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Kipnis itching to return to second base

Tribe will likely allow veteran to return to infield in '18
MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- Jason Kipnis has not been explicitly informed that he will open the season as the second baseman for the Indians. Manager Terry Francona described that as the probable scenario on Friday, but still stopped short of committing to that plan with Opening Day still more than two months away.

"More than likely, he plays second," Francona said. "The winter isn't over yet. The way we're aligned, it certainly looks like that's the right thing to do. He's preparing for that."

CLEVELAND -- Jason Kipnis has not been explicitly informed that he will open the season as the second baseman for the Indians. Manager Terry Francona described that as the probable scenario on Friday, but still stopped short of committing to that plan with Opening Day still more than two months away.

"More than likely, he plays second," Francona said. "The winter isn't over yet. The way we're aligned, it certainly looks like that's the right thing to do. He's preparing for that."

Earlier this offseason, Kipnis' name found its way into trade rumors, and one report went as far to say he was nearly dealt to the Mets. Those rumblings petered out in the weeks following the Winter Meetings in early December, making it more and more likely that Kipnis -- a veteran of seven seasons with Cleveland -- will be with the Tribe come Spring Training.

Kipnis, who ended last season in the outfield, is scheduled to earn $13.7 million this year and is owed $14.7 million in '19, with a $16.5 million team option (or $2.5 million buyout) for '20. For an Indians club with little financial wiggle room, he understands that moving his contract could potentially help the team address some roster issues.

Kipnis reiterated on Friday, though, that he does not want to go anywhere else.

"They know I love playing here and want to stay here," said Kipnis, who was limited to 90 games last season due to health issues. "But I understand the business side of it. Stuff like that is usually out of the player's control, and our job is only to take care of what we can take care of. So I just worry about getting ready for the season."

If left fielder Michael Brantley (recovering from right ankle surgery) is ready for Opening Day, the logical alignment would be to have Kipnis at second and Jose Ramirez slide back to third base. If Brantley's comeback lingers into the regular season, there is still a chance that Kipnis could fill in as a left fielder temporarily.

"I'm excited to play wherever they need me," Kipnis said. "I'm still waiting for the green light to say that it's second base. I know it came out [in reports] a little bit, but I still have to talk to them. I'll wait for them to tell me more."

Bauer not worried about contract

Right-hander Trevor Bauer is the lone arbitration-eligible player who remains unsigned by the Indians. Bauer's representatives reportedly submitted a salary of $6.525 million, while Cleveland has offered $5.3 million. Bauer noted that his arbitration hearing, if necessary, is scheduled for Feb. 8. The Indians can still reach an agreement with the pitcher at any point leading up to the hearing.

"That doesn't change anything," Bauer said of his contract situation. "Ultimately, I'm a professional. I come here to do my job and be the best player I can be, and the best teammate I can be, and contribute to winning a World Series. So regardless of the outcome of the contract negotiations, it's not going to change how I do my job."

Worth noting

• Francona said that Indians prospect Francisco Mejia, who was ranked this week as the No. 1 catching prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline, will likely stay behind the plate for most of the spring. The manager said he and the front office will be discussing that in more detail soon. During the Arizona Fall League, Cleveland had Mejia try his hand at third base.

• Francona noted that Brantley is "doing terrific" in his rehab from October ankle surgery. Said Francona: "He'll be dying to start the season on time, as he always does. That will be our biggest challenge -- to make sure we get him back and keep him back and not let Opening Day be an arbitrary deadline."

Yandy Diaz is currently in Arizona rehabbing from a groin injury sustained during winter ball. Francona said that Diaz -- once fully healthy -- will likely focus solely on third base during Spring Training.

• Francona said the team's front office may still have some transactions coming. Said the manager: "I wouldn't be surprised if we end up with somebody else. If we don't, go play. I like our team a lot."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Trevor Bauer, Jason Kipnis