When Jeff Keppinger signed with the Tampa Bay Rays, he was exactly the type of free agent that the Rays and Andrew Friedman appear to prefer – a veteran who can play multiple positions that comes cheaply.He also shares another trait that appears common amongst players the Rays target – he has bounced around the majors a bit and seemed to be overlooked and underappreciated.
Signed to a one year, $1.525Million contract on January 27th, Keppinger has vastly outperformed expectations. Filling in at third, second, and first, he has posted a .331/.372/.444 batting line,while chipping in with eight home runs and fifteen doubles. Perhaps his most remarkable skill is his ability to put the bat on the ball. In his 391 plate appearances, he has walked 20 times, while striking out only 27 times.
Keppinger, true to his career norms, has been deadly against left handed pitching this season. In 118 plate appearances against lefties this season, he is hitting .376/.398/.505 with three home runs and five doubles. Even more impressively, Keppinger has struck out only five times against lefties all year.
Given his 2012 production, it is very likely that Keppinger is in line for a substantial hike in pay. Right now, he is projected to garner a two year deal between $3Million to $5Million a year, depending on whether or not he is considered strictly a platoon player. For someone who has performed as well as Keppinger has this season, that is quite a reasonable contract.
Should the market for Keppinger turn out as expected, he could end up back in Tampa. A contract of that size likely would not be a substantial drain on payroll, especially with other contracts, like Carlos Pena, coming off the books. Depending on how the Rays choose to attack the offseason, Keppinger could potentially return as the starter at either first or second base, allowing the Rays to spend money in other areas to help the 2013 squad.
With players like Pena and B.J. Upton potentially leaving after this season, Jeff Keppinger is the type of player that the Rays could look to resign. Even though it would not be a flashy move, bringing him back could pay off in the end.