CLEVELAND -- Jason Kipnis had appeared in only three dozen games in the big leagues when the Indians first approached him about a contract extension. The second baseman decided to give it time, because he wanted to see what direction the organization was heading.
Three years later, following Cleveland's return to the postseason last summer and Kipnis' emergence as an American League All-Star, the sides finally struck a deal. In the hours leading up to Friday's home opener, the Indians announced they had signed Kipnis to a six-year, $52.5 million contract that has a club option that could keep him in the fold through 2020.
"Today is very special," Kipnis said. "It's an amazing feeling to get something done. I wanted to stay here. I'm excited about being here."
The deal is the third in a series of recent signings that call to mind the work of former Indians general manager John Hart, who pioneered the art of extensions for players already under club control. Since the start of Spring Training, current Cleveland general manager Chris Antonetti has signed outfielder Michael Brantley, catcher Yan Gomes and Kipnis to multyear pacts.
During the news conference to announce Kipnis' deal, Gomes sat to the second baseman's right and Brantley joined him on the left. They represented the face of the Tribe's new young core, which wants to build off last season's run to the playoffs. That was the motivating factor for Kipnis in the three-year process to sign the extension.
While the contract is indeed lucrative, Kipnis' agent, Danny Horwits of the Beverly Hills Sports Council, said the money was secondary throughout the process.
"Jason's big concern was just that he really wanted to be a part of what they're doing as far as turning it around," Horwits said. "In 25 years, I've had a lot of lot of free agents, a lot of arbitration signings. He was probably, out of all my guys, one of the most, if not the most concerned about how the team was going to be framed going forward."
Kipnis' contract, which includes a $1 million signing bonus, will pay him $2 million this season, followed by salaries of $4 million (2015), $6 million (2016), $9 million (2017), $13.5 million (2018) and $14.5 million (2019). The club option for 2010 is worth $16.5 million, but Cleveland will also have the ability to buy that out at a cost of $2.5 million.
The contract covers all three of Kipnis' arbitration years (2015-17) and at least two of his free-agent seasons.
At the beginning of Spring Training, the Indians signed Brantley to a four-year contract worth $25 million that includes a club option for 2018. On Monday, Cleveland signed Gomes to a a six-year, $23 million deal that has club options for '20 and '21. Gomes' contract marked the largest in baseball history for a catcher in his pre-arbitration years.
"It's something we've always believed in doing," Antonetti said. "You just have to make sure you have the right players and you're investing in the right guys. We couldn't be more excited about the group of guys who we've extended long term."
The Indians reached an agreement with Kipnis on Sunday, but the sides managed to keep things quiet until early Friday morning. The deal became official after the second baseman completed a physical in Cleveland on Thursday, which marked his 27th birthday.
Kipnis laughed when asked if the contract was the best birthday gift he has ever received.
"If you've had a better one," Antonetti said with a grin.
"I haven't had a better one," Kipnis said. "It's been a crazy couple days, but it's going to be nice to get back to baseball today. I'm just happy we could get it done."
Kipnis made his first AL All-Star team last summer and finished the year with a .284 batting average, 17 home runs and a team-high 84 RBIs in 149 games. He also recorded 36 doubles, four triples, 76 walks, 86 runs and 30 stolen bases in his second full big league season. Kipnis was the first Indians second baseman to lead his team outright in RBIs since Joe Gordon in 1948.
Last year, he became only the sixth franchise player to turn in a season with at least 15 homers and 30 steals, joining Grady Sizemore (2007-08), Roberto Alomar (1999-2001), Kenny Lofton (2000), Joe Carter (1987) and Bobby Bonds (1979).
"From the time he arrived in the Majors Leagues in 2011," Antonetti said, "he's emerged as one of the best second basemen in baseball. His unique combination of power, speed and hard-nosed play has made him one of the best players, not only at his position, but in the American League."
For his career, Kipnis has posted a .270/.349/.424 slash line with 38 home runs, 66 stolen bases and 179 RBIs in 337 games. The Indians selected Kipnis as an outfielder in the second round (63rd overall) of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, but he began a transition to second base in 2010.
After his rookie season, during which Kipnis posted an .841 OPS in 36 games for Cleveland, Antonetti and team president Mark Shapiro approached him about a long-term deal.
"I give Chris and Mark a lot of credit," Horwits said. "After 69 days of service, they came after him."
The time was not right for Kipnis.
That was no longer the case this season.
"When I got drafted here and looked at the organization, they were in a little rut," Kipnis said. "They were having those 90-loss seasons. I wanted to be a part of the transformation that turned this organization around, and a group of players that can put the foot down and get this going in the winning direction. That's what I've always set out to be, the type of player I've wanted to be.
"Signing back here, it's something I wanted to see myself, along with guys like Brantley and Gomes, finish the job. We weren't just going to get to free agency and leave. We weren't just going to take the money. This is something we set out to do, to be the players that want to be able to be the guys that turn Cleveland around.