Showing posts with label Jeff Keppinger. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jeff Keppinger. Show all posts

Thursday, May 15, 2014

White Sox designate Jeff Keppinger for assignment

In a move that surprised many observers, the White Sox on Wednesday designated infielder Jeff Keppinger for assignment.

Keppinger, 34, hit a career-best .325 two years ago with the Tampa Bay Rays, but he slumped to a .253/.283/.317 slash line for the 2013 White Sox. He was limited by a right shoulder problem, which ultimately cut his season short and required surgery. He was slow to recover from the injury over the offseason and appeared in just six spring training games before being placed on the disabled list on March 30.

Keppinger has been on a rehab assignment since May 2 at Double-A Birmingham, where he hit .256 in 11 games. With the rehab period set to expire, the Sox decided they'd rather cut Keppinger loose than put him on the major league roster.

The decision is surprising because Keppinger is in just the second year of a three-year, $12 million deal he signed with the Sox prior to the start of the 2013 season. With the move, the Sox are opting to eat approximately $7.5 million dollars, which is a departure from business as usual on the South Side.

Typically in situations such as this, you would expect the Sox to trot Keppinger out to third base every day for the next two months, hoping he would play well enough to entice a contending team to take his salary off their hands.

Not this time. Instead, they recognized there is no place for Keppinger on the roster.

Conor Gillaspie has played well at third base for the Sox this season, and the team has hopes that prospect Matt Davidson will reverse his struggles at the plate and eventually become the long-term answer at the position. There's no room at second base for Keppinger, either, with younger players Gordon Beckham, Marcus Semien and Leury Garcia all ahead of him on the organization's depth chart.

Not to mention, the Sox recently promoted second baseman Micah Johnson, one of their better prospects, to Triple-A Charlotte. With Davidson and middle infield prospect Carlos Sanchez also toiling in Charlotte, there isn't even any room for Keppinger in the Triple-A infield. There is no point in giving Keppinger at-bats over any of these younger infielders, at any level, so it is the right baseball decision to send him packing.

In the past, the Sox have at times let economics get in the way of making the right baseball decision. In this case, I applaud GM Rick Hahn and the Sox front office for doing the right thing. At one point in time, signing Keppinger looked like a good move. It just didn't work out, but at least the Sox aren't compounding the mistake by keeping a useless player around because of money.

Keppinger is out of the organization, and the Sox rebuilding plan is better off for it.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Signing young players an accelerating trend

With left-handers Jose Quintana and Chris Sale now both signed to long-term contracts, the White Sox have two rotation anchors locked into affordable salaries for the rest of the decade.

It's not hard to see the upside for the Sox in making those deals. Sale is among the very best pitchers in the game, and Quintana has quietly been up to the task of No. 2 starter. Both guys are young enough to desire some security, and the Sox have some cost certainty and the flexibility that comes for paying their two best pitchers low annual salaries.

Locking up players before they reach arbitration, with teams sometimes getting discounted free agent years, isn't new. It was sometimes called the Cleveland Model after the Indians of the 1990s gave young players like Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel long-term extensions instead of taking them to arbitration year-to-year.

More recently, the Rays reaped huge rewards by signing third baseman Evan Longoria to a massive bargain of a contract very early in his career. Longoria's been so good that Tampa Bay went to the next step of extending him again so they can keep him through the 2023 season if a team option is exercised. His new deal is still looked at as a bargain for the Rays.

So if it's been going on for so long, how is this trend now accelerating?

Just look at what the Astros are trying to do right now. In addition to offering a long-term deal to a player who hasn't even reached the majors yet, they've been rumored to be offering their third baseman Matt Dominguez a five-year contract with team option years at the end.

Nothing has officially happened yet with Dominguez, so we're not entirely clear on the Astros' thinking here. One thing for sure is that Dominguez isn't the type of player we usually think about for these early contract extensions.

Dominguez is 24-years old and has a .248/.290/.410 career batting line in 750 plate appearances. He was a first-round pick in 2007 and has an OK glove, but his minor-league career as a hitter (.256/.323/.409) suggests Dominguez is pretty much everything we can expect him to be. That's a capable third baseman who in a good year won't poison your lineup with his bat.

Maybe there's something I'm not seeing here, and he'll surprise almost everyone and become an All-Star-type player. Frankly, I'll be surprised if Dominguez is just still in the majors after his 30th birthday.

Even accounting for how crummy the free agent market has been for third basemen in recent seasons -- Juan Uribe was the (booby) prize there this offseason, Kevin Youkilis and Jeff Keppinger the last -- locking up your own fringe players doesn't yet look like a great idea.

