"It was fun to watch," Francona said at the end of the season. "The first three weeks, everybody kept saying, 'When are you going to drop him in the batting order?' I said, 'Just leave him alone,' and then we watched him turn into one of the better players in the league."
Kipnis' performance is now being recognized as part of this year's Greatness in Baseball Yearly Awards, which have the Tribe's All-Star second baseman as one of eight candidates in the "breakout hitter" category. Kipnis' behind-the-back flip to shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera for a ninth-inning out against the Tigers on May 11 is also in the running for the season's top play.
Besides Kipnis, the Indians have Francona as a candidate for baseball's top manager honor and general manager Chris Antonetti up for the top executive award. Jason Giambi's Sept. 24 pinch-hit, walk-off blast against the White Sox is in contention for the season's best walk-off moment.
Major League Baseball's A-listers will take home 2013 GIBBY trophies -- the ultimate honors of the industry's awards season -- based on votes by media, front-office personnel, MLB alumni, fans at MLB.com and the Society for American Baseball Research.
This year's GIBBY Awards feature nominees in 22 categories. Individual honors will go to the MLB MVP, in addition to the year's best starting pitcher, hitter, closer, setup man, rookie, breakout hitter, breakout pitcher, comeback player, defensive player, manager, executive and postseason performer.
GIBBY trophies also will be awarded for the year's top play, storyline, hitting performance, pitching performance, oddity, walk-off, Cut4 topic, regular-season moment and postseason moment, from MLB.com's Must C highlight reels.
In the past five years, fans have cast more than 50 million votes across the various GIBBY categories, none of which was restricted to individual League affiliation. Fans can vote through Dec. 1.
Winners will be presented their GIBBY trophies at the MLB.com Greatness in Baseball Yearly Awards extravaganza during the Winter Meetings in Orlando, Fla.
Francona will be up against Joe Maddon (Rays), John Farrell (Red Sox), Jim Leyland (Tigers), Bob Melvin (A's), Fredi Gonzalez (Braves), Dusty Baker (Reds), Mike Matheny (Cardinals), Clint Hurdle (Pirates) and Don Mattingly (Dodgers) in the manager category.
Antonetti's competition for baseball's top executive includes Andrew Friedman (Rays), Ben Cherington (Red Sox), Dave Dombrowski (Tigers), Billy Beane (A's), Frank Wren (Braves), Walt Jocketty (Reds), John Mozeliak (Cardinals), Neal Huntington (Pirates) and Ned Colletti (Dodgers).
Antonetti's overhauling of Cleveland's roster last winter helped the team quickly turn the page on a 94-loss showing in 2012. This past season, the Indians won 92 games -- matching the franchise's best one-year win improvement, excluding strike-shortened seasons -- and clinched the American League's top Wild Card spot. Francona led the way in his first season in the manager's chair for the Tribe.
For the game's breakout hitter, Kipnis will be pitted against Chris Davis (Orioles), Daniel Nava (Red Sox), Josh Donaldson (A's), Jason Castro (Astros), Matt Carpenter (Cardinals), Chris Johnson (Braves) and Domonic Brown (Phillies).
In 149 games for the Indians in 2013, Kipnis hit .284 with 17 home runs, 36 doubles and a team-high 84 RBIs, becoming the first Tribe second baseman to lead the club outright in RBIs since Joe Gordon accomplished the feat in 1948. Kipnis added 30 stolen bases, 76 walks and 86 runs scored in his first All-Star season for Cleveland.
Kipnis also became just the fourth player in Indians history to have at least 15 homers, 30 stolen bases, 75 walks and 85 runs in one season. The others on that list include Grady Sizemore (2007, '08), Roberto Alomar (1999, '01) and Kenny Lofton ('00). Only Sizemore ('08) and Alomar ('99 and '01) added at least 80 RBIs to the mix.
"As we got closer and closer to the end," Francona said, "[Kipnis] was seeing it more and more. It's fun when you see young players start to get it -- what winning means, as opposed to just getting hits. It was fun to watch. He took it about as hard as anybody that night that we lost [the Wild Card Game]. He'll be very hungry to want another shot at it."