Looking to sure up an area of weakness – the middle infield – the San Francisco Giants acquired Jeff Keppinger from the Houston Astros for a pair of minor league arms. For the Astros, selling a piece like Keppinger makes sense even if the return – or in this case returns – never pan out. I will not pretend to know much about Henry Sosa and Jason Stoffel; however, getting two live arms in a system void of many prospects in exchange for a player who does not have much a future in the organization is a worthwhile gamble regardless of the outcome.
For San Francisco, Keppinger represents an immediate offensive upgrade at both positions up the middle. With Freddy Sanchez nursing a shoulder injury, the bulk of his immediate playing time should come at second base. That said, Miguel Tejada – the owner of a .260 wOBA – does not have an iron grip on the shortstop position and is listed as day-to-day with a lower abdominal strain. Brandon Crawford and Mike Fontenot have also filled in along the middle infield, but neither player projects to hit moving forward nor have they produced much at the dish to date.
Keppinger is not to be confused for an offensive dynamo; however, his career slash line of .284/.337/.395 offers at least average production at positions where the Giants rank near the bottom of the National League. Shortstops for the Giants have just a .270 wOBA this year while the keystone collective comes in at a combined .289 wOBA. Sandwiched around a stint on the disabled list, Keppinger is hitting .307/.320/.436 with a .326 wOBA in 170 plate appearances.
Thanks to a paltry 2.4% walk rate, the bulk of Keppinger’s value lies in his batting average. Without much power – especially moving out West to San Francisco – that batting average is largely empty. Meanwhile, much of the at-bats from the Giants’ middle infielders have been rather hollow this season. Even with the change in venue, Keppinger should maintain a .290-.300 average and may find a few gaps in the Bay area.
Along with the pair of arms headed to Houston, San Francisco will pick up Keppinger’s modest salary going forward which looks to be right around $1 million. They also reserve his rights for next season when he will be arbitration eligible for the final time. With a league average stick, decent base running, and defense that will not kill you, but is not very good, Keppinger could be worth a win headed down the stretch depending on playing time and position.
The trade for Keppinger will not put the Giants over the top, but they are adding a useful piece of the roster for a minimal cost in terms of dollars and spare parts in terms of talent. Similar to Juan Uribe last season, even if Keppinger does not lock down a starting gig right away, his positional flexibility as well as his consistent numbers at the plate give Bruce Bochy some roster flexibility as well as a safeguard against injury, ineffectiveness, or both along the middle infield.