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.

Brandon Morrow shut down for the rest of the season

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Cubs closer Brandon Morrow has been out since the All-Star break with a bone bruise and biceps inflammation. In recent days there had been hope that he would be activated in the season’s final two weeks in order to be ready for the playoffs, but that’s not happening: Theo Epstein just said that Morrow is done for the season.

It’s not the first time good expectations for Morrow’s recovery were not met. When he was placed on the DL back in July manager Joe Maddon said he didn’t anticipate Morrow being on the DL for much more than the minimum 10 days. Two months later and here we are.

Morrow, 34, had an excellent season until the arm trouble started, saving 22 games with a 1.47 ERA and a 31/9 K/BB ratio in 30.2 innings. Once he went out the closer’s duties fell to Pedro Strop. Now Strop too is out for at least the rest of the regular season and likely more due to a hamstring strain he suffered last week while running the bases.

Bullpens become a lot more important in the postseason. The Cubs’ bullpen is becoming thinner.