Jeff Keppinger a smart pickup for thrifty Rays

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Counting on Carlos Pena, Matt Joyce and Luke Scott to fill key roles this year, the Rays had set themselves up to have huge problems against lefties in the bottom half of the order. That was alleviated somewhat today with the signing of Jeff Keppinger.

Of course, Keppinger doesn’t play the same position as any of those guys, but that’s where the Rays’ versatility and ability to adapt kicks in. Ben Zobrist was looking at a full-time role at second base this year. Now he’ll likely play right field and maybe some first base against lefties, with Keppinger taking his spot.

The Rays still have to decide how exactly they’re going to comprise their bench. Keppinger will get one spot and the backup catcher (currently either Jose Lobaton or Robinson Chirinos another). That leaves two places for infielders Reid Brignac and Elliot Johnson and outfielders Sam Fuld and Brandon Guyer. Brignac and Fuld are both left-handed hitters, which would seem to work against them here, but Fuld at least is probably going to have a job anyway.

My opinion is that the Rays should forget about Fuld and bring in a right-handed hitter (Conor Jackson?) to claim that spot. As is, they’re still looking at starting two from the group of Pena, Joyce and Scott against southpaws and that’s far from ideal. Pena hit .133/.260/.333 in 120 at-bats against lefties last season. Joyce came in at .217/.287/.370 in 92 at-bats. Scott, who missed much of the season with a shoulder injury, was at .167/.225/.556 in 36 at-bats.

Keppinger is an obvious upgrade from that group (he hit .290/.292/.484 in 93 at-bats against lefties last year and is at .324/.371/.481 for his career), and his arrival will also improve the defense a bit, not because he’s a better second baseman than Zobrist but because Zobrist is a terrific right fielder. For $1.525 million, he was an excellent find for one of the league’s brightest teams.

MLB executive: Bruce Maxwell’s kneeling may keep him from finding work, not his arrest

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In September 2017, former Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first major league player to kneel during the national anthem, joining the handfuls of NFL players who had been doing the same to protest police brutality and racial inequality. Maxwell’s effort was laudable, but he got into trouble a month later when he was arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and disorderly conduct. Maxwell allegedly pointed a gun at a food delivery person.

Maxwell, 27, played sparingly for the Athletics in 2018 and then was designated for assignment at the beginning of September. He officially became a free agent on November 2 and has had trouble finding work in the month-plus since.

Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Maxwell fired his agent, Matt Sosnick on Thursday because he’s still jobless. According to an unnamed MLB executive Slusser spoke to, “It’s the kneeling thing that might keep him from getting another job, not the arrest. Owners aren’t going to want to deal with that whole anthem issue.”

That makes a lot of since since abusive players haven’t had too much trouble finding new work otherwise. Addison Russell, Jeurys Familia, and José Reyes, among others have either stayed with their teams or quickly found new work. Given the relatively weak catching market, had Maxwell only had the assault charge, there is no doubt he would have been signed to be a backup catcher somewhere.

In the NFL, Colin Kaepernick — who popularized kneeling during the anthem — has remained unsigned even though teams have opted to sign and start clearly inferior quarterbacks like Mark Sanchez, Josh McCown, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jay Cutler, Matt Barkley, and Sam Bradford, among many others. Team owners tend to run conservative in terms of politics, so they may not like the protest to begin with, then there is the public blowback to signing such a player as those who dislike such protesting make up a slight majority in the U.S., according to various polls including one done by the Washington Post.

It’s worth noting that Maxwell has a career .240/.314/.347 triple-slash line in 412 plate appearances. We’re not talking about J.T. Realmuto or Buster Posey here. That being said, there have been 15 other catchers to have put up a lower aggregate OPS since 2016 (min. 400 PA). One of those players, Derek Norris (.600 OPS since 2016), signed a minor league contract with the Tigers just three months after being suspended by Major League Baseball for violating its domestic violence policy. Makes you think.