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.

The Yankees and Red Sox will play on artificial turf in London

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Major League Baseball wants to give the United Kingdom a taste of America’s pastime when the Yankees and Red Sox visit next month. Based on the playing surface they’re going to use, however, they may as well have sent the Blue Jays and the Rays:

Major League Baseball has access to Olympic Stadium for 21 days before the games on June 29 and 30, the sport’s first regular-season contests in Europe, and just five days after to clear out. The league concluded that there was not enough time to install real grass.

Starting June 6, gravel will be placed over the covering protecting West Ham’s grass soccer pitch and the running track that is a legacy from the 2012 Olympics. The artificial turf baseball field, similar to modern surfaces used by a few big league clubs, will be installed atop that.

At least they will not use the old-style sliding pits/turf infield that you used to always see. That’ll all be dirt. There are comments in the article about how it’s a cost savings too since they’re going back next year and won’t have to bulldoze and re-grow grass. Aaron Boone and Xander Bogaerts were asked and they don’t seem to care since it’s similar to the surface they play on in Toronto or down in Florida against the Rays.

Still, this whole deal is not aimed at doing whatever is minimally necessary to pull off a ballgame. It’s supposed to be a showcase on a global stage in a world capital. I have no idea how anyone thinks that doing that on a surface everyone has decided is obsolete for baseball playing purposes unless the ballpark is either outdated or in an arid environment is a good idea.

It’s certainly not baseball putting its best foot forward. Major League Baseball could’ve avoided this by choosing a different venue or even building a temporary one like MLB has done on a few occasions in the past. That, I suppose, would limit the revenue-generation capacity of these games, however, that’s off the table in the Rob Manfred Era.

Yankees and Red Sox on turf. What a decision.