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Jeff Keppinger gives White Sox GM Rick Hahn some wiggle room

Infielder Jeff Keppinger (right) was biggest prize Sox GM Rick Hahn (above) obtained during winter meetings. | Getty Images

Infielder Jeff Keppinger (right) was the biggest prize Sox GM Rick Hahn (above) obtained during the winter meetings. | Getty Images

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Updated: January 8, 2013 6:31AM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The White Sox picked up two versatile infielders during their four-day stay in Opryland, one for $12 million over three years (Jeff Keppinger on Wednesday) and one for a $50,000 Rule 5 fee (Angel Sanchez on Thursday).

They left third baseman Kevin Youkilis out there for the taking and don’t seem overly concerned about letting catcher A.J. Pierzynski walk in free agency, as well, even though his departure — as the roster stands today — will leave them too right-handed for those dreaded days when Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer are pitching against them.

Youkilis’ and Pierzynski’s bats will be missed more than their gloves. Catcher Tyler Flowers and Keppinger, your Sox Opening Day third baseman unless general manager Rick Hahn wants to solve the lefty-bat issue by signing Jack Hannahan, are judged to be as good defensively.

Keppinger, though lacking Youkilis’ offensive pop, is extremely tough to strike out and will win the favor of manager Robin Ventura by grinding out at-bats as Youkilis did. Joe Maddon, Keppinger’s most recent manager who played him 50 times at third base, 27 times each at second and first and 20 times as the designated hitter this past season while watching him hit a career-high .325, raved about his value to the Rays, intangibles and all.

Fan reaction to adding a singles hitter, who didn’t improve his average-at-best foot speed (12 career stolen bases) by breaking his right leg in an accident at home a couple of weeks ago, has been ho-hum. They should know, though, that a tough out such as Keppinger, who played a lot of shortstop and has played the corner outfield spots in a pinch during his career, has Marco Scutaro-like value on teams that win.

That’s not enough, of course, when winning more games than the Tigers and beating an improved team such as the Royals, who worked them over last season, is what matters. But having Keppinger in the fold after he passes a physical early next week gives Hahn more freedom to trade and piece together his “first” team. Hahn spent the last four days at the winter meetings in talks with agents and GMs, laying groundwork for potential moves of substance to be made between now and spring training.

“We’re not at the point where we feel we’re done,’’ said Hahn, who, after moving quickly to re-sign Jake Peavy, has something of a pitching surplus — not to mention infielders and outfielders should he go that route — to move for wants that include a left-handed bat, a bullpen arm and perhaps a starter should one get moved in a trade.

Multiteam trades were rumored all week, none involving the Sox, but that doesn’t mean super-secret Hahn isn’t involved. He talked about pulling one off.

“It has few moving parts and fewer opinions and has fewer issues to balance,’’ he said. “But when you can’t find a match and spend several weeks trying to find that match, it’s fairly common to say, ‘Well, who can I get from somebody else to help make this work?’ And that leads to those perhaps three- and four-way deals. You obviously don’t see a lot of them. It’s complicated, but it is a fairly common topic in circles, especially this time of the year.’’

After the two big free-agent prizes, Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton, get won over, moving player parts will flow more easily. It was so slow in Nashville that Keppinger was news. Pierzynski, who has something to offer coming off a Silver Slugger season but has limited places to land, was not a big topic of discussion.

Hahn’s bigger concern was third base, and he beat out a couple of teams to got solid protection with Keppinger. An industry source said Hahn and Youkilis’ agent never got down to talking serious money, only years (two).

Youkilis reportedly has a one-year, $12 million offer to weigh from the Yankees. There’s a lot to like about Youkilis, but he did hit .235 last season while battling nagging injuries at age 33. He couldn’t get past the idea that the Sox, in his words, played second fiddle in Chicago to the Cubs, and he never expressed enthusiasm about coming back. Perhaps it’s just as well.

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