Possible trade target: Jeff Keppinger


It still feels like the season just started, but the trade deadline is already less than six weeks away. The Yankees got an early start on things last year, acquiring Eric Hinske from the Pirates on June 30th. We have a pretty good idea of where the team needs some help now that 42.6% of the season is complete, so over the next few weeks we’ll take a look at some (reasonable) players the Yanks could target in a midsummer trade to reinforce their squad.

Photo Credit: Jeff Roberson, AP

After doing such a fine job last year, Ramiro Pena has basically gone on to perform as his minor league track record suggested he should this year. He’s hitting a weak .190/.235/.206 (.213 wOBA) in 70 plate appearances, putting him on pace for 164 trips to the plate, or 43 more than last season. The reason he’s played so much more in 2010 is quite simply health. Alex Rodriguez has been battling a nagging hip/groin issue for the last month or so, and Derek Jeter has already missed time with minor illness, hamstring, and heel problems. Even Kevin Russo, who quickly became a fan favorite because of big hits against the Mets and Twins, has a .231 wOBA in a sneaky high total of 51 plate appearances.

It’s entirely possible that A-Rod and Jeter shake off the nagging injury bug the rest of the way and turn into the workhorse players they’ve been for the last decade and a half, but the Yanks would be wise to have a more viable backup infield option handy. I like Pena and Russo as much as the next guy, but they’re simply not producing enough, even by bench player standards.

Jerry Hairston Jr. might be the ideal target because of familiarity more than anything, but he’s not hitting either (.271 wOBA) and the Padres are surprise contenders that might not be willing to sell off a useful part. One team that isn’t anywhere near contending and has a versatile infielder to spare is Houston, who has been trotting Jeff Keppinger out as their starting second baseman basically all season.

The former Met and Red gained a little notoriety by hitting .332/.400/.477 (.385 wOBA) in 276 plate appearances for Cincinnati in 2007, though he’s basically established himself as a .267/.318/.365 hitter in 1,110 plate appearances since. He’s enjoying his best season since 2007 this year, with a .284/.330/.374 (.312 wOBA) batting line in 264 plate appearances for the Astros. The one thing he really excels at is getting the bat on the ball; his contact rate on pitches in the zone (97.7%) and on all pitches (93.1%) are among the four highest percentages in the game this year, ditto his absurdly low 2.2% swing-and-miss rate. His contact rates are almost identical to Brett Gardner‘s, for comparison.

Photo Credit: Jeff Roberson, AP

Because he hits for so little power (.091 ISO in 2010, .107 career), Keppinger basically provides an empty batting average, which is fine for a bench guy. You’re not asking him to be an offensive force off the bench, you just want more than an automatic out. Both his AVG and OBP are slightly above the league average (by 25 points and one point, respectively), and the Yankees really couldn’t ask for much more. Perhaps Kevin Long will be able to add a little loft to his swing like he did with Hairston (he went from 42.0 FB% with the Reds to 46.4% with the Yanks, boosting his offensive performance appropriately), adding a little more pop to his game.

Keppinger has played second base almost exclusively this year, though he has plenty of experience at both third and short as well (more than 760 defensive innings at both spots). He’s even logged time at first base and in both corner outfield spots in the past. Going around the horn, his career UZR/150′s at the three non-first base infield spots are -4.2, -12.3, and -1.4, which is quite simply awful. Keppinger’s throwing arm and ability to actually catch the ball is fine, he’s just got zero range. He’s not an asset on the bases either, with just four steals in eight attempts over the last three years, and his non-stolen base baserunning has cost his team 1.77 runs since 2008. Basically he’s a guy that gets the bat on the ball and can fake a bunch of different positions.

On the contractual side of things, Keppinger is still owed approximately $653,000 of his $1.15M salary this season, and he actual has two more years of team control ahead of him. Granted, he’ll be arbitration eligible during both those years, likely pushing his salary north of $2M and then $3M, but the Yanks would always have the option of non-tendering him. Who knows what the Astros would want in return, but I can’t imagine it’s much more than what the Yanks gave up for Hairston, grade-C and low level prospect Chase Weems (.231/.250/.282 as a backup in High-A ball this year). Moreover, owner Drayton McLane first needs to sign off on a rebuilding effort before GM Ed Wade can shop his players around.

It’s worth mentioning that Hairston’s production improved after he joined the Yanks last year (.308 wOBA with the Reds, .325 with the Yanks), but who knows why that happened. Maybe it’s just a small sample size fluke, maybe he was rejuvenated by joining a contender, maybe K-Long fixed him, who knows. Whatever it was, the Yanks can’t count on it happening again. By no means is Keppinger lighting the world on fire, but it’s a clear upgrade over Pena and Russo.

