Wednesday afternoon Rich Hahn and the White Sox made their version of a splash at the Winter Meetings by signing journeyman Jeff Keppinger to a three year, $12 million deal. The move fills the previous hole the South Siders had at third base, but after having a great player like Kevin Youkilis manning the hot corner, Keppinger leaves a lot to be desired. This entry will focus on analyzing the player Hahn signed, looking at the alternative options Hahn had in free-agency and in house, then breaking down how good the signing was, and making a prediction.
Last year Jeff Keppinger had a breakout season with the Tampa Bay Rays compiling a .288 batting average, .367 on-base percentage, and 40 RBIs in 418 plate appearances. Keppinger also can play multiple positions, in 2012 alone Keppinger appeared in 50 games at third base, 27 at first and second base, and also DH’d in 20 other games. This versatility combined with his breakout performance made Keppinger a prime candidate to fill the any team’s third base vacancy; and trust me when I say that there are a ton of vacancies of the position. In addition to positional flexibility Keppinger came into his own offensively last year posting a 2.4 WAR, (Wins Above Replacement) which is almost a full run better than his previous high with the Cincinnati Reds in 2007. However, there are always downfalls to any deal, and Keppinger is no different. One problem is that Keppinger, like AJ Pierzynski, just had his best season and his is starting to get up there in years. Now does that mean he can’t reproduce the season he had last year? No, but we also can’t expect him to maintain the production he just had last year into his third year and last year of his deal at age thirty-six. Now let’s take a look at other options the White Sox had.
Youk was the incumbent to the position heading into the off-season. Rick Hahn stated publicly that he wanted to bring back both Youk and AJ is possible, but most analysts knew that both play a position of need, and would be priced out of the White Sox price range. However, Youk did have an amazing run during his time on the South Side, in his tenure he hit 15 home runs and drove in 46 runs, and not to mention had the highest WAR of any Sox third baseman since the great Joe Crede. Youk was embraced on the South Side and fans, including myself wanted and continue to want him back, but his option the upcoming season was an astronomical $13 million. Thinking he could pay less for the aging third baseman Hahn declined the option and let Youk hit the open market, which is where the Sox have run into problems. The Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees also both need third baseman due to Lonnie Chisenhall not being able to completely shoulder the starting job, and because Alex Rodriguez is yet again having hip surgery in New York. With this unexpected competition from the Indians who have money to spend because they DON’T spend and the Yankees, who always seem to have bottomless wallets, the White Sox found themselves between a rock and a hard place. The last reports I heard from ESPN was that the Yankees offered Youkilis a 1 year deal for approximately $12 million, which is only $1 million less than the Sox would have paid him had they picked up his option, which is what detered Youk’s return to the South Side.
The former all-star third baseman hit free-agency yet again this off-season. In 313 plate appearances Chavez hit 16 home runs and drove in 37 runs, very good for a guy who isn’t an everyday starter, though I would like to point out that the short porch in right field at Yankee stadium definitely inflated his home run total. In addition Chavez is 35 years old and he will only start to decline faster, so it’s probably a good thing that Arizona snatched him up before the White Sox could because, after Chavez signed it came out that his decision came down to the White Sox or D-Backs, but since Arizona was closer to his home he signed there. All in all it was probably in the best interest of the Sox that he was taken off the market.
Another option similar to that of the Keppinger signing was Jack Hannahan. A career .234 hitter, Hannahan was not the most attractive option for the team, but he would have come cheap. Reports are still floating around the Hot Stove that the White Sox are still interested in Hannahan despite the Keppinger signing, but I can’t see the Sox signing him because the need at the third base position around the league. Not much to say there.
29 year old Mark Reynolds fits the mold of players the White Sox usually try to acquire. Low average but hits for power, and moving to home-run friendly US Cellular Field would only increase those power numbers. Unfortunately, Reynolds missed some time last year due to injury that concurrently lead to a drop off of his power numbers. In 2011 Reynolds hit for a .221 average, 37 home runs, and drove in 86 runs, only a year later, in 20 less games Reynolds again hit .221, but saw his home run and RBI total drop to 23 and 69 respectively. Despite Reynolds fitting the mold of an ideal White Sox offensive third baseman, he does not fit the mold of a defensive third baseman the White Sox need. In 2011, Reynolds played 114 games at third, in 2012 he played 15 games at third, switching to first and playing there for 108 games. So with that Reynolds is out.
Okay, stop rolling your eyes at me right now. I realize that Kenny Williams had a man crush on the guy when he was last a free agent, but Figgins is a legitimate candidate here. In 66 games last year Figgins compiled a .181 average, 2 home runs, and 11 RBIs. Not impressive numbers, I know. But let’s also remember three things here: 1) Figgins hasn’t gotten a lot of playing time since his bust 2009 season, and not being able to play does wear on you 2)When Figgins did play; what protection did he have? The Mariners “potent” lineup doesn’t really have a plethora of hitters who strike fear into the heart of Major League Baseball which didn’t allow Figgins to get many good pitches to hit, because pitchers weren’t afraid to face the next guy 3) Figgins was playing in Safeco Field one of the most notorious pitcher’s parks in the league, a move to more hitter friendly US Cellular Field might do him good. Now here is the catch, I am not lobbying here for him to start, but what could it hurt to sign him to a 1 year, incentive laden, low-risk contract and see how he can perform as a super-utility guy? I think it would be worth the risk, and I would support Hahn signing him to a low-risk deal.
Morel was flat out terrible in 2012. He was the heir apparent to the third base job, and he screwed it up. Of course he does have a couple of things working for him: he is only 25, he can still improve with coaching, and he has a great glove. With the Keppinger signing I expect the Sox to let Morel continue to regain confidence in Triple-A and hopefully in 2013 the Sox can give Morel another shot at the job, but it is a long shot.
Ultimately, with what Hahn had to work with he made a very good signing. He signed one of the better options the market had to offer, and he got his man at fair price. Despite getting the player he wanted I still have to say that I disagree with the amount of years Keppinger got. In a perfect world I would have tried to work out a 2 year deal worth $8 million with a performance based option that would vest if he reached certain goals and statistics.
Finally, my prediction for this upcoming year for Jeff Keppinger is for him to start for the Sox at third base. He will hit for somewhere around a .270 batting average, 14 home runs, while driving in 71 runs.
Well hope you guys enjoyed another installment of the Next Sox GM, until next time. Thanks for reading!