Possible trade target: Jeff Keppinger

Credit Posada's double to the Mets' coaches
The Year of the Grand Slam

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.

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Credit Posada's double to the Mets' coaches
The Year of the Grand Slam
  • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

    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.

    Sincerely,
    Drayton McLane

    • Scott Hiller

      HAHAHA, that’s hilarious. In all honesty though, I don’t think he’s the answer. I tend to shy away from the light-hitting middle infielders like Keppinger. I’d even prefer Pena and Russo over him, despite the fact that both have really struggled with the bat. What the Yankees need is an extra outfielder, for we don’t have a 4th OF’er on the team. Austin Kearns, David Dejesus, and even Jose Guillen are a few guys I would target.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        What the Yankees need is an extra outfielder, for we don’t have a 4th OF’er on the team.

        Marcus Thames will be back in a week or two.

        • http://www.soxandpinstripes.typepad.com/ Angelo

          Marcus Thames makes me cringe when he’s in the outfield.

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

            He’s a fourth outfielder, though. He won’t be out there a ton, especially since our three starting outfielders are all on the right side of 30.

            • Mattchu12

              What happened to the days when we remember that Ramiro Pena AND Kevin Russo can play the outfield? What we kinda, sorta, don’t really badly need is bullpen help.

    • http://baseballhotcorner.com OutOf YourMind

      That’s the ticket,trade a major league bench player for a Class A bench player? That’s called a salary dump and it’s not going to happen. Stop sniffing glue!

  • dan genovese

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

    • pat

      I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

    • JMK

      I don’t even know what you’re saying.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        Maybe we need the Ozzeta Stone.

        • Count Zero

          OK that made me laugh out loud. I am trying to picture what the Ozzeta stone would look like in the British Museum.

  • ned

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

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      We’ve been auditioning them at SWB all year, and haven’t found anything we like.

      • A.D.

        Well wouldn’t mind Nunez getting a shot, deserves it just as much as Russo & Pena.

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

          Sure, whatevs, I’m on board. He’s already on the 40 man, might as well.

  • zs190

    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.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      I would not be shocked if Nunez can put up a similar line as Keppinger

      I would.

      • http://www.soxandpinstripes.typepad.com/ Angelo

        /Axisa’d

      • zs190

        MLE has Nunez’s line at .280/.313/.354, so 37 points off Keppinger’s OPS. Yeah that’s a lousy line, but considering the amount of at bats, that might just be a couple extra singles worth of difference, certainly within the realm of possibility that he outperforms that line.

  • Brooklyn Ed

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

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      Jorge Vazquez?

      • http://theyankeeu.com Matt Imbrogno

        I’d prefer to hold on to Vazquez as the RH version of Juan Miranda. Maybe he can run into a few fastballs here and there.

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

          I like Juan Miranda a little, but “The Righthanded Version of Juan Miranda” sounds like one of the most useless players in all of baseball.

          • Thomas

            “The Righthanded Version of Juan Miranda” sounds like one of the most useless players in all of baseball.

            DO NOT INSULT SHELLEY DUNCAN!!!!!!!

          • Scout

            Isn’t the right-handed version of Juan Miranda named Marcus Thames?

      • vin

        Javy Vazquez?

        /April’d

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

          Well played.

  • Mystery

    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.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      I’m holding out for the Marlins to jump in with a Hanley Ramirez/Josh Johnson/Mike Stanton package.

      • http://instrumentsacrosstheworld.com Total Dominication

        We’ll throw in the Winningest pitcher in SWB history.

      • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

        Hanley and Johnson make decent coin though, the Marlins will have to take some salary back.

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

          I was assuming that the Marlins would be signing Nuñez to a 7 year, 200M contract extension, and the salaries would thus match up, NBA-trade style.

          • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

            When did Chris Wallace take over the Marlins? Good to see Memphis just rewarded him with an extension for his back to back NBA titles.

            • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

              I think it was a reward for his Allen Iverson gamble, which worked out like gangbusters.

              • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

                Allen Iverson was a Grizzly about as long as Bill Belichick was HC of the NYJ.

                • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

                  I don’t blame him. Would you want to stay in Memphis for more than a weekend?

                  • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

                    If only someone had told him the Grizzlies played in Memphis before he signed his contract, crisis could have been averted.

  • jozer

    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.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      Keppinger, career WAR: +2.8
      Bruntlett, career WAR: 0.8

      Keppinger’s got twice the career plate appearances, and about triple the WAR. He’s a better player by a good margin.

