Foresight is 2020: How does Jason Kipnis fit into the Cubs mix?
Hindsight is 20/20, they always say. But as the 2020 Cubs season gets underway, we don’t have the benefit of hindsight — foresight is the only option at the moment. So let’s play a game of 20 questions, tackling the most important topics surrounding this Cubs team entering the campaign.
Next up: How does Jason Kipnis fit into the mix?
Entering the winter, second base was one of the most unsettled spots on the Cubs roster. Kipnis very well may be the solution, even though he wasn’t signed until a week into spring training.
The Cubs inked the Northbrook, Ill., native to a minor-league deal in mid-February and it’s looking more and more like Kipnis will be a regular contributor on the 2020 squad.
Kipnis — who turns 33 in April — has spent his entire big-league career playing for the Cleveland Indians, including the 2016 World Series in which he lost to his hometown team.
Don’t worry, he smashed any notion that he might hold a grudge from that epic fall.
“Now, I don’t have to hate the ‘Go Cubs Go’ song,” Kipnis joked on his first day in Cubs camp. “I don’t have to cringe looking at all these world championship banners. It’s fun. It’s really exciting, actually, to be on this side and I’m gonna really enjoy it, I think.”
Kipnis has played more than 1,100 big-league games over his career, with a .750 OPS, 123 homers, 135 stolen bases and a pair of All-Star appearances on his resume. He’s battled some injuries in recent seasons, but he’s still been a starter when healthy.
Over the last three years, Kipnis has hit .236 with a .305 OBP and been worth 2.4 WAR, but the Cubs don’t need him to be the everyday starter at second base this season. Sure, they wouldn’t be opposed to the veteran taking the job and running with it, but there are no shortage of second base options on the roster.
The big factor in the second base equation is rookie Nico Hoerner, the 2018 first-round draft pick who impressed in his emergency duty down the stretch last season and is off to another good start in spring training this year. Hoerner certainly looks to be the long-term answer at the position for the Cubs, but he also has yet to play a full professional season due to injury and he skipped Triple-A last season when he was pressed into action.
If Hoerner isn’t going to play everyday in the big leagues, it’s hard to justify keeping him in Chicago vs. giving him full-time at-bats and work at second base down in Iowa. And with Kipnis around, it might take pressure off Hoerner and give the rookie more valuable developmental time in the minors.
He’s also a guy Hoerner can learn from.
“I know he came up and had pretty good success,” Kipnis said. “He’s gonna be a competition, but at the same time, I’m not gonna try to put him down. I’d like to work with him and teach him what I know, too, and hopefully both of us become better from it.”
First-year manager David Ross is certainly glad to have Kipnis aboard.
“Oh man, it’s exciting to get veteran big leaguers who have been in big situations, put up good numbers,” Ross said. “I look at him as a guy that comes in, competing for a second-base job, a spot that we have a lot of good players at. He’s got a great resume and been in big situations, a middle-of-the-order bat type guy, good numbers against righties and lefties, grinds at-bats, I love the way he plays.
“I’m a fan from playing against him and seeing him from the other side. You take all those things into consideration when you see a guy like that walk into your office.”
Kipnis brings an important skillset to the table: An ability to put the bat on the ball. He has a career 82 percent contact rate, a welcome addition to a Cubs lineup that finished last in the league with a 73.8 percent contact rate last season.
He can also help fill the leadership void on a Cubs team looking for another voice to add to the mix.
“There’s that veteran side to me that’s been around that’s seen things, that knows how to handle things,” Kipnis said. “I’m not shying away from any competition; I’m not shying away from whoever’s across that line against us. I’m ready to strap it on and go against them.
“I think there’s a lot of guys in here who feel the same way and sometimes, you just need a little fire set under you. I’m hoping I can be that guy. … There’s not too many tweaks that need to be made to this team. It’s still really a damn good team.”
Because of all the Chicago ties, Kipnis had a lot of people in his life strongly pushing him to sign with the Cubs. While that fit is perfect, he was more interested in playing for a contender than suiting up for his hometown team.
“I think you want to weigh winning,” he said. “You don’t want to just go somewhere that’s in a rebuild in my stage of my career. But all the boxes I could check in terms of playing time and winning, this was one of the best ones for it.”
As we approach the start of the regular season, read more on our “Foresight is 2020” series:
–Will Nico Hoerner start the year in the majors?
–How does Jason Kipnis fit into the Cubs mix?
–How will second base shake out?
–Will Jeremy Jeffress regain his 2018 dominance?
–Will Craig Kimbrel bounce back with a normal offseason/spring training?
–Who will emerge in Cubs bullpen?
–Can Kyle Schwarber put it all together after a huge second half?
–What role will Steven Souza Jr. have?
-Will somebody grab the everyday center field role?
-Can Willson Contreras maintain his 2019?