Free Agent Stock Watch: Jeff Keppinger

Jeff Keppinger can play multiple positions and he’s a difference maker on offense — at least against left-handed pitching. The combination will attract the interest of many teams when he hits free agency this coming offseason.

Jeff Keppinger - Rays (PW)

When the Rays signed Keppinger to a one-year, $1.525MM deal in January, they expected him to be a tough out, especially against left-handed pitching. The 32-year-old has thrived with Tampa Bay posting a .329/.376/.445 batting line in 320 plate appearances. He also has nearly as many walks (20) as strikeouts (21) thanks in part to a 93.2% contact rate that ranks third among MLB players with at least 300 trips to the plate. 

Keppinger has been particularly effective against lefties, as his .411/.437/.558 batting line against them shows (103 plate appearances). This performance isn’t unexpected, either. Keppinger, a right-handed hitter, has a career line of .336/.380/.491 against left-handers. 

Teams will also take note of Keppinger’s versatility when he hits free agency this offseason. He has appeared in 15 or more games at first base, second base and third base in 2012, playing mostly at the hot corner. He has previous experience at shortstop, though none since 2010. The mixture of versatility and offense has been worth two wins above replacement in 2012, according to both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.

The ability to hit left-handed pitching doesn’t always translate into substantial free agent contracts, as noted lefty mashers Jonny Gomes (one-year, $1MM), Andruw Jones (one-year, $2MM) and Scott Hairston (one-year, $1.1MM) discovered last offseason. Similarly, veteran utility players usually sign for less than $5MM. Ramon Santiago, Nick Punto, Greg Dobbs, Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald obtained two-year deals worth $1.5-2MM per season last winter.

But few players offer the versatility to play multiple infield positions and the ability to produce against lefties. The combination could drive Keppinger’s asking price to the two-year, $10MM range. Aaron Hill, Clint Barmes and Mark Ellis signed contracts in that range a year ago, and those deals could represent a target for Keppinger’s representatives at CSE. Teams may hesitate to pay starter money for a so-called utility player and if that’s the case, the deals signed by Jerry Hairston Jr. (two years, $6MM) and Jamey Carroll (two years, $6.75MM) could provide an alternate template for Keppinger. 

He definitely appears to be in line for a considerable raise and he has a good shot at a multiyear deal. It’s a notable shift in value for a player who was non-tendered by the Giants just nine months ago.

Photo courtesy of US Presswire.

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13 Comments on "Free Agent Stock Watch: Jeff Keppinger"

2 years 11 months ago

I’ve always thought he was a very underrated player. Helps he’s having the best year of his career.

2 years 11 months ago

Definitely somebody the Phillies should take a look at. It’d be great to have his versatility.

Andy Forrester
2 years 11 months ago

I was irritated that the dbacks never looked into signing him last year. Keppinger is almost the ideal bench player, he plays literally EVERYWHERE and doesn’t strike out.

2 years 11 months ago

Crazy contact rate.

Casey McMahon
2 years 11 months ago

Keppinger when he came back from injury is the glue that kept the Rays together when Longoria was out Since Longoria has come back the entire team is MASHING at a alarming rate.

2 years 11 months ago

I’d rather sign Kipper the dog.

2 years 11 months ago

I think Jeff kepplinger is a great hitter. Brian Sabean you should pick him up again.

2 years 11 months ago

I think you have a loose definition of the term “great.”

Keppinger’s a useful hitter, but he’s a career .287/.337/.395 hitter (97 OPS+). He’d help the Giants though, very true.

Then again he’d help most teams, since league-average hitters up the middle are hard to come by.

2 years 11 months ago

league average hitting from utility players is even harder to come by.

Sctuaro and Keppinger are two utility players that I’d definitely want on my team.

Bob Hulsey
2 years 11 months ago

On top of everything else, he’s a quality guy in the clubhouse who is not a whiner or complainer. He gives solid effort on the field and is a moderate injury risk. Just don’t ask him to face righties all the time and you’ll be quite happy with him.

2 years 11 months ago

I see the Rays keeping him. Our best hitter against lefties this year. 2 year, $6M sounds good

2 years 11 months ago

I would like to see him starting at second for the O’s next year

2 years 11 months ago

I hope we resign him. Maybe a 2 year, $8 million deal with a third year as a vesting/club option,