'Awkward' situation tailor made for Francona

Donaldson trade forces massaging of egos in Tribe clubhouse

Alex Hooper
September 01, 2018 - 6:06 pm
Sep 26, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians center fielder Jason Kipnis (22) throws from the outfield in the sixth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Progressive Field.

© David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

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Cleveland, OH (92.3 The Fan) – Baseball managers are generally one of two things: a tactician or a manager of personalities. The best skippers can blend the two, but they generally fall into one bucket or the other.

With the Cleveland Indians' acquisition of former American League MVP Josh Donaldson, Manager Terry Francona will do for what he is known, being the latter of those aforementioned options.

Because of flight issues out of Tampa, Donaldson had not reached the Indians clubhouse prior to game time on Saturday, about 20 hours after the team announced they had acquired the third baseman. It was disclosed during the announcement that Donaldson would stay at his preferred position when he returns, but the rest of the defensive alignment was up for assumption.

The tactics seemed fairly easy. José Ramírez would move to second base, and Jason Kipnis would move to center field, just as they had done during an injury ravaged 2017.

Those tactics were revealed Saturday to be the actual plan, but one that carries the amount of awkwardness that Francona had alluded to in previous discussions on the matter.

The 2018 MVP candidate moving to second base was simply concerned with not having to bounce back and forth between positions.

Kipnis, moving off of his main position, was not said to be as thrilled.

“I don’t think he was jumping for joy and I don’t think we expected him to and my thing was, ‘OK, where do we go from here?’” Francona said.

“You know we’ve seen a little bit in the past, but I explained to him, I said, ‘You know our owner went and did this and (Team President Chris Antonetti) and (General Manager Mike Chernoff) and I have to do my job too, so you’ve got to be the best option and I don’t think it’s fun to here that but Kip’s a pretty good competitor, so we’ll see how it goes.”

The 31-year-old Kipnis has already adapted to this before, playing 71 innings in center field after Bradley Zimmer was lost for the year in 2017. He then went on to play the entire five games of the ALDS against the New York Yankees in center.

Still, the early returns on Kipnis’ own feelings were skeptical at the least.

“Which Josh Donaldson are you going to get?” Kipnis told Zack Meisel of The Athletic on Friday night. “The good one, there’s not much you can deny. He’s one of the more impactful bats there is around the league. Hopefully he’s healthy and ready to come in and fit in here and make a good impact on us. We’re coming into September now. This is a playoff team. We don’t have time to mess around or goof around. We want him to be locked in if he’s ready and go out there and do what he can do.”

The Ramírez situation was much easier, as Francona stated. The singular concern was one that the manager was able to squash immediately, and then back up. Francona assured his current third baseman that he would not bounce to second and back, and Ramírez was penciled in at third when the lineup card was released.

“I talked to Jose back a little while just because of my feelings on it and some of my concerns and he assured me that he would willingly do this,” Francona added, calling Ramírez’s reaction ‘terrific.’

It will take Donaldson getting back to Major League action ‘pretty regularly’ before the moves take place. Until that time, the pair will take balls at their new positions to prepare for the day that happens.

With repetition, the skipper also declared that second base was Ramírez’s best position, which is backed up by at least one advanced metric. The 25-year-old has 11 career defensive runs saved at second over 964 innings, as opposed to eight at third in 2845 2/3 frames.