For the 4th straight day, the Astros are making it publically aware Matt Lindstrom and Jeff Keppinger are available. This will lead astute baseball followers to one of two conclusions; 1) There are no takers for the two veterans or 2) Houston is asking for too much in return.
We can basically forget about trading Lindstrom. The Astros are deep with bullpen arms, especially now with Ryan Rowland-Smith, but the free agency market has an abundance of affordable relievers. The right-handed Lindstrom is arbitration eligible after the 2011 season so if he has a good season a deadline-deal would most likely yield Houston a better return than an offseason trade anyway. And at $1.37 million, Lindstrom is not a strain on the Astros budget. However, Keppinger is a more interesting case.
It’s not often you hear a GM declaring an improvement of the team’s leader in AVG and OBP as an offseason priority, but that’s exactly what Ed Wade has done more than once about his second baseman. I’m only counting players with over 400 AB’s. Sorry, Chris Johnson. Keppinger will be 31 next season and is coming off a career year where his 137 games played were the most he’s ever played in a season. It’s probably unreasonable to expect Keppinger to improve much from this past season but there’s no reason not to expect him to continue at this level. Kep has a career line of .281/.339/.391 and an OPS+ of 93 without the luxury of full-time at-bats for much of it. But Houston seems determined to add some power to their lineup which isn’t necessarily wrong. The key is finding where to add it.
Jason Castro will play the whole year at catcher and doesn’t figure to hit double digit homeruns this season, if ever. Brett Wallace and Chris Johnson are on the corners and each have the ability to hit 20 homeruns but it’s yet to be seen if that ability will translate to the major leagues. Johnson had a strong debut in 2010, but only played in 94 games and many sophomores find the rigors of a complete major league season make it difficult to maintain production. Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee are sure to hit 25 homers a piece but the man they sandwich in the outfield makes Rafael Furcal look like a power hitter. But Bourn has stolen at least 50 bases each of the past 2 seasons and may be the best defensive center fielder in baseball. Newcomer Clint Barmes is a bit of a wild card at shortstop but if he gets regular at-bats all year, certainly should hit 12-16 homeruns at least, leaving Keppinger as the lone option to try and upgrade in the power department. However, I don’t think it’s necessary. It helps, but it doesn’t have to be done.
Unless you have a chance to get a guy like Aaron Hill for a reasonable price, Keppinger absolutely deserves the starting second base job in 2011. Personally, I hope he gets it.