White Sox, Jeff Keppinger agree on 3-year, $12 million deal
BY DARYL VAN SCHOUWEN email@example.com December 5, 2012 10:18PM
Jeff Keppinger batted .325 with a career-high nine home runs for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2012. He struck out 31 times in 418 plate appearances. | Jared Wickerham~Getty Images
Updated: January 7, 2013 1:29PM
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — By reaching an agreement with infielder Jeff Keppinger, 32, on a three-year, $12 million deal Wednesday morning, the White Sox filled their need at third base with a solid, dependable alternative to Kevin Youkilis.
Keppinger, who rates as a defensive upgrade over Youkilis, is coming off a career year in which he batted .325 with a career-high nine homers for the Rays. He can’t match Youkilis’ power, but he’s one of baseball’s toughest hitters to strike out, and his ability to play the other three infield positions adds to his value.
The Sox won’t make the deal official until Keppinger, who broke a leg in an accident at home Nov. 26, passes a physical next week. That injury isn’t expected to stand in the way. The Sox expect Keppinger, who’s using a walking boot, to be ready for the start of spring training.
This useful, versatile addition won’t send Sox fans dashing to the ticket window, but they should know he was the Cubs’ top third-base target. The Mariners were on his trail and, according to some reports, the Yankees, as well.
Keppinger’s presence, though, doesn’t solve the Sox’ shortage of left-handed hitting should catcher A.J. Pierzynski sign elsewhere. Adam Dunn and Alejandro De Aza are the only starting left-handed hitters.
“It’s a priority,’’ general manager Rick Hahn said. “It’s something we [spend] a lot of time talking about. Dewayne Wise can start against certain righties and Jordan Danks if he’s on the club at that point. [Switch hitter Hector] Gimenez does give you flexibility at catcher if he’s the backup and A.J. is elsewhere. But it’s still something we’re focused on and looking for possible solutions.’’
Barring player movement, the Sox’ payroll projects to be at the $109 million mark it was at in September. While most indications are that Pierzynski won’t return, Hahn said there’s wiggle room to add payroll. He also has tradable pieces in starter Gavin Floyd, reliever Matt Thornton and possibly second baseman Gordon Beckham to name three.
“We are not at the point where we feel we’re done,’’ Hahn said. “We’re still in talks with a number of different clubs, as well as free agents. And we may well have additional moves in the coming weeks.”
A major-league source said the Sox were willing to give Youkilis a two-year deal, but when his camp didn’t submit an asking price the Sox wanted by Tuesday night, they got serious about a deal for Keppinger.
Keppinger struck out 31 times in 418 plate appearances last season and owns a career .288 average with a .337 on-base percentage.
“Among the themes we’ve hit on this offseason are diversifying the offense a little bit, have some players that can put the ball in play a little more, get on base at a little higher clip perhaps,’’ Hahn said, “as well as the [left-side] defense being important to us, especially if we have at least three left-handed starters. Those were some of the items we had on our checklist when we started looking at third-base acquisitions.’’
With big strikeout guys in Dunn and Tyler Flowers possibly in the lineup, Keppinger’s value as a contact hitter is a plus. The Sox also like his versatility.
“That’s absolutely a priority,’’ said Hahn, who will head to Chicago on Thursday morning. “We want to give Robin [Ventura] more opportunities to play matchups offensively as well as defensively and more ability to put guys in a position to succeed based on who is starting for us or for them. So certainly position versatility never hurts, especially when a guy is capable of playing quality defense at multiple positions.’’