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.

Royals sign Michael Saunders to a minor-league deal

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Free agent outfielder Michael Saunders has agreed to a minor-league contract with the Royals, the team announced Friday. While the move comes just two days after Saunders agreed to terms with the Pirates, he allegedly asked for his release after the club acquired outfielder Corey Dickerson in a multi-player swap with the Rays on Thursday. MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan adds that Saunders will make $1.5 million upon reaching the majors, with a potential $500,000 in bonuses.

After earning his first spot on an All-Star team in 2016, Saunders followed up a solid campaign with a career-worst performance in 2017. The 31-year-old split the season between the Phillies and Blue Jays’ camps, batting a combined .202/.256/.344 with six home runs and -0.7 fWAR in 234 plate appearances. Although he remained healthy throughout the year, with no sign of the lingering hamstring strain that has plagued him on and off since 2013, he wasn’t productive enough to merit a full-time role on either roster.

With Dickerson slated for a starting role in Pittsburgh, it was unlikely that Saunders would have commanded anything other than a backup role in 2018. Now, however, he’ll compete for playing time amid a slew of outfield options, including Alex Gordon, Cody Asche, Jorge Bonifacio, Tyler Collins and Paulo Orlando.