This has been a week full of Jeff Keppinger-related surprises. News about Keppinger’s fractured leg, suffered in a tumble at his home, surfaced on Monday. Tuesday’s shocker has the Rays pursuing the veteran infielder’s services.
The news is unexpected for two reasons. The first being that Keppinger, who turns 33 in April, is the kind of player the Rays usually avoid. Expecting Keppinger to sustain his career-best outputs last season seems foolish. Make no mistake about it: Keppinger is a talented hitter. His bat-to-ball skills might be the best in the league. But hitting .325 in the majors once is tough enough, and doing it consistently is a feat that requires great skill and luck. Keppinger is almost certain to fall back to earth next season, leaving the Rays in the unusual situation of paying for his regression.
Another reason Keppinger’s departure felt like a fait accompli is the weak third base market. Kevin Youkilis, a complete wild card at this point in his career, is the best option available. Heading into the winter, Keppinger seemed likely to land a starting gig by default. Yet the Rays entry into the bidding could mean one (or both) of two things: 1) Keppinger’s market is weaker than anticipated, and/or 2) his eagerness to return is stronger than anticipated.
Maicer Izturis, another high-contact utility infielder, received a three-year deal worth $9 million earlier in the offseason. Marco Scutaro, who also fits the profile, is reportedly looking for a multi-year deal as well. Giving Keppinger at least two seasons seems like a given, which makes the price tag more important. If the Rays come up short on re-signing Keppinger but still yearn for his skill set, they could turn to an alternative—like Ryan Theriot, who they had interest in signing last winter.
Reuniting with Keppinger would continue an odd theme for the Rays. So far, their two notable offseason moves have been of the internal nature: Signing Joel Peralta and re-signing Evan Longoria. It’s too early to know whether these are isolated incidents or the byproduct of the league-wide cash windfall.