Yankees weighing Jeff Keppinger, Kevin Youkilis for third base

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While the Yankees have at least touched base with free agent Kevin Youkilis, Jeff Keppinger appears to be their primary target at the moment. Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan reports that the two sides met yesterday and that the Bombers’ interest in Keppinger is “very strong.”

Keppinger is the more realistic target, given that Youkilis is the top third baseman on the market and is drawing interest from wealthy Dodgers and Phillies teams that have full-time jobs open for him. Keppinger would likely be more open to serving as the stopgap at third base while Alex Rodriguez rehabs from hip surgery and then moving into more of a utility role. Keppinger, though, could command a two-year contract from another team, while the Yankees would much prefer to hand out a one-year deal.

The 32-year-old Keppinger is coming off a great season in which he hit .325/.367/.439 with nine homers and 40 RBI in 385 at-bats for the Rays. He’s a lifetime .288/.337/.396 hitter in 2,459 at-bats. He is much better against left-handers than right-handers, but that’s not such a bad thing in the lefty-heavy Yankee lineup.

Youkilis hit .235/.336/.409 with 19 homers and 60 RBI in 438 at-bats for the Red Sox and White Sox last season.

Update: FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal reports that the price for Keppinger is now $8 million for two years. That will give the Yankees pause, considering that their aim is to reduce payroll for 2014.

Diamondbacks, T.J. McFarland avoid arbitration

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Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY Sports reports that the Diamondbacks and reliever T.J. McFarland have avoided arbitration, agreeing on a $1.45 million salary for the 2019 season. McFarland, in his third of four years of arbitration eligibility, filed for $1.675 million while the Diamondbacks countered at $1.275 million. McFarland ended up settling for just under the midpoint of those two figures.

McFarland, 29, was terrific out of the bullpen for the D-Backs last season, finishing with a 2.00 ERA and a 42/22 K/BB ratio in 72 innings. While the lefty may not miss a lot of bats, he does induce quite a few grounders. His 67.9 percent ground ball rate last season was the third highest among relievers with at least 50 innings, trailing only Brad Ziegler (71.1%) and Scott Alexander (70.6%).

McFarland was dominant against left-handed hitters, limiting them to a .388 OPS last season, but the D-Backs deployed him nearly twice as often against right-handed hitters, who posted an aggregate .764 OPS against him. It will be interesting to see if the club decides to use him more as a platoon reliever in 2019.