Since 2010, ten different players have played third base for the Chicago White Sox. One of them has posted a positive WAR, and he’s currently a free agent, looking for a multi-year contract. The position has been something of a trouble spot, and on Wednesday the White Sox addressed said trouble spot by agreeing to terms with Jeff Keppinger. Word is it’s a three-year contract worth something in the neighborhood of $12 million, give or take your average annual salary.
Keppinger had been hotly pursued, despite a broken leg. There was talk that the Yankees were very interested, as third base has become a problem spot for them, too, but the White Sox were able to offer Keppinger a ~guaranteed starting job, which might have played a role in his decision. The Yankees have an opening now, but they might not have an opening upon Alex Rodriguez‘s return from injury. In Chicago, Keppinger presumably won’t be pushed.
Just yesterday, Marco Scutaro re-signed with the Giants for three years and $20 million. Not long ago, Maicer Izturis signed with the Blue Jays for three years and $10 million. Keppinger’s in between, and here is a small table of interest:
Scutaro’s the most proven everyday player, and he’s coming off a hell of a late-season stock rise, but when it comes to Scutaro and Keppinger, there are an awful lot of parallels. Though Scutaro’s superior defensively, they’re similarly versatile, and at the plate, they swing sometimes, and make contact all of the times. As tough as it is to get Marco Scutaro to swing and miss, with Keppinger, it’s just as difficult.
Since 2002 — the FanGraphs Era — 596 players have batted at least 1,000 times. Jeff Keppinger’s strikeout rate ranks third-lowest, while his contact rate ranks second-highest. You can think of him as Marco Scutaro without the defense, or as Juan Pierre without the defense and the wheels. Keppinger occupies an extreme in one regard, and there are no clear signs that’s about to change.
Keppinger was quite good in 2012, relatively speaking, and he’s highly unlikely to be that good again. While UZR doesn’t hate him that much, DRS hates him a little more, so you can quibble with his WAR values. What’s abundantly clear is that Jeff Keppinger is no sort of building block or major team contributor. He’s limited in the field, he doesn’t run very well, and he doesn’t hit for power. He just singles until he gets tired of singling. Still, as with Izturis, at this sort of contract it’s hard to justify pessimism or negativity. The White Sox are paying Keppinger to be worth less than a win a season, for three seasons. He’s got more walks than strikeouts for his career and he doesn’t swing and miss. If something better comes along, Keppinger can be moved out of the way. And so on and so forth.
Right now, the third-base market sucks. The White Sox got themselves a half-decent third baseman who is extremely, unusually good at one thing. It’s fine. The White Sox signing Jeff Keppinger is fine. He’ll be fine, probably, and now it’s on to the next transaction, for all of us.