Before the rumors of the Rays interest in Jeff Keppinger came to light it was known that they were in contact with Ryan Theriot and had made a minor league offer to Brooks Conrad. Once again fortune sided with the Rays side as they ended up with the best of the lot. In 85 games with the San Francisco Giants Theriot has hit .264/.312/.314 with a .280 wOBA and a 71 wRC+. Brooks Conrad, who had signed with the Brewers, only had 44 PA and hit .075 (3 for 40) before being claimed by the Rays.
On January 28th the Rays signed Jeff Keppinger to a 1-year $1.525 million contract to be their utility infielder and right handed bat off the bench. In his career he had started 280 games at 2b, 178 at shortstop, 102 games at 3b, 8 at 1b, and 5 in the outfield (4 in left field, 1 in right field) and carried a .325 average vs LHP and.263 against RHP. His.325 batting average versus left handed pitchers ranked 9th among all active players with 500 or more PAs vs LH from 2007-2011. He also was a good contact hitter and entered 2011 2nd on the active list (minimum 1000 PAs) of toughest hitters to strike out - striking out only 1 every 16.11 PAs trailing only Juan Pierre (1 per 17.67 PAs).
Keppinger was excited about his super utility role telling the media that "I like that prospect rather than a team just limiting me to a backup at one position, so that kind of attracted me the most." He continued to express that he doesn't believe he is limited to certain positions by saying "I know there's a lot of talk people tell me I'm limited at playing certain positions, but I don't feel that way. I just go out there and do the best I can.". Andrew Friedman said that Keppinger will "make an impact in many different ways."
Once again, Andrew Friedman seems to have used the best words as Keppinger has made an impact on many different aspects of the Rays.
Entering Thursday evenings action in Los Angeles Keppinger is hitting.319/.372/.445 with a wOBA of .357 and a 130 wRC+. He has continued to show his versatility by starting 14 games at 2B, 29 at 3B, and 5 at 1B. He continues to hit LHP at a .423/.447/.564 clip while hitting a modest .269/.335/.388 vs RHP and has continued to make tremendous contact striking out only 5.7% (15K/261 PAs) of the time.
The only negative of his 2012 season was 34 days (29 games) on the disabled list - the unfortunate result of a broken bone in his foot after getting hit with a foul ball off the bat of Martin Prado while he was minding his own business in the dugout.
Every year there is a player who puts up numbers above their career norms and fans immediately want their team to re-sign the player to an extension. Often times the increase in numbers for the player can be traced to an abnormality in BABIP, HR/FB%, or a number of other luck driven factors that went the players way. For instance, with Keppinger we see quite a large BABIP vs LHP of .425 which is about 80 points above his career norm and that kind of production will probably not continue to exist. Despite an expected drop in numbers, led by a drop in production vs LHP, the Rays should attempt to sign Keppinger to an extension.
Of course, the Rays will not attempt to sign Jeff Keppinger based on his 2012 production, another organization will certainly do that. The Rays will examine his career body of work and offer a contract based on future expected production. But I believe the Rays may have other things that may entice the Miami-born, Georgia-raised Keppinger to sign with the Rays rather than seek out the highest bidder.
The first is stability in an organization and the second is competition. He has been bounced around from organization to organization in his career usually going from one bad team to the next.
- On July 30, 2004 he was traded from the Pittsburgh Pirates (72-89) along with Kris Benson to the New York Mets (71-91) in exchange for Matt Peterson, Ty Wigginton, and Jose Bautista.
- On July 19, 2006 while the Mets were on their way to posting an impressive 97-65 record he was stuck in the minors and was sent packing to the Kansas City Royals who were on their way to a 100 loss season in exchange for Ruben Gotay.
- On January 19, 2007 he was traded by the Royals to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for Russ Haltiwanger. It was in Cincinnati where he finally received solid playing time but the Reds were a mess finishing 72-90 in 2007 and 74-88 in 2008.
- On March 31, 2009 his time with the Reds was over and he was moved to the Houston Astros in exchange for Drew Sutton. In 2009, the Astros finished 74-88, in 2010 they finished 76-86, and in 2011 they were 32-65 on July 19th.
- On July 19, 2011 he was traded to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for Jason Stoffel and Henry Sosa. At the time of the trade the Giants were 57-42 but stumbled to finish 29-34 and ended the year 86-76 missing the playoffs.
The Rays can offer him the opportunity to play multiple positions in a competitive organization that has its sights set on the post-season every year. He will be 33 years old shortly after opening day next year and his skill sets match the manager of the team perfectly. Andrew Friedman should attempt to sign him to an extension - hopefully before the end of the season. After the last several Septembers spent discussing shrinking payroll and economic restraint it would be nice to mix in an early positive 2013 financial commitment with the excitement of the playoff chase.