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Jeff Keppinger for $12 million is a bit of a reach

Dec 5, 2012, 2:17 PM EDT

Jeff Keppinger AP

Obviously, it’s a good idea not to give three-year contracts to part-time players unless you have to. Unfortunately, in this winter’s free agent market, the White Sox felt they had to. Jeff Keppinger probably had multiple teams interested in him at $8 million for two years, so the first team to go to $12 million for three was the one that got him.

In Keppinger, the White Sox are getting an infielder who provides most of his value as a starter against lefties. He’s a lifetime .269/.321/.358 hitter against righties, and he doesn’t make up for it with his glove, which is poor at second and probably a bit below average at third.

Keppinger’s list of comparables doesn’t make him look like a very good bet as he heads into his age-33 season. Keppinger hit .296/.341/.402 with 21 homers and five steals from ages 30-32. I found nine other second and/or third basemen who posted OPSs from .720-.770, hit fewer than 40 homers and stole fewer than 20 bases from ages 30-32. Here’s how they performed from 33 onward:

Steve Buechele: .177/.262/.215, 29 OPS+ in 130 AB
Jamey Carroll: .274/.353/.333, 89 OPS+ in 2,162 AB
Mike Gallego: .225/.299/.292, 59 OPS+ in 612 AB
Vance Law: .209/.303/.276, 66 OPS+ in 134 AB
Dave Magadan: .280/.382/.372, 101 OPS+ in 1,057 AB
Joe Randa: .282/.339/.432, 100 OPS+ in 1,748 AB
Johnny Ray: .277/.308/.371, 92 OPS+ in 404 AB
Denny Walling: .252/.320/.355, 88 OPS+ in 812 AB
Joel Youngblood: .252/.323/.353, 92 OPS+ in 842 AB

Carroll, of course, is still going.

Magadan would seem to be a nice comp for Keppinger, but he was the far better hitter (he was also left-handed). Magadan had a career 116 OPS+ prior to turning 33, whereas Keppinger is at 97. Randa had more power than Keppinger, but he’s the best hope for the White Sox here, as he was a better old player than a young one.

Buechele and Ray only made it to 33. Law actually went to Japan for his age-33 season before coming back and playing one more year in MLB.

While Keppinger is a useful player, he’s a worse bet than he was a year ago, when he was also a free agent (he was non-tendered by the Giants) and when the White Sox had no interest in him.  The White Sox already had a right-handed hitting third baseman in Brent Morel who may well prove to be the better player once defense is factored in. I realize funds are limited, but I think the White Sox would have been better off trading Gavin Floyd or Matt Thornton to free up money for a bigger offensive upgrade than they were giving Keppinger $4 million for each of the next three seasons.

  1. mrfloydpink - Dec 5, 2012 at 2:27 PM

    A 29 OPS+? Really?

    • Francisco (FC) - Dec 5, 2012 at 2:35 PM

      At 29 it should really say OPS-

  2. paperlions - Dec 5, 2012 at 2:39 PM

    The fact that there were so few comparables and that only 3 had > 1000 ABs after that age is fairly indicative of the value of aging utility players. This is exactly the kind of deal I always hope my team doesn’t make…because these guys are barely better than replacement level and have no upside left. Roster spots should just be more valuable than this to teams.

  3. Gordon - Dec 5, 2012 at 3:19 PM

    Oh God, Hahn is turning into Kenny Williams Jr.

  4. jeffa43 - Dec 5, 2012 at 3:28 PM

    A lot of teams pay good money with a horrible return… This is one case that you know what you are getting for three years, and there will not be any shock.

    Plays hard, good attitude, hardest hitter to strike out in the game. Will hit 300 and be productive.

    If you want to break down bad deals at the end of the year, this will not be on your list.

    • stex52 - Dec 5, 2012 at 4:04 PM

      Like we said earlier. Not terrible. Just an incredibly inefficient allocation of funds. Reminds me of the years with Palmeiro with the Astros utility guy. But he only got 1 MM$ per year.

  5. uyf1950 - Dec 5, 2012 at 3:37 PM

    Good player but like the headline on the piece says: “Jeff Keppinger for $12 million is a bit of a reach”.

  6. henryd3rd - Dec 5, 2012 at 4:09 PM

    Tampa might as well trade Price right now and get as much as they can; because if a part time infielder can command this mush just how much is Price worth?

  7. APBA Guy - Dec 5, 2012 at 4:16 PM

    Wow, $12M/3 for Keppinger, and $ 20M/3 for Scutaro. If you can hit just a little you can do very well as an MLB infielder.

  8. joegolfer - Dec 6, 2012 at 3:56 AM

    Trading Floyd or Thornton may be likely, but let’s face it: there just isn’t much out there as far as 3Bmen or 2Bmen.
    Sox have Gordon Beckham, who hasn’t been much good since the second half of his rookie season. Morel already has chronic back problems, and he’s a mediocre hitter at best.
    There simply isn’t much out there to choose from, though paying Keppinger that much, and for that long, is a bit of a stretch as far as expectations.

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