Indians. I've been here forever. I'm comfortable here. And I've always wanted to finish what we started.
"We got close and we're getting closer. Why would I want to leave now? At the same time, I understand the business side of it."
Kipnis, who spends his offseason in Chicago, has not had any communication with the Indians' decision-makers, with the exception of some recent texts with manager Terry Francona. Chris Antonetti, the team's president of baseball operations, did meet with Kipnis' agent earlier this week at the Winter Meetings to touch base. One Major League source also noted that the Indians and Mets have discussed Kipnis' potential availability, though it's not clear how in-depth those talks are at the moment.
Kipnis is smart enough to understand the situation. Over the next two seasons, he is owed $30.5 million, which includes the $2.5 million buyout for his $16.5 million team option for 2020. At the same time, the Indians' financial picture this offseason is hindering them from being a major player in free agency. Combine that with the fact that the Indians are undecided on whether he will play second base or outfield, and Kipnis stands out as a trade candidate.
"That's something I can't do anything about," Kipnis said. "That's the business side. That's not in my hands. My control is to get ready for a season. All that stuff, it comes with the territory. It also makes you kind of realize how fortunate I am that I have played with one team this whole time -- Minor Leagues and Major Leagues."
The Indians took Kipnis in the second round of the 2009 MLB Draft as an outfielder, but they converted him to second base to expedite his path to the Majors. He debuted in the big leagues in '11 and has been a fixture in Cleveland's lineup ever since. Kipnis was an All-Star in '13 and '15 and arguably had his best showing in '16, when the Indians won their first of two straight American League Central crowns and reached the World Series.
This past season, it was a different story. After hitting .275 with 23 homers, 68 extra-base hits and an .811 OPS in 2016, Kipnis fought right shoulder and right hamstring issues at different times and was limited to 90 games overall in '17. When he was on the field, he hit .232 with a .705 OPS and took a step backward defensively. Down the stretch, the Indians moved Jose Ramirez to second base and experimented with Kipnis in the outfield.
As the Indians attempt to add to their lineup this offseason, they are also weighing how to best align their defense. Kipnis can play second or left, Ramirez can play second or third and Michael Brantley could be an option for left field or first base. Where those players end up will depend on any offseason additions or subtractions. In the meantime, Kipnis said he is left sitting at home with two gloves, awaiting instructions.
"With Kip, what we know is, when healthy, we have a really good player," Francona said on Wednesday at the Winter Meetings. "We don't quite know where he's going to play, yet. So what we need to do is get our house in order, let [Antonetti and the front office] do their thing, and then communicate to Kip, because that's fair to him."
Kipnis said he is willing to do whatever the team asks of him, but he does have an opinion on what formula might be best for the team.
"If I can be like a Benjamin Zobrist type where I play left one game, second another game, or something like that, then so be it," Kipnis said. "I'm fine with that. I think with enough time in Spring Training, I'll be able to handle it just fine. But, I also think we're at our strongest with me at second, Josey at third and [Bradley] Zimmer in center.
"Do I think I can handle left and Brantley can handle first? Probably, but is this what we really want to be doing right now while we're competing? I don't know."
Given the injuries he encountered last season, Kipnis said he has altered his nutrition program and has made adjustments to his strength and conditioning routine to better position himself for next year. He was also quick to point out that some of his best seasons have come after years in which he battled health woes. An oblique injury hindered him in 2014 and he was an All-Star in '15, for example.
"You know that I have, whether it's an ego or something, where, if I have a bad season, I always try to fight back better than last year. That's what I plan on doing," Kipnis said.
This weekend, Kipnis plans on escaping the cold Chicago climate for some golf courses under the Florida sun. Earlier this offseason, he and his family also made their annual trek to the Cayman Islands, where Kipnis played catch on a beach for his traditional first throws of the offseason.
That trip also served as a mental vacation for Kipnis, whose personal uncertainty is also laced with the sting of a World Series loss in 2016 and a quick October exit this year. That is not how he wants his time with the Indians to end. Kipnis wants another crack at bringing a championship to Cleveland in '18.
"There's something that I've built up here with a bunch of guys," Kipnis said. "We've always talked about finishing what we started. Why would I not want to?"