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Late yesterday, reports circulated that free agent infielder Jeff Keppinger broke his fibula (the smaller lower leg bone) after tripping down the stairs at home. There were a number of teams in on him at the time, but the injury clouded the story a bit, even though he’s expected to be healed in time for Spring Training.

I started to type up a “Keppinger is injured, maybe the Cubs could view him as an undervalued asset now” post, but the evening ran late, and I saved it for today.

But someone beat me to the Keppinger punch. Namely: the Cubs.

This morning, Buster Olney tweeted that three teams had been “aggressive” on Keppinger before he broke his fibula: the Rays, the Diamondbacks, and the Cubs.

Assuming he’s healthy (or, even if he’s not, and the Cubs are looking to take a chance on him), Keppinger is an interesting fit for the Cubs. He could be the positional equivalent of a number of the Cubs’ pitching targets. That is to say, he could be rather flippable.

As a utility type who can play decently all over the infield (minus shortstop, at least since 2010), he would seem to have the most value on a contending team in need of a top bench player. But, with the Cubs, Keppinger could be in the mix to start at third base (neither the Diamondbacks nor the Rays appear to be in need of a starting third baseman or second baseman).

From there, perhaps he’s part of a surprisingly good Cubs team, or perhaps he plays well enough – and regularly enough – to become a nice trade chip at the deadline. At that point, he could fulfill his destiny as a great bench player on a contender, or even start if that team was trying to fill an injury-induced hole. If the Cubs had to pay a little more to sign him, everybody wins: he gets more money to be a “starter” with the Cubs, the Cubs get a possible trade chip, he gets the chance to head to a contender thereafter, and the receiving team gets their super utility player.

That all said, Keppinger is a tricky contract case, even if you ignore the injury. He’ll be 33 next year, and he’s coming off a career season with the Rays, in which he hit .325/.367/.439, and totaled 2.8 WAR. Obviously he and his agent will be pointing to those numbers when soliciting offers, but teams will probably point to his career .288/.337/.396 line (which still isn’t all that bad – it’s a career 97 OPS+), and his elevated .332 BABIP last year (for his career, it’s just .294, which suggests Keppinger was very lucky last year). Indeed, if you shave those 36 points off of his batting average, Keppinger’s career 2012 season becomes a .289/.331/.403 season, which is essentially right in line with his career numbers.

So, if you’re making Keppinger an offer, your best bet is to view him as a guy who’s future productivity is likely to be, at best, right around his career averages, with the possibility of a decline as he ages. In other words, he’s not a guy you offer three years and $15 million. Two years and $8 million? Maybe.

How does his injury impact things? Well, it could make pursuing teams a little more leery of giving him multiple years or a starting job. He’s expected to be recovered in time for Spring Training, and interested teams have access to his medical reports (Olney later added that he doesn’t expect the injury to deter teams in pursuing Keppinger). Perhaps the Cubs, offering the most guaranteed money on a one-year deal and a starting job at third base (just as an example), could now get him for just one year. That would certainly make him an intriguing flippable piece, even if he regresses to his career averages. (Just look at the return two months of Jeff Baker netted the Cubs.)

Would the Cubs guarantee him a starting job? Probably not. They would undoubtedly tell him that he’d be in the mix to start at third base – which is true, and he may not even get that much from another team. But Keppinger’s value, even to a team like the Cubs, is clearly highest when he’s in a utility role. He could arguably get the most at bats with the Cubs, though, depending on what happens with Luis Valbuena.

  • CubFan Paul

    in a weak market, Keppinger may push for a 3 year deal, knowing this is his last time to cash in

    but he may have to settle for a David Dejesus type deal, 2yrs w/ a Club option that has a healthy buyout

  • GDB

    Every time I hear a report of a team being aggressive in pursuing a player, I picture a crowd of officials waiting outside the player’s house, and when he tries to get to his car they all start pushing him around and shouting “sign the contract ya jerk”.

    I realise this doesn’t actually happen.

    • Spriggs

      Haha! I imagine the aggressor yelling and cussing at the player and his agent on the phone… then calling other teams to tell them to leave this player the **** alone, he’s ours!