The five years and $17 million the Astros allegedly have on the table for Dominguez is more than Uribe, Youkilis or Keppinger received. Dominguez would make less annually, and offer Houston a pair of option years at around $9 million each if he did get better.

But there's still the reality that Dominguez isn't any better. Or that he goes the way of Mark Teahen, Sean Burroughs, Josh Fields or Kevin Orie, all of whom began their careers with more promise than Dominguez, and none of whom spent their 20s getting better.

Locking in mediocre-to-bad players doesn't really give a team good value. Even if a contract like this gave a team some sort of performance floor -- which it can't guarantee -- and some cost certainty, should the Astros ever look like a contender again, Dominguez's spot will probably still look like an area that could be upgraded. Except then the upgrade is even more expensive when you have to pay the incumbent to go away.

Teams are still smart to be exploring ways to lock up their young players before being priced out of the market for their talents. They might still want to consider where to draw the line when it comes to big deals and continuing to go year-to-year.

Friday, March 21, 2014

White Sox' Matt Davidson making late push for roster spot

A week or 10 days ago, I would have said it was a given Conor Gillaspie would be the White Sox third baseman on Opening Day.

I still believe Gillaspie will win the job, but give prospect Matt Davidson credit for making a late push for a roster spot.

Davidson got off to a poor start this spring, collecting just two hits in his first 18 at-bats. However, the 22-year-old has turned it around since, going 8-for-17 with two home runs and six RBIs. That puts him at a respectable 10-for-35 (.286) on the spring. In 37 plate appearances, he has walked twice and struck out seven times.

Strikeouts have been an issue for Davidson in the past. In 2013, he fanned 158 times in 587 combined plate appearances between Triple-A Reno and Arizona. That's a strikeout once every 3.7 plate appearances. This spring, Davidson has struck out once every 5.3 plate appearances. That shows improvement in a small sample size, and I know the Sox want him to make a little more contact.

But despite this recent hot streak, I won't be shocked if Davidson heads down to Triple-A Charlotte to get a little more experience. He has options remaining while Gillaspie does not, and that's always a factor when it comes to roster management.

Gillaspie, for his part, has been decent this spring. He has hit three home runs and posted a reasonable .273/.314/.606 slash line. He's not a long-term solution, but he's an adequate placeholder until the Sox feel Davidson is ready to take over the full-time job -- which I suspect will happen before 2014 is over. I just don't think it will happen right out of the gate.

In case you were wondering, veteran Jeff Keppinger is not a factor in this discussion because he's still injured. His surgically repaired right shoulder in giving him problems, he can't play the field, and the Sox already have a logjam at designated hitter. That renders Keppinger useless, so he'll be starting the season on the disabled list. Ideally, the Sox would be able to trade Keppinger, but an injured player has no value.

The competition at third is down to Gillaspie and Davidson. I think Gillaspie will win it, but Davidson is making the decision a little tougher as camp moves along.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Be a smart fan: Don't draw grand conclusions from spring results

I was looking at some of the baseball stories on the Chicago Tribune website this morning when I took note of a Cubs-related web poll. It read: Barney at SS over Baez, right move?
Starlin Castro



I clicked on the poll and voted "yes," because that is the right answer. Not surprisingly, only 24 percent of the poll's 607 respondents agreed with me. That means 76 percent of the people who answered this poll are full of beans, and here's why:

OK, the Cubs' regular shortstop, Starlin Castro, is out 7-10 days right now with a hamstring injury. It's not believed to be serious, and there's every reason to believe Castro will be at shortstop when the North Siders open the season March 31 in Pittsburgh. But, hypothetically, let's say Castro isn't ready. You know who the likely Cubs starter at shortstop would be under than scenario? Darwin Barney. And that's why manager Rick Renteria is going to give him some playing time at that spot while Castro is out.

I'm sorry, but this is an obvious move. It's not even a matter of debate.

However, it's being debated because the moron contingent in Chicago mistakenly believes highly regarded prospect Javier Baez is ready for the major leagues. Baez is 4 for 9 with a home run so far this spring. Those nine ABs are enough for the meathead division of the Cubs fan base to be sold on the idea that Baez should be the team's starting shortstop -- even over Castro, according to some.

Not to be a wet blanket, but that ain't happening. Baez has only played 54 games in his life above the Class-A level. He isn't ready for the bigs. And, yes, I know he hit a combined 37 home runs between High-A and Double-A ball last season.

But you know what else is true? Baez also made 44 errors in 123 games at shortstop last year. 44 errors! I'm going to go out on a limb here and say his defensive game could use a little more refinement before he's ready to play a middle infield spot in the major leagues every day.

