MLB Free Agency: Rays Complete Their Infield with Jeff Keppinger Signing

Jim WeihofenCorrespondent IJanuary 25, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 14: Jeff Keppinger #8 of the San Francisco Giants up to bat against the San Diego Padres at AT&T Park on September 14, 2011 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Tony Medina/Getty Images)
Tony Medina/Getty Images

In an effort to make a cost-efficent upgrade to his team, Rays GM Andrew Friedman is reportedly near a major league contract with Jeff Keppinger, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.

Keppinger, who will turn 32 in April, was exclusively a second baseman for the Astros and Giants in 2011, hitting a combined .277/.300/.377. Keppinger was non-tendered in December by the Giants, who instead kept Mike Fontenot to provide infield depth.

While primarily playing second base in his career, Keppinger has appeared in 178 games at shortstop throughout his seven season major league career and started at short in 157 of those games. Based on his career fielding percentage and range factor, Keppinger is a shortstop who makes nearly all the plays he gets to, but has average to below-average range.

Of course, Keppinger could always play second base and force Ben Zobrist over to short. Keppinger has roughly league average range at second base, but an above-average glove. This seems unlikely, though, since on their careers Keppinger has posted better defensive numbers at shortstop than Zobrist. However, Zobrist's first defensive appearances for the Rays were at shortstop.

Whatever combination Joe Maddon uses on the infield, he'll find a way to make it work. Keep in mind that this is the man who used five infielders during Game 3 of the 2008 World Series. If he has the pieces, he'll find a way to make it work.

Whatever combination Maddon goes with, Keppinger on the infield will be vastly more productive than the slated trio that would try and fill his role of Elliot Johnson, Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac. That trio combined in 2011 for a depressing .187/.263/.278 slash line.

No matter how he's used, Keppinger represents a clear, cost-efficient upgrade for the 2012 Rays.