  • Rizzo 44

    I love the move for Kep. If Barney was to be traded he could play 2B and would be a great bat at the bottom of the order. If the deal is for him to play 3B full time I’m not really sold on that deal. I think the Cubs need to make a trade for 3B and find someone with some power. I like the idea of a one year deal with an option for a total of 9M. 4M this year and 5M on the option. Maybe even a two year deal with an option like for say 13M total. 3.5M this year, 5M next year, and 4.5M option year.

    • Rizzo 44

      I would love a move.

  • Dustin

    Cubs to sign scott feldman

    • TonyP

      The Bizarro Kramer?? :-)

      • DarthHater

        Fargus!

    • North Side Irish

      He could be useful. Long reliever who wants to be a starter. He could fill in at #5 at the beginning of the year while they wait for Baker to be ready. But you have to hope he isn’t the last move the Cubs make for the rotation.

    • Rizzo 44

      His ERA is 4.81 lifetime, but thats in the AL so that will come down some in the NL I feel. I could see him around 3.80 in the NLC.

      • North Side Irish

        One year, $6M with $1M in incentives. Have to figure the plan is to give him a chance for some starts and then have him pitch for someone else in August.

  • Rich

    Fibula is a non weight bearing bone…sign him…he will be fine!

  • TonyP

    Blah I hate the rebuilding process and worrying about flippable pieces (not that I don’t understand that rebuilding the farm is needed, in one form or another).

    • wilbur

      Understand and in part agree on an emotional level.

      However, I suspect that even after the farm system is routinely producing an adequate number of potential major leaguers each year; in the new world that the Players Agreement has created this will be a tool that teams will use to acquire “extra” prospects and keep the minor league pipeline “loaded”. As is frequently mentioned here, you never can be sure your “valued” prospects are the ones who will make it in MLB, and the best way to increase your odds of having young MLB talent is to increase the number of valued prospects.

  • João Lucas

    Is it safe to assume now the Cubs don’t plan to bring Stewart back? I can’t see them signing Keppinger and keeping Stewart at the same time.

  • Shortcircuit

    Apparently the Cubs just signed Scott Feldman.
    http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2012/11/cubs-to-sign-scott-feldman.html

  • Bill

    I don’t mind Keppinger as a utility player or even at 2B, but he has no power for a 3B. If you exclude his very lucky season last year, his offensive numbers look very Barneyesque. Not excited about him if he’s supposed to be the starter.

  • http://bleachernation.com lou brock lives

    If I remember correctly Keppinger has a very high lifetime average with some power in his games at Wrigley when he was on the Reds & Astros. He is another of those ” bridge ” players the Cubs need over the next few years as they await their future stars from our system. Consider Keppinger another player like David DeJesus who can keep us somewhat competitive & also might be flipped for a needed piece at the trade deadline or when one of our young players is ready to move up & take over 3B permanently.
    I would also try & sign Eric Chavez & use him in a similar role as Keppinger. He could also provide some power on those days when the wind is blowing out. Tell Stewart to go back to Colorado for all I care.

    • ssckelley

      Chavez yes, Keppinger no. The Cubs have got to stop going after bottom of the lineup type of hitters. The Cubs need more run producers either with power or speed.

  • sclem21

    Nitpicking here…but not sure where the ‘diamondbacks dont appear to want/need a 3B’ comes from. Everything I’ve read this off-season says they want to shore up the hot corner via free agency. I figured they’d go in house with Matt Davidson but I guess he isnt quite ready.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Chris Johnson, whom they picked up from the Astros mid-season last year, put up an .824 OPS in his time in Arizona. Seems like he’s a good bet to start at third next year.

  • http://www.backingthepack.com Rynomite

    Keppinger has INSANE career splits: .269/.321/.358/.680 against RHP and .333/.376/.487/.864 against LHP.

    Unfortunately, Valbuena has crazy reverse platoon splits, so a platoon would not make any sense.

    Keppinger would make a great signing though, for the reason you mentioned. Look what Baker netted in trade. But anything more than 2 years/6 million is too long and/or too much.

  • ReiCow

    Keppinger could fulfill his destiny and take his father’s place at Emperor Selig’s side?

    Moo.

  • Tommy

    Seeya Ian Stewart!

  • Spencer

    Pretty sure an injury makes players MORE likely to sign with the Cubs.

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