Jeff Keppinger Rumors
Heading into today's action, no first place team in either league holds a lead of more than two and a half games, and no division is tighter at the top than the NL Central. Not only are the Cardinals, Brewers, and Pirates separated by a single game in the standings, but all three teams are dead even in the loss column. Here's the latest on the Central, as we look forward to what should be a fun playoff race:
- The Cardinals' pursuit of pitching is "taking shape," tweets Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, though he cautions in a second tweet that he's unsure of the timetable for a deal.
- Discussing the Cardinals' need for arms, Bernie Miklasz of the Post-Dispatch says that while prioritizing relief help makes sense, the team could also try to acquire a starter and move Kyle McClellan to the bullpen.
- Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports wonders (via Twitter) if the Astros will receive more interest in Jeff Keppinger than Brett Myers, given Myers' struggles this season.
- In a separate tweet, Morosi notes that Cubs' outfielder Reed Johnson is another useful complementary player who could be available on the cheap this month.
The Astros have had magical late-season surges before, but their chances of making the playoffs in 2011 are essentially non-existent. At 29-57, they have the worst record in baseball and are now open to trading players who don’t figure into their long-term plans.
Jeff Keppinger figures to draw interest this summer and GM Ed Wade will presumably consider offers for the second baseman. Keppinger is under team control through 2012, but he doesn’t appear to be a cornerstone player like Hunter Pence, Bud Norris or Jordan Lyles.
That doesn’t mean he can’t help a contender, though. Since recovering from left foot surgery and returning to Houston’s lineup at the end of May, the 31-year-old has hit .328/.346/.424 with two home runs. He has played second base this year and has big league experience around the infield and outfield.
However, Keppinger’s batting average on balls in play is a robust .331 this year, significantly higher than his career mark of .291. This suggests that his current level of production is not sustainable, though his career line of .285/.339/.393 is still respectable.
Keppinger’s $2.3MM salary makes him a more expensive option than Jeff Baker or Jamey Carroll, two other trade candidates at the position. He's still relatively cheap, though. By the time the trade deadline arrives, Keppinger will have less than $1MM remaining on his contract. Plus, he’s under team control in 2012, so an acquiring team would have flexibility for next year.
The Tigers, Giants and Cardinals are among the contenders that could consider upgrading at second base. Given the Astros’ record and Keppinger’s better-than-expected performance so far in 2011, it won’t be surprising if Wade trades his second baseman within the month.
The Astros will likely be sellers at this year’s trade deadline, according to Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports. Houston has an MLB-worst 29-57 record, so the front office figures to entertain offers for Wandy Rodriguez, Michael Bourn and others. Here are the details from Rosenthal and Morosi’s report, which is a must-read item for Astros fans:
- Though owner Drayton McLane would like to complete the sale of his club to Jim Crane by the July 31st trade deadline, the deal may not become official until August. MLB isn’t close to approving the sale, partly because of its ongoing conflict with Dodgers owner Frank McCourt.
- Crane will likely stay quiet until baseball’s owners approve him, but he’ll influence the team’s direction this summer.
- MLB has not told Crane that he has to agree to move the Astros to the AL West for the sale to go through.
- Carlos Lee, who earns $18.5MM this year and next year, wouldn’t be easy to trade even if Houston picked up significant salary.
- The club doesn’t want to trade Hunter Pence, who is under control through 2013. Bud Norris and Jordan Lyles also figure into Houston’s long-term plans, but the Astros will likely listen to offers on most other players, including Brett Myers and Jeff Keppinger.
- Most baseball people expect Crane to fire GM Ed Wade, but the new owner will likely take his time evaluating Wade’s leadership before conducting a search for a new GM.
- Houston native and current Rays executive Andrew Friedman is “an almost certain target,” according to Rosenthal and Morosi. Another Tampa Bay exec, former Astros GM Gerry Hunsicker, is also a possibility for Crane. He led Houston to four division titles before joining the Rays.
The Astros are currently an MLB worst 25-45 and are in the process of being transferred to a new owner, so they certainly figure to be sellers at the trade deadline. MLB.com's Bill Ladson hears that they are looking to trade both Brett Myers and Jeff Keppinger, two names that have frequented the trade rumor circuit in recent months (Twitter links). Ladson doubts that the Nationals would have interest in either.
Myers might not be very marketable these days. He'll be 31 in August, and he's pitched to a 5.03 ERA with 6.5 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 in 87 2/3 innings this season. The 18 homers he's allowed are the most in baseball and his fastball velocity has fallen off considerably. Myers will earn $7MM this season and $11MM next season before a $10MM club option ($3MM buyout) for 2013 comes into play.