  • BG

    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.

    • http://instrumentsacrosstheworld.com Total Dominication

      He might be a bit more costly.

    • Thomas

      Besides the additional cost that was mentioned, one also has to question if Kelly Johnson can play any IF position outside 2B. He has never played any position in the majors outside of 2B and LF. He has played at total of 15 games at 3B in the minors and has played 1 game a SS since 2003 (when he played it regularly in the minors).

      Obviously, he can hit, but if he can’t field anything other than 2B and LF, even at a faking level, he not worth surrendering the prospects.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        And not only has he never played SS, he plays 2B quite poorly. Career -12.5 UZR in four years at the second sack. Not a good sign.

      • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

        He also hasn’t done a whole lot since April.

  • Rick

    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.

    • http://instrumentsacrosstheworld.com Total Dominication

      Haren’d been sucking this year, and why do we need another starter?

      • http://theyankeeu.com Matt Imbrogno

        4.71 ERA despite a 4.10 FIP and 3.43 xFIP. He’s also got a K/BB of over five. If/when he brings his fly balls and HR/FB down, he’ll look a lot better.

        • http://theyankeeu.com Matt Imbrogno

          Also, I’m assuming the conversation starts with Romine.

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

            (hangs up first)

            • http://instrumentsacrosstheworld.com Total Dominication

              Seconded.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      I know it does not make sense to add a 6th pitcher whose name isn’t Cliff Lee

      Fixed.

      • http://instrumentsacrosstheworld.com Total Dominication

        This.

        • Rick

          It always makes sense to add Cliff Lee provided it matched up well.

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

            I concede your point. If things were different, they wouldn’t be the same.

  • steve (do)

    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.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      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.)

      • Templeton “Brendog” Peck

        i like. do you honestly think the jankees would take on ~4m for a bench player though?

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

          We’ll take it from the “Money we didn’t pay Johnny Damon and didn’t end up paying Randy Winn since he didn’t hit any of his incentives” fund.

        • Tampa Yankee

          The jankees – yes, the yankees – probably not

          • Templeton “Brendog” Peck

            they are one in the same my friend

            • Tampa Yankee

              Brian: So the team pancake breakfast is tomorrow morning at nine, instead of eight.
              Ron: Oop… I almost forgot. I won’t be able to make it fellas. Veronica and I trying this new fad called uh, jogging. I believe it’s jogging or yogging. it might be a soft j. I’m not sure but apparently you just run for an extended period of time. It’s supposed to be wild.

              • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

                Oh, that BE-HIND is driving me LOCO! I’m like a NIGHTWOLF!

  • Frank

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

    • Templeton “Brendog” Peck

      outlook doubtful.

      there is no reason to get another reliever with aceves coming back, melancon, sanchez, etc down in aaa. reliever is the last of their worries

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        And the pricepoint on adding quality bench pieces is generally smaller than the pricepoint on relievers, who are always inflated at the deadline (and tend not to produce solid returns anyway).

  • ADam

    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

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      Why get Garrett Jones when we already have Marcus Thames and Juan Miranda?

      Pass.

      • ADam

        Thames, Yes, Miranda, Yikes. Need some lefty Pop of the bench, not sure Miranda fills that inventory.

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

          Isn’t that the exact and the only thing Miranda provides? He’s got a career ISO of .215.

    • A.D.

      Are the Pirates really selling off pieces? Seems like they want to keep the kids together and to have McCutchen/Tabata/Alvarez/Jones potentially be the nucleus of the Pirates.

  • vin

    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.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      We have a DH. His name is Alejorgejuarcus Rodriguesadarandahames.

      • theyankeewarrior

        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

          Pauy? More like Paul**

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

            Paul Konerko is not a guy who “will cost them… not a lot in prospects”.

            I know Kenny Williams is a moron, but he’s not going to sell Paul Konerko for the proverbial Wilson Betemit grab bag. He knows Konerko is a legit bat; if he goes on the market, there will be suitors willing to give up at least one decent prospect.

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

          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

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

  • nsalem

    “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.

  • yoo-boo

    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.

  • yankeefanindc

    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.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      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.

  • bonestock94

    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.

    • nsalem

      how about andy fox

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        How about Vivica A. Fox?

  • http://www.astrosdaily.com Bob Hulsey

    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

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

  • http://www.ryanmcgrove.us/ ??????? ??? GTA