Remember, bench players are bench players for a reason: because they aren’t good enough to start. The only reason Keppinger is getting regular at-bats in Houston is because the Astros are terrible and don’t have a better option. His name is sure to pop up because he fits a need, but I’m not necessarily suggesting the Yankees should acquire him. I’m just laying out the facts for discussion purposes. Keppinger is a moderately productive player with a favorable contract on a team that shouldn’t consider him a long-term building block, ergo a decent trade target.

Categories : Bench


  1. We’d never trade Keppinger, not while we’re right in the middle of this big playoff push. Sure, we’re 12.5 games back and 18 games under .500, but we’re about to go on a tear, I can feel it. We’ll be in the World Series in no time. This team is primed for multiple championships. We’re gonna be buyers this deadline. I’ve got my eye on Jake Westbrook and Brad Hawpe.

    Drayton McLane

  2. dan genovese says:

    the yanks need a big bat>>>>johnson done get someone good!

  3. ned says:

    For the next month, why not “audition” some of the SWB position players. Who knows, we may find what we need.

  4. zs190 says:

    Definitely not the biggest fan in Eduardo Nunez but might as well try him before Keppinger. We have mixed reports on Nunez’s defense but we know Keppinger is not a good defender. I would not be shocked if Nunez can put up a similar line as Keppinger and he costs us very little. Can always option him down if it doesn’t work then trade for Keppinger, maybe McLame will wake up by then.

  5. Brooklyn Ed says:

    I been lobbying for Keppinger for the past 2 years when he was on the Reds. What would be an ideal package for him?

  6. Mystery says:

    Unfortunately Nunez will not be on the team past the trade deadline as he is currently the center of bidding war. Nationals have offered Strasburg straight up while the Mariners offered Lee and King Felix.

  7. jozer says:

    What’s the real difference between Eric Bruntlett (just signed to SWB) and Keppinger? Keppinger can maybe hit a little better, Bruntlett’s a little better on D. No way am I willing to give away anything more than minor league filler for Keppinger, as he’s pretty bad.

  8. BG says:

    I like Keppinger, but I don’t know if the Astros would trade him (McLane is notoriously hard to deal wth). I would recommend Kelly Johnson from the D-Backs who can play the outfield and a little infield (nostly second base, but still) and is having a pretty good year. He is also available on a reeling D-Backs team.

  9. Rick says:

    I know a little off topic but what do you think it would take to acquire a Danny Haren? Purely just interested, I know it does not make sense to add a 6th pitcher whose name isn’t Cliff Lee, especially one with a contract like Haren, but just curious on a package.

  10. steve (do) says:

    Yes to keppinger. I have been mentally fitting him for pinstripes for a few weeks now. Fills a hole, plays for a bad team, should be available. Whether it’s keppinger or not, I am fairly confident that cashman grabs a similar type player before the dealine.

    • A similar player who just jumped into my head:

      Former Yankee farmhand Cristian Guzman. The Nats are (according to MLBTR) attempting to be buyers this deadline but need to move money first. Guzman is making 8M in the final year of his deal, so he’s probably got around 5M left on the books. He’s superfluous in a clubhouse that already has Ian Desmond, Adam Kennedy, and the Attorney General.

      At that money (or even a portion of it, like half), he’d cost a literal-nonprospect, as in not even Eric Wordekemper. His bat is similar to Keppinger’s with probably a bit more hit skill (but not much), but he’s a far better defender at short and second, and could probably handle third (although he’s never played there.)

  11. Frank says:

    As much as I’d like to see an upgrade over Pena, I believe Cash’s priority will be another reliever.

  12. ADam says:

    Would love to see the yanks make something work out for Garret Jones, He can DH, and Spot the corner outfielders and Tex if need be. The Pirates just sell of their pieces anyway.. why is G.Jones any different, maybe they can package something up again like they did with Nady/Marte with the bucs

  13. vin says:

    What made J-Hair so perfect for the Yanks was that he actually had OF experience. And last year’s team need someone who could play OF – Gardner was coming back from the thumb injury, Damon was awful in left (and prone to cramps), and Swisher was playing an eventful RF. I don’t think this year’s team really needs a guy who can play OF.

    Hairston was wearing a lot of hats on last year’s team. If they do get a guy like Keppinger it would be to play IF, and replace either Pena or Russo… with Pena being the more likely candidate, as mentioned in the post.