Keppinger seems like a much more practical trade candidate. He's hitting .301/.329/.370 since coming off the disabled list following a foot injury, and last year he hit a respectable .288/.351/.393 with more walks (51) than strikeouts (34) in 575 plate appearances. Keppinger has plenty of experience at second, third, and short, and his $2.3MM salary is a little easier on the wallet. He is also under team control next year as an arbitration-eligible player.
- Though the Cardinals probably wish that Albert Pujols and Cubs GM Jim Hendry hadn’t exchanged a heavily scrutinized public hug, they aren’t overly concerned with it, according to ESPN.com’s Buster Olney (on Twitter).
- The Pirates recalled Ascanio and placed Michael Crotta on the DL with right elbow inflammation, according to Colin Dunlap of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (on Twitter). The team had to decide whether to add Ascanio to the roster or risk losing him to another team, since he's out of options.
- As MLB.com's Brian McTaggart explains, the Astros will have to clear up roster space when Jeff Keppinger returns from the disabled list. Bill Hall could slide into a utility role, or the Astros could part ways with him. Including the buyout on next year’s mutual option, about $2.5MM remains on Hall’s deal.
Let's look at some notes from the NL Central as we remember the legendary Harry Caray, who passed away on this day in 1998.
- The close relationship between Tony La Russa and Albert Pujols may be the Cardinals' "secret weapon" for keeping Pujols in St. Louis, writes SI.com's Jon Heyman. Of course, La Russa's own contract is only guaranteed through this season, and he could very well decide his future with the club before Pujols has to this winter. A St. Louis Post-Dispatch roundtable looks at how the futures of the Cardinals manager and slugger are intertwined.
- The Cubs "should move heaven and earth" to acquire Pujols if he hits the free agent market, says ESPN's Michael Wilbon. The potential pros of signing a franchise player outweigh, in Wilbon's opinion, the record-setting costs a Pujols contract could entail: "Please don't bother me with what might happen when Pujols reaches 40 or 41 years of age and whether he'll be overpaid by then....when the alternative is stealing away your hated rival's best-ever player and putting him into your lineup in the prime of his life."
- Hunter Pence's arbitration case took place this morning, and MLB.com's Brian McTaggart talks to Astros GM Ed Wade about the process. The arbitration panel is expected to have a decision ready by Saturday. Pence is the last remaining arb-eligible player without a contract, as MLBTR's ArbTracker indicates.
- The Brewers have signed pre-arb players Zach Braddock, Chris Dickerson, Brandon Kintzler and Jonathan Lucroy to contracts, tweets Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Reds prospect Yonder Alonso is continuing his outfield training this spring, and talks to MLB.com's Mark Sheldon about how learning a different position is key to his future in Cincinnati. Alonso's natural position, first base, is of course blocked by NL MVP Joey Votto.
- "There is still a good chance" the Astros will trade Jeff Keppinger once the veteran infielder proves he's healthy after offseason foot surgery, says ESPN.com's Jason A. Churchill. Houston shopped Keppinger during the Winter Meetings, with the Yankees showing some interest, but negotiations didn't pan out.
Today is the deadline for players and teams to submit arbitration figures. The sides will then settle on a salary between the team's proposed number and the player's proposed number or go to an arbitration hearing. Arbitration eligible players are under team control, so the clubs don't risk losing them - it's a question of how much the players will earn.
Yesterday, 11 players avoided arbitration. We could see just as many agreements trickle in today and we'll keep you posted on them right here and with our Arb Tracker. The latest updates will be at the top of the post:
- The Angels have agreed to terms with Reggie Willits and Howie Kendrick, tweets Bill Shaikin of The Los Angeles Times. Bill Plunkett of The Orange County Register tweets that Kendrick will earn $3.3MM, Willits $775K (on Twitter).
- The Giants agreed to terms with Santiago Casilla on a one-year deal worth $1.3MM with incentives, according to ESPN Deportes' Enrique Rojas (on Twitter). The team also announced that they avoided arb with Jonathan Sanchez and Ramon Ramirez (on Twitter). Sanchez will earn $4.8MM with incentives tweets Hank Schulman of The San Francisco Chronicle while Ramirez will earn $1.65MM according to Janie McCauley of The Canadian Press.
- The Braves agreed to terms with Peter Moylan and Eric O'Flaherty, according to MLB.com's Mark Bowman (on Twitter). Moylan gets $2MM, O'Flaherty gets $895K according to Dave O'Brien of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (on Twitter).
- The Mariners agreed to terms with Brandon League, David Aardsma and Jason Vargas, the team announced. Aardsma will earn $4.5MM with plenty of incentives, according to Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times (plus Twitter link).
