Jeff Keppinger

Jeff Keppinger for $12 million is a bit of a reach

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Obviously, it’s a good idea not to give three-year contracts to part-time players unless you have to. Unfortunately, in this winter’s free agent market, the White Sox felt they had to. Jeff Keppinger probably had multiple teams interested in him at $8 million for two years, so the first team to go to $12 million for three was the one that got him.

In Keppinger, the White Sox are getting an infielder who provides most of his value as a starter against lefties. He’s a lifetime .269/.321/.358 hitter against righties, and he doesn’t make up for it with his glove, which is poor at second and probably a bit below average at third.

Keppinger’s list of comparables doesn’t make him look like a very good bet as he heads into his age-33 season. Keppinger hit .296/.341/.402 with 21 homers and five steals from ages 30-32. I found nine other second and/or third basemen who posted OPSs from .720-.770, hit fewer than 40 homers and stole fewer than 20 bases from ages 30-32. Here’s how they performed from 33 onward:

Steve Buechele: .177/.262/.215, 29 OPS+ in 130 AB
Jamey Carroll: .274/.353/.333, 89 OPS+ in 2,162 AB
Mike Gallego: .225/.299/.292, 59 OPS+ in 612 AB
Vance Law: .209/.303/.276, 66 OPS+ in 134 AB
Dave Magadan: .280/.382/.372, 101 OPS+ in 1,057 AB
Joe Randa: .282/.339/.432, 100 OPS+ in 1,748 AB
Johnny Ray: .277/.308/.371, 92 OPS+ in 404 AB
Denny Walling: .252/.320/.355, 88 OPS+ in 812 AB
Joel Youngblood: .252/.323/.353, 92 OPS+ in 842 AB

Carroll, of course, is still going.

Magadan would seem to be a nice comp for Keppinger, but he was the far better hitter (he was also left-handed). Magadan had a career 116 OPS+ prior to turning 33, whereas Keppinger is at 97. Randa had more power than Keppinger, but he’s the best hope for the White Sox here, as he was a better old player than a young one.

Buechele and Ray only made it to 33. Law actually went to Japan for his age-33 season before coming back and playing one more year in MLB.

While Keppinger is a useful player, he’s a worse bet than he was a year ago, when he was also a free agent (he was non-tendered by the Giants) and when the White Sox had no interest in him.  The White Sox already had a right-handed hitting third baseman in Brent Morel who may well prove to be the better player once defense is factored in. I realize funds are limited, but I think the White Sox would have been better off trading Gavin Floyd or Matt Thornton to free up money for a bigger offensive upgrade than they were giving Keppinger $4 million for each of the next three seasons.

The Chicago Cubs: Spring training games, regular season prices

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Craig Calcaterra
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MESA, AZ — I’ve been covering spring training for eight years, and in just those eight years a lot has changed in the Cactus and Grapefruit League experiences. The parks are bigger and fancier and the vibe is far more akin to a regular season major league one than the intimate and laid back atmosphere most people think of when they picture February and March baseball.

Just imagine, however, how much has changed if you’ve been coming to Florida or Arizona for a really long time.

“When we first started coming, you could bring your own beer in,” says Don Harper, a lifelong Cubs fan from Kennewick, Washington who spends his winters in Arizona. “You couldn’t bring a cooler, but you could bring a case of beer and a bag of ice and you just set it down in between you and you just put the ice on it and keep it cold.”

I asked Don if the beer vendors complained.

“They didn’t sell beer,” he said.

That was three decades and two ballparks ago. They certainly sell beer at the Cubs’ gleaming new facility, Sloan Park. Cups of the stuff cost more than a couple of cases did back when Don first started coming to spring training.

The price of beer is not the only thing that has changed, of course. The price of tickets is not what it used to be either. Don told me that when he started coming to Cubs spring training games tickets ran about seven dollars. If that. It’s a bit pricer now. Face value for a single lawn ticket, where you’ll be sitting on a blanker on the outfield berm — can be as high as $47 depending on the day of the week and the opponent. Infield box seats run as high as $85.

The thing is, though, you’re not getting face value seats for Cubs spring training games. Half of the home games sold out within a week of tickets going on sale in January. Since then just about every other game has sold out or soon will. That will force you to get tickets on the secondary market. According to TickPick, the average — average! — Cubs spring training ticket on the secondary market is $106.30. For a single ticket. It’s easily the highest price for spring training tickets in all of baseball, and is $26 higher than secondary market tickets for the next highest team, the Red Sox:

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That may be shocking or even appalling to some, but as the automatic sellouts at Sloan Park and those high secondary market prices suggest, there are at least 15,000 people or so for each Cubs home game who don’t seem to mind. Supply meet demand meet the defending World Series champions.

I spoke with two younger Cubs fans, Corey Hayden and Eleanor Meloul, who traveled here from Salt Lake City. On Sunday they lucked out and got a couple of lawn seats for $28. On Saturday, however, they paid $100 a piece on StubHub to get some seats just beyond third base. I asked them if there is some price point that would keep them from coming.

“There isn’t one,” Hayden said. “I paid $4,500 for a World Series ticket, so . . .”

Don Harper wouldn’t do that, but he doesn’t really mind the higher prices he’s paying for his spring tickets. Of course, he’s a longtime season ticket holder so he gets access to the face value seats. I asked him whether his spring training habit would end if those prices got jacked up higher, as the market would seem to bear, or if he had to resort to the secondary market.

Don paused and sighed, suggesting it was a tough question. As he considered it, I put a hard number on it, asking him if he’d still go if he had to pay $50 per ticket. “Yeah, probably,” he said. “$75?” I asked. He paused again.

“As long as I got enough money.”

Don is a diehard who, one senses, will always find a way to make it work. Corey spent a wad of cash on that once-in-a-lifetime World Series ticket, but he and Eleanor seem content to bargain hunt for the most part and splurge strategically. If you’re a Cubs fan — and if you’re not rich — that’s what you’ll have to do. The ticket it just too hot.

Mets leaning on Jay Bruce, Neil Walker as Lucas Duda insurance

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 12:  Pinch hitter Lucas Duda #21 of the New York Mets walks back to the dugout after striking out for the first out of the ninth inning against Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on May 12, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  The Dodgers won 5-0.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
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The Mets have begun working outfielder Jay Bruce and second baseman Neil Walker at first base as potential insurance in the event Lucas Duda continues to experience back discomfort, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports. Duda has been sidelined recently due to back spasms and missed all but 47 games last season as a result of a stress fracture in his lower back.

Manager Terry Collins spoke about Bruce’s work at first base on Sunday, saying, “I liked everything I saw today. “It looks like he’s got the athleticism, he’s got the hands, he’s got the arm angle. He made some throws in our drills that you wouldn’t expect an outfielder to be able to make, but yet he does. If that’s where we have to go, I think we’ll be fine.”

Bruce has only three games’ worth of experience at first base at the major league level, but still has high expectations for himself. He said, “I am going to work at it. I want to give myself a chance and the team a chance. I am not going to go over there and be a butcher. It’s just not the way I go about my business on the baseball field and it wouldn’t be fair to the team if I wasn’t capable to do it, so I am going to work at it and we’ll see what happens.”

The Mets made Bruce available via trade over the offseason but didn’t get an offer that whet their appetite. As a result, Michael Conforto appears to be the odd man out in the Mets’ crowded outfield.