    It doesn’t seem to be as useful an upgrade as Hairston was last year, which is why I wouldn’t be surprised if no utility IFer is acquired. Sure, it would be nice if Pena weren’t so awful with the bat. However, if the other guys are healthy, I think Girardi is more than happy to play Pena’s glove and noodle bat. Especially at the key defensive positions of 3B or SS.

    In my mind, the bigger need may be getting a DH. However, that’s dependant on a few things:
    1) Aceves coming back (limiting the need for another arm)
    2) Johnson’s health (even if he does return, how productive will he be? Wrists are kind of like TJ surgery in that it takes an extra year before the player is back to normal)
    3) Posada being able to catch regularly.

    • We have a DH. His name is Alejorgejuarcus Rodriguesadarandahames.

      • theyankeewarrior says:

        Yes, but if Posada proves he can be our full-time catcher for the playoffs, (minus maybe one game per series like last year) I think the Yankees will be in the market for someone to take the DH role on full-time.

        Maybe a Pauy Konerko type. Will cost them around 5-6M, but not a lot in prospects and could boost the lineup.

        J-Kepp/J-Har seem like solid upgrades over Pena etc., but I still think they have the budget for a big(er) bat to round out the lineup and make up for Alex and Tex’s refusal to hit the ball over the fencing in the outfield.

        • theyankeewarrior says:

          Pauy? More like Paul**

        • Posada’s only one of the four names I mentioned. And none of the four are Nick Johnson, who remains another option.

          Between Thames, Miranda, and Nick if/when he returns, I don’t think we need to add a DH. And if they all end up regressing/getting hurt/not returning, we can still pull the trigger on Jermaine Dye, who’s sitting out there waiting for a title contender to call (and getting cheaper by the day as more of his salary becomes prorated).

        • yoo-boo says:

          Konerko’s ISO is crazy .278. It would be miracle if he finished the season with .260 or higher.

  14. nsalem says:

    “Remember, bench players are bench players for a reason: because they aren’t good enough to start.” I can not quite grasp the meaning of this term as it can be applied very differently in many different situations depending on the team you are discussing and the position in question. Jerry Hairston though not performing brilliantly this year is the starting shortstop for a first place NL team. Obviously he could not start at shortstop and for that matter any other position for the Yankees. My question is “is Jerry Hairston a starter or a bench player”? I believe the answer lies somewhere in between and this is the
    type of player the Yankees should be looking for. Someone who is versatile enough to fill in at several positions on a couple of times a week basis and someone who is talented enough to fill in reasonably well for a prolonged period in the event of a long dl stint from a starter. I don’t believe anybody in our system nor a Keppinger type player will suffice. Pena and Russo right now are not killing us
    playing once or twice a week, but considering the ages of our ss and 3b and the talent of the division we are in a substantial upgrade is needed before 7/31. One of the three best teams in baseball is not going to the playoffs this year. Action is a must to avoid it being us.

  15. yoo-boo says:

    Keppinger’s hitting-ability is better than the combination of Russo and Pena as starter but he will become worthless if Arod and Jeter are full healthy to play every game in second half.

    Frankly, I dont see Yanks want new bat help unless it becomes clearly that Arod could not play the most of 2nd half.

    I will say Yanks wont make a deal until late July or none.

  16. yankeefanindc says:

    Ty Wigginton might be an OK fit. Doesn’t help at SS, but can back up all other infield spots and fall into DH rotation.

    • Peter Angelos hates the Yankees. He wouldn’t move Wigginton to us on the cheap, which is the only way we’d be interested.

      And again, we’re not interested in upgrading the DH slot when we have Thames/Miranda/Johnson under contract, we’re interested in upgrading the utility infielder. If you can’t play SS, we’re not biting.

  17. bonestock94 says:

    I really think Jake Fox should be given a shot. He can apparently play a bunch of positions and not that long ago was thought to be a real power hitter. He was DFA’d over a week ago, a little googling shows that the orioles are talking to the A’s about him.

  18. Bob Hulsey says:

    If you check Keppinger’s splits, you’ll see he’s an outstanding hitter against lefties but below-average against righties. If Girardi KNOWS that, Keppinger can be useful as a utility infielder and RH pinch-hitter. If Girardi doesn’t understand this, Kepp’ll just be one more spare part that they’ll discard in no time.

    I’m not sure the Astros are all that keen to unload him because he’s still inexpensive and under club control. Therefore, more than a Grade C prospect will be needed to pry him loose.

    • rbizzler says:

      Why would Girardi check out a players splits? It is not like he is the manager of a professional baseball team or anything?

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