- The Rangers agreed to terms with C.J. Wilson and Nelson Cruz, according to MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan (Twitter links). Cruz gets $3.65MM, and Wilson gets $7.05MM with a chance to earn another $100K according to his agent Bob Garber, via email.
- The Padres avoided arbitration with Chase Headley (2.535MM) and Tim Stauffer ($1.075MM), according to MLB.com's Corey Brock (on Twitter).
- The Phillies and Kyle Kendrick avoided arbitration with a $2.45MM deal, according to Jon Heyman of SI.com (on Twitter). The team has confirmed the deal.
- The Pirates announced that they agreed to terms with Joel Hanrahan. It's a $1.4MM deal, according to Colin Dunlap of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (on Twitter).
- The Cubs agreed to a one-year deal with Tom Gorzelanny, despite reports that a trade to Washington is imminent. Gorzelanny will earn $2.1MM next year, according to Mark Zuckerman of NatsInsider.com (on Twitter). They also announced a two-year, $4.7MM deal with Sean Marshall.
- The Diamondbacks agreed to a one-year deal with Joe Saunders.
- The Padres agreed to a $2.535MM deal with Mike Adams, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (Twitter links).
- The Angels agreed to a $3MM deal with Erick Aybar and a $2.975MM deal with Kendry Morales.
- The White Sox agreed to a $5.05MM deal with Carlos Quentin, according to Rosenthal.
- The Braves agreed to a $3.1MM deal with Martin Prado and a $3.25MM deal with Jair Jurrjens according to Rosenthal.
- The Orioles agreed to a $5.85MM deal with J.J. Hardy, according to Rosenthal.
- The Athletics agreed to a $4.75MM deal with Kevin Kouzmanoff, according to Slusser (Twitter link).
- The Giants avoided arbitration with Cody Ross, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (Twitter link). Ross will earn $6.3MM in 2011.
- The Red Sox avoided arbitration with Jonathan Papelbon ($12MM) and Jacoby Ellsbury ($2.4MM).
- The Yankees avoided arbitration with Joba Chamberlain ($1.4MM), Phil Hughes ($2.7MM) and Boone Logan ($1.2MM), according to Jon Heyman of SI.com (all Twitter links).
- The Dodgers agreed to a $6.275MM deal with Chad Billingsley, according to Heyman (on Twitter).
- The White Sox agreed to a $6MM deal with John Danks, according to Heyman (on Twitter).The Cubs avoided arbitration with Matt Garza and agreed to a $5.95MM deal, according to Heyman (on Twitter).
- The Indians avoided arbitration with Shin-Soo Choo, the team announced. The deal is worth $3.975MM, according to Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer (on Twitter).
- The Twins avoided arbitration with Matt Capps ($7.15MM) and Glen Perkins ($700K), according to Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (on Twitter).
- The Rays avoided arbitration with Andy Sonnanstine, agreeing to a deal worth $913K plus incentives, according to Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times (on Twitter).
- The Mets avoided arbitration with Mike Pelfrey, agreeing on a deal worth close to $4MM, according to Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com.
- The Brewers avoided arbitration with Prince Fielder and Manny Parra, signing the players to one-year deals, the team announced. Parra will earn $1.2MM, according to MLB.com's Adam McCalvy (on Twitter).
- The Athletics avoided arbitration with Dallas Braden ($3.35MM) and Conor Jackson ($3.32MM), according to MLB.com's Jane Lee (on Twitter).
- The Blue Jays agreed to a one-year, $2.3MM deal with Brandon Morrow, the team announced.
- The Indians announced that they agreed to a one-year deal with Rafael Perez (Twitter link). It's worth $1.33MM, according to Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer (on Twitter).
- The Athletics avoided arbitration with Josh Willingham, agreeing to a $6MM deal, according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle (on Twitter).
- The Astros signed Michael Bourn to a one-year, $4.4MM deal, according to MLB.com's Brian McTaggart (on Twitter).
- The Nationals announced (on Twitter) that they avoided arbitration with Michael Morse.
- The Marlins avoided arbitration with Anibal Sanchez, according to MLB.com's Joe Frisaro (on Twitter). They agreed to a $3.7MM deal, according to Enrique Rojas of ESPNDeportes.com (Twitter link).
- The Orioles avoided arbitration with Felix Pie, according to Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun (Twitter links). The deal is for $985K.
- The Blue Jays avoided arbitration with Rajai Davis, agreeing to a two-year, $5.25MM deal with the outfielder.
- The Marlins avoided arbitration with Clay Hensley and agreed to a $1.4MM deal, according to MLB.com's Joe Frisaro (on Twitter).
- The Astros agreed to a one-year, $2.3MM deal with Jeff Keppinger, avoiding arbitration, according to Zachary Levine of the Houston Chronicle (on Twitter). The Astros confirmed the deal.
