The Keppinger Conundrum


Jeff Keppinger saw a doctor today to fix seemingly the only break he can catch; one in his foot. Keppinger received a wonderful reward for this offseason for his breakout and career best effort in 2010; he was removed as Houston’s starting second baseman in favor of free agent acquisition and utility extraordinaire Bill Hall. Leading your team in average and OBP out of the #2 spot in the order only means so much. The move was somewhat inevitable as the team needed more power and with the hopes of the future pinned at the infield corners and behind the plate, the franchise in right field, the best defensive center fielder in baseball, and a contract the size of the moon in left, the middle infield was the only place left to go. So the question becomes whether the Astros are best served keeping Keppinger in a limited role or dealing him to a team in need of a consistent infielder.

Speculation circled most of the winter with rumors placing Keppinger with the Yankees among other teams. After all, you probably won’t find a more capable back-up who can play shortstop, second base, and the hot corner if he’s needed. Kep would certainly be an asset to any team with infield questions. And of the teams with the aforementioned question, Houston probably leads the way. Clint Barmes has exponentially more run producing potential than last year’s options Tommy Manzella and Angel Sanchez but he’s never spent an entire season as an everyday shortstop. Bill Hall also provides much more pop than the man he’s replacing at second but not nearly the on-base skills. Of the three aforementioned reserves Keppinger, Manzella, and Sanchez, Keppinger is by far the best offensive option. They’re all right handed along with the two starting middle infielders so there’s no platoon advantage to be had and all three backups play roughly the same above-average but not spectacular defense, certainly begging the question why Houston would deal Kep.

On the other hand, guess who the most expensive option of the three backup infield options is? Jeff Keppinger. At roughly $2,000,000 he becomes fairly expensive for a bench guy. Also, last year’s starting second baseman has by far the most trade value of the three even with a broken foot. But let’s stick with the cost issue. Each additional major league win costs about $3,000,000. In 2010, Keppinger made $1,150,000 and had a WAR of 2.5. So he made $460,000 per win. We won’t see this in 2011 as a substantial decrease in playing time will invariably limit his chances to build a high WAR. However, his chances at appearing a bargain over Tommy Manzella ($400,000, -1.5 WAR) and Angel Sanchez ($400,000, -.9 WAR) seems a foregone conclusion. Hopefully we see Jeff Keppinger spelling Clint Barmes and Bill Hall in 2011.