Baez also struck out 147 times last year against that lower-level pitching. I haven't seen enough of the kid yet to comment on his swing, but that strikeout total suggests there is still some refinement needed in his offensive game, too.

Cubs brass no doubt knows this, and I believe they will wisely ignore the din and send Baez down to the minors for the start of the regular season.

All the talk in Cubs camp is about prospects right now, but Renteria has 162 major league games to manage this year. He has to have his players prepared for all possible scenarios. Unlike Baez, Barney is going to be on the 25-man roster when camp breaks, and Renteria knows he needs Barney to be ready to play shortstop in a pinch. It's a point that should be painfully obvious to anyone with a brain.

Nine good at-bats from Baez isn't going to change the Cubs' plan for this prized 21-year-old prospect, nor should it.

South Side fans not immune from stupidity, either.

A co-worker of mine suggested yesterday the White Sox sign free-agent pitcher Ervin Santana because "Felipe Paulino is struggling right now."

No lie. And I think he might have been serious.

First off, Santana is a bad fit for the Sox, but that's another argument and beside the point for this discussion.

Everyone needs to remember Paulino missed almost the entire 2013 season after arm surgery. The sum total of his year was 27.2 rehab innings in the minor leagues. He's barely pitched over the last 18 months, so nobody should be surprised he gave up four runs and eight hits over 1.2 innings in his first spring training start.

My reaction to those results: So what?

Here's what I care about: Paulino's fastball was sitting between 92 and 94 mph, right where it should be. He threw 31 of 47 pitches for strikes, a good ball-to-strike ratio, and he felt good physically after the outing.

That's all that counts right now. We'll worry about results later.

Some other instructive reading

Any fan worried about spring training numbers should read this piece from Jim Margalus over at South Side Sox.

Jim notes the 2013 Sox put up a robust .299/.358/.494 slash line during spring training. It was hardly a foreshadowing of the regular season, when the Sox posted a .249/.302/.378 line on their way to scoring the fewest runs in the American League.

The article shows several examples of individual players whose spring training numbers lied, but perhaps the most telling was infielder Jeff Keppinger's line.

In spring ball last year, Keppinger looked like the answer to the Sox' third base woes when he put up a solid .412/.483/.510 line in 58 plate appearances. Too bad his regular season totals were .253/.283/.317 in 451 plate appearances.

The moral of the story is this: Nothing that's happening now means much in the grand scheme of things. Don't fall in the trap of drawing grand conclusions from spring results.

Smart fans are the ones who stay away from this kind of nonsense.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

How will the White Sox solve their logjam at third base?

Just over two weeks from now, pitchers and catchers will report to White Sox camp. So, it isn't too early to talk about some of the storylines we'll be following during spring training.

First and foremost in my mind will be the situation at third base, where the Sox all of a sudden have quite a logjam. Jeff Keppinger and Conor Gillaspie got the overwhelming majority of the starts at the position last year, and both are still on the 40-man roster. The Sox also acquired 22-year-old Matt Davidson from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for closer Addison Reed in an offseason trade.

There's no question the Sox hope Davidson is the long-term answer at the position. New hitting coach Todd Steverson has been working with Davidson on hitting the ball to all fields. The Sox seem ready to accept that Davidson will strike out quite a bit, but the belief is his extra-base power will translate against major league pitching.

That said, it's an open question whether Davidson will be the starting third baseman when the Sox open the season March 31 against the Minnesota Twins. I'll be interested to see how he hits in spring. My guess is Davidson will need to have a good March in order to make the 25-man roster, because there isn't room enough for all three of Keppinger, Gillaspie and Davidson.

Of the three, Davidson is the only one you're going to send back to the minors for more seasoning. Certainly, he is not going to sit on the bench at the big-league level.

Ideally, the Sox would trade Keppinger (pictured), but that could be a tall order now because the veteran is coming off a career-worst .253/.283/.317 season. He also has two years and $8.5 million remaining on his contract. The same reasons White Sox fans want him gone are the same reasons another team might not be willing to take him.

There are a couple things to like about Gillaspie: First, he's a left-handed hitter, and second, he has a short swing, which makes it a little easier to stay sharp if he's asked to fill a part-time role. Gillaspie showed improvement defensively last season, and I think the Sox were happy about that.

Still, Gillaspie is the odd man out if Davidson proves he's ready to handle the position full time and Keppinger's contract proves to be unmovable.

The ideal scenario is Davidson wins the everyday job, Keppinger gets traded and Gillaspie fills a bench role. But finding a way to unload Keppinger is the key.