- The White Sox agreed to a one-year, $1.6MM deal with Tony Pena, according to Jon Heyman of SI.com (Twitter link).
- The Padres avoided arbitration with Ryan Ludwick with a $6.775MM deal, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (on Twitter).
- The Astros avoided arbitration with Clint Barmes, signing the infielder to a one-year, $3.925MM deal, according to Rosenthal. The Astros confirmed the deal.
- The Rockies avoided arb with Felipe Paulino and agreed to a one-year, $790K deal, according to Troy Renck of the Denver Post (on Twitter).
- The Blue Jays announced that they have agreed to terms with Yunel Escobar on a $2.9MM deal for 2011.
- The Indians signed Chris Perez for 2011, avoiding arbitration, the team announced (on Twitter). It's a $2.225MM deal, according to Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer (on Twitter).
- The Royals announced that they agreed to terms with Kyle Davies on a one-year deal, avoiding arbitration. It's a $3.2MM deal, according to MLB.com's Dick Kaegel (on Twitter).
- The Reds avoided arbitration will Bill Bray, according to John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer (on Twitter). The AP says the deal is for $645K.
- The Nationals avoided arbitration with Doug Slaten, and agreed to a one-year, $695K deal according to Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post.
- The Padres avoided arbitration with Heath Bell and agreed to a one-year, $7.5MM deal.
Here are some items of note on this Thursday, a day on which the Reds and Rangers each settled with one of their arbitration-eligible players. Remember to refer to our handy Arbitration Tracker, as those cases will continue to pop up in the coming weeks ...
- The Astros were thought to be mulling the idea of trading Jeff Keppinger this offseason, but the utility infielder is scheduled to undergo left foot surgery next week and will likely miss the start of the regular season, writes Brian McTaggart of MLB.com. This offseason, Houston acquired Bill Hall to play second base and Clint Barmes to man shortstop, so Keppinger has become expendable, but the injury should put a significant dent in the likelihood of him being dealt before the season. Keppinger enjoyed a career year in 2010, hitting .288/.351/.391 in 575 plate appearances. The Astros and Yankees briefly discussed a swap for Keppinger, but those talks went nowhere.
- The Yankees are willing to offer $12MM or $13MM to Andy Pettitte and are awaiting a decision from the lefty, tweets Jon Heyman of SI.com. As Heyman notes, either of those figures would represent a modest raise for Pettitte, who earned $11.75MM in 2010, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts. Pettitte, who has been playing on one-year deals in each of the past four seasons, will probably either re-sign with the Yankees or retire.
- Padres closer Heath Bell hopes to remain in San Diego with a multiyear contract, writes Bill Center of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Bell is in his final year of arbitration eligibility, and, having turned 33 in September, wants to garner long-term security, notes Center. Padres GM Jed Hoyer didn't offer much, saying that he and Bell's agent have "touched on it."
- After splitting 2010 between the Giants and Rangers, free-agent catcher Bengie Molina is seeking the "right fit," and one scenario that interests him is backing up his brother Yadier with the Cardinals, tweets Heyman. However, St. Louis already has a solid backup backstop in Gerald Laird, who signed a one-year deal with the Cards in December, so that seems unlikely.
The Red Sox, Rays, Yankees and Twins are among the many teams interested in Brian Fuentes, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. There’s some question as to whether Fuentes is truly a closer, but his asking price suggests he views himself as one. Here’s the latest on Fuentes and more notes from around the majors:
- Fuentes is asking for over $5MM per season on a multiyear deal, according to Rosenthal.
- The Yankees are not after Rafael Soriano, according to Rosenthal (on Twitter). They have inquired on the Scott Boras client, according to Jon Heyman of SI.com.
- Talks between the Yankees and Jeff Keppinger went nowhere, Rosenthal reports (on Twitter). The Astros have acquired Clint Barmes and Bill Hall this offseason, making Keppinger expendable. The Yankees, however, could rely on Eduardo Nunez instead.
The Astros have signed Bill Hall to a one-year, $3.25MM deal that includes a mutual option for 2012. Hall will earn $3MM this season and either $4MM or a $250K buyout in 2012. The Yankees and Dodgers were among the teams pursuing Hall, who will play second base regularly for Houston. Gaylord Sports represents Hall.
Hall, 31 this month, hit 18 homers for the Red Sox as a utilityman last year. He batted .247/.316/.456 and played all three outfield positions plus second, third and short. He even set the Royals down in order when Terry Francona called on him to pitch in May.
The agreement "practically ensures" that the Astros will trade Jeff Keppinger, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports writes (Twitter link). Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi reported earlier that the Yankees have spoken to the Astros about acquiring Keppinger for their bench.