Garfien on Keppinger addition
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Life is all about timing.
New Chicago White Sox third baseman Jeff Keppinger was probably thinking that when he broke a bone in right leg tripping down some stairs at his home in November.
Keppinger was a free agent, coming off a huge season with the Tampa Bay Rays in which he batted .325, a career-high.
He was expected to cash in. But would he?
Fortunately, the break in Keppinger’s leg was a small one in the calf area. Also, the market for third basemen this off-season was somewhere between scorching and sizzling hot.
Despite being a 32-year-old utility player, and having more career starts at second base and shortstop than third base, Keppinger had his pick of destinations.
He ended up signing a 3-year, $12 million contract with the White Sox.
“I like the city. I like the team that they had, and I thought that I could be a good piece to the team if I came aboard,” Keppinger said in an interview on Wednesday.
Oh, and there’s one more reason he signed with the White Sox.
“They came at me with a deal that I couldn’t refuse,” he said smiling.
Two-and-a-half months after suffering that broken fibula, Keppinger is on schedule to be ready for Opening Day. Wednesday, he took grounders at third base. He also took swings in the cage from his new manager, Robin Ventura. It was the first time the two had really spoken to each other.
How did the introduction go?
“I talked to [Robin] about trying to hit him when he was throwing batting practice trying to hit the ball right back at him.”
Last year, this kind of mentality was missing from the White Sox offense. Many times instead of shooting the ball up the middle, hitters tried pulling the ball to left or right field, hoping to get runs back with one swing of the bat.
Keppinger’s approach is exactly the opposite. He’s known as one of the best contact hitters in the game, which is the main reason why general manager Rick Hahn was in such hot pursuit to sign him.
In 2,459 career at-bats, Keppinger has a grand total of 173 strikeouts. By comparison, Adam Dunn struck out 222 times last season in only 539 at-bats.
Keppinger also has a career batting average of .333 as a pinch-hitter. When was the last time the White Sox had a consistently dependable bat off the bench in crunch time?
Frankly, there aren’t many players like Keppinger in the game. Just ask Rays manager Joe Maddon, who had the 6-foot, 185-pound Keppinger start at DH and bat cleanup on Opening Day last season against the Yankees CC Sabathia.
“Those are two spots I never thought I would ever be in my career,” Keppinger said laughing. “But [the Rays] showed me that right away on Opening Day, so from that point on I knew they had my back and they were comfortable with what I could do with the bat.”
Keppinger went 2-for-3 against Sabathia that day. He ended the season batting .302 against righties and .376 against lefties.
And although the career utility player is expected to get most of his starts at third base, it’s the position where he feels the most at ease.
“I’m actually really comfortable over there,” Keppinger said. “I mean, you don’t need to move around as much as you do at second base or any of the other positions. Basically, it’s just hands, and baseball-wise I’m a handsy player so it kind of fits me good.”
The White Sox feel the same way.