According to a tweet by ESPN's Jerry Crasnick, free agent infielder Jeff Keppinger has agreed to a one-year major league deal with the Rays pending a physical.
Tampa Bay Times Rays beat reporter Marc Topkin had reported earlier that a deal was forthcoming and this site reported last week that the Rays and Keppinger were talking.
A source that I talked to last week after discovering the tweet on Keppinger's Twitter account that helped break the story of the Rays interest in Keppinger on DraysBay.com (which interestingly has now vanished into thin air), told me that Rays' manager Joe Maddon had personally called the 31 year-old infielder to try and sell him on the team and that Keppinger would be used as a "situational hitter."
Considering that the Rays have several players (Matt Joyce, Carlos Pena, Luke Scott and Reid Brignac) with less than desirable splits against left-handed pitching, a role as a late-game pinch-hitter makes a lot of sense for Keppinger.
If the Rays are indeed looking for help against lefties, than Keppinger is a good choice. He sports a career .324/.371/.481/.852 line vs. southpaws.
Another attractive part of Keppinger's game is his ability to make consistent contact. In 2008 (19.1) and 2010 (14.3), Keppinger led Major League Baseball in Strikeout-to-at-bat ratio.
That coupled with his ability to hit left-handed pitching makes him an ideal candidate to pinch-hit in key situations late in the game. It also makes him an asset in spots that call for hit-and-runs, a play that is frequently called upon by Maddon.
Since the deal is reported to be a major league one, the Rays will need to remove another player from the 40 man roster. Elliot Johnson is a distinct possibility, as Keppinger's arrival doesn't improve the infielder's prospects of making the Rays' 25 man roster.
Keppinger has played multiple positions throughout his 7 year major league career, including second base, third base, shortstop and left and right field. This is no doubt an additional attraction to the Rays, who heavily favor positional flexibility when constructing a roster, largely due to the fact that the team normally carries 12 pitchers.
Most defensive metrics show that Keppinger is below average at all of those positions except for second base though and that is where he played exclusively last season with the Houston Astros and San Fransisco Giants.
In 2011 in 379 plate appearances split between the Astros and the Giants, Keppinger hit .277 and drove in 35 runs.
John Gregg is Publisher and Senior Editor of Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @RaysDigest. He can also be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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