Another distinct possibility is Davidson goes back the minors, the Sox play Keppinger at third base every day in hopes of rebuilding his trade value, and Gillaspie fills a bench role. Under that scenario, you pray Keppinger plays well enough that he can be moved midseason, and then Davidson comes up to take the full-time job at third base in July.

This logjam could be solved in multiple ways. We'll see how the Sox handle it.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Thanks Uribe for the memories, no thanks for a White Sox return

Somehow, despite the White Sox openly rolling with the rebuilding label (ok, I'm sorry, retooling), the team has been linked to free agent Juan Uribe.

Juan Uribe.
Sox fans remember Uribe as the slick-fielding shortstop who was part of a championship team in 2005, who had a terrific offensive year when he first arrived in 2004, who lost his job in 2008 when the Sox acquired Orlando Cabrera and Alexei Ramirez, but still helped save the day for the playoff-bound Sox by filling in at third base when Joe Crede was lost to injury.

Since then Uribe had a couple nice season with Giants before signing a three-year deal with Dodgers. He's coming off a season in Los Angeles in which he hit .278/.331/.438 and played very good defense at third base.

You do have to hand it to Uribe, if you had asked me eight years ago which member of the 2005 Sox would have the best 2013 performance, he might not have been in my first 10 guesses. (Neal Cotts wouldn't have been either!).

Presumably, Uribe would fill the third base hole on the Sox roster, at least as an option instead internal choices of Conor Gillaspie or Marcus Semien.

Except here's the thing. Here are two guys and what they've done the last three seasons:

Player A: .237/.295/.360
Player B: .284/.316/.376

Ok, in this Rob Neyer-patented shell game, Uribe is obviously Player A. Despite a very nice 2013, Uribe wasn't very good during his three years with the Dodgers. That he had a .322 batting average on balls in play -- not an outrageous figure, but certainly well above his career .282 mark -- means Uribe was almost certainly a little lucky to produce as fine of an offensive year as he did last season.

Player B is Jeff Keppinger, who is last year's attempt to paper over the hole at third base with a utility infielder. That was obviously a disaster, though at least a modestly priced one.

The rationale for bringing Keppinger aboard was different a year ago, and I largely agreed with it. The Sox were coming off a season in which they led their division most of the year, were hoping to be good enough to contend, but not so good that a huge investment in third base seemed terribly prudent. So they signed Keppinger for a reasonable 3-year, $12 million deal figuring that if a better option sprang up, they'd have an overpaid utility infielder.

The problem is that Keppinger, like just about everyone on the Sox last year, hit much worse than expected. He didn't fill the hole at third base, and presently looks like he doesn't even have a place on the roster now that Leury Garcia is here. In Garcia, the Sox have a guy who even with limited offensive potential, can probably hit as well as Keppinger last year, but has a fantastic glove all over the field.

With the pretense of being a contender cast to the side, it makes much more sense to see if Gillaspie can take a step forward, or Semien can take a step up, than it does to mess around with another year of Keppinger, or two or three years with a Uribe reunion.

I get that guys from championship teams are remembered fondly. I even understood the desire by many to bring catcher A.J. Pierzynski back -- that's a position where the Sox have another black hole instead of production, and unlike third base, the alternatives there seem even less credible.

Still, it's time to give up the ghosts of past glory. While Uribe returning to the team he helped to a title might make for a good puff piece during spring training, the reality is that he's just not a good fit for the Sox. It's time for Sox fans to just collectively, please, let it go.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Predict the date of Jeff Keppinger's first walk

Here at the The Baseball Kid, we like to salute horrendous play whenever the opportunity presents itself. Tonight, I'd like to discuss White Sox infielder Jeff Keppinger.

Can you believe this guy hit .325 as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays last season?

Keppinger has looked nothing like that player this year. Through 37 games and 132 plate appearances with the Sox, the veteran is batting .177 with a .174 on-base percentage.

You read that right. Keppinger's on-base percentage is even lower than his godawful batting average. How did that happen? Well, Keppinger has yet to draw a single walk this season. He does, however, have two sacrifice flies. Sac flies do not count against your batting average, but they do lower your on-base percentage. Keppinger has no walks or HBPs to lift his OBP, so that explains it.

There is now a Twitter account dedicated to Keppinger's inability to draw a base on balls. You can follow it at @DidKeppWalk.

I'll go ahead and make a prediction here. I've got Keppinger drawing his first walk of the season on May 24. I'll bet one of the Miami Marlins pitchers will be dumb enough to walk him.

Anyone else got a prediction?