Astros manager Brad Mills is being non-committal about whether Jeff Keppinger has taken the second base job from Kaz Matsui, but it certainly seems like Matsui is now the backup.
Mills was asked if Matsui is now the utility guy: “I
don’t want to label it that way yet. We’re still just a dozen games into
the season. Let’s wait and see how everything plays out. I’m congnizant
to get (Matsui) out there and get him on a roll. It’s tough, but it’s
tough to not get the other guy (Keppinger) out there.”
The “other guy” is hitting .371/.450/.486. He and Michael Bourn are the only two Astros even pretending to hit, so it makes sense that Keppinger continues to get playing time.
Still, the more playing time Keppinger gets, the more he’ll start to look like what Kaz Matsui will give the Astros with more playing time himself. Ask the Reds who, after Keppinger had a fairly spectacular 267 at bats in 2007, tried to make him into a full time player the following year. The results: .266/.310/.346. Some of that was no doubt due to a knee injury he got in May of that year, but a lot of it was simply a function of him being exposed as something less than a full time player.
Keppinger more or less kills lefties, but if you give the guy 500 plate appearances, he’s not going to do much more for you than Matsui is going to do. In light of that it makes sense for Mills not to make some big announcement regarding who the starting second baseman is, play the hot hand and enjoy Keppinger’s production while it lasts.
On Sunday, we heard from former Ray and current Giants third baseman Evan Longoria. The Rays recently traded pitcher Jake Odorizzi to the Twins for a prospect and designated All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense outside of a cost-cutting perspective. Longoria said, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”
Today, we’re hearing from a current Ray: center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who is set to enter his fifth full season with the club. Via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, Kiermaier said, “I am 100 percent frustrated and very upset with the moves. No beating around the bush. It’s one of those things that makes you scratch your head, you don’t know the reasoning why. And then you see the team’s explanation and still it’s just like, okay, well, so be it.”
Longoria — formerly the face of the franchise — was traded to the Giants in December and the Rays continued to subtract with their recent moves involving Odorizzi and Dickerson. Odorizzi has a career 3.83 ERA in what has been a solid, if unspectacular, career. Dickerson put up an All-Star season, posting an .815 OPS with 27 home runs in 150 games. Moving either player was not done to fix a positional log jam. In fact, with Odorizzi out of the picture, the Rays are planning to use a four-man starting rotation for the first six-plus weeks of the season, Topkin reported on Sunday. Dickerson’s ouster simply opens the door for Mallex Smith, who posted a .684 OPS last year, to start every day in the outfield.
The Rays got markedly worse after going 80-82 last season. They saved a few million bucks jettisoning Odorizzi and Dickerson. And Rays ownership still wants the public to foot most of the bill for their new stadium.
When it was just one small market team pinching pennies, it was fine. But now that more than half of the league has adopted penny-pinching principles popularized by Moneyball and Sabermetrics (with the Rays among the chief offenders), the game of baseball has become markedly less fan- and player-friendly. This offseason has been less about players signing contracts and changing teams in trades — which helps build excitement and intrigue for the coming year — and more about front offices doing math problems concerning the $197 million competitive balance tax threshold and other self-imposed monetary restraints. Fun. Kiermaier is right to be upset and he’s very likely not alone in feeling that way.