San Francisco Giants Acquire Jeff Keppinger: Right Man, Right Price

MJ Kasprzak@BayAreaCheezhedSenior Writer IIJuly 21, 2011

Jeff Keppinger barely made it to AT&T Park before the game was over, but pinch-hit in the seventh
Jeff Keppinger barely made it to AT&T Park before the game was over, but pinch-hit in the seventhThearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Wednesday, the San Francisco Giants took a step in defending their World Series title.

No, it was not in completing the sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers. They lost the matinee game 1-0 because Clayton Kershaw was literally one pitch better than fellow All Star Tim Lincecum. Dioner Navarro put that one pitch in McCovey Cove to give the bad guys a 1-0 victory.

Instead, they did it by acquiring second baseman Jeff Keppinger from the Houston Astros. In return, they yielded two minor league pitchers, Jason Stoffer and Henry Sosa.

Stoffer was good enough to be invited to Giants spring training camp this spring. The right-handed reliever made 32 appearances and carried a 3.98 ERA in Double-A Richmond.

Sosa is also a right-hander, but primarily a starter at Richmond, where he had a 5-2 record and 2.68 ERA. He also pitched at the Triple-A level, going 3-1 with a 10.81 ERA in 17 appearances.

But unlike Stoffer who is a true prospect, Sosa has toiled in the minor leagues for eight seasons and not shown an ability to make it at the next level. His career has been marred with injuries, making him potentially damaged goods.

The Giants need for a hitter was made more specific when Miguel Tejada was added to the list of Bill Hall and Freddie Sanchez among middle infielders out with injury. At that point, General Manager Brian Sabean said he knew a change needed to be made.

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"Because, without being harsh, this group isn't getting it done," he said. That might seem harsh, but it was actually diplomatic: San Francisco is 14th in the National League in runs scored.

Keppinger might not be the splash guy that Jose Reyes or Carlos Beltran would have been, but he is the right player for the right price.

No matter how low the price, a trade for someone who does not contribute much would be meaningless. The Giants have a gaping hole at the top of their lineup and in the middle of the infield.

Keppinger answers both problems.

You can only squeeze so much offense out of Mark Fontenot, Brandon Crawford and Manny Burriss. They are fine depth guys who play their positions reasonably to quite well. But you need at least one player worthy of being in the every day lineup.

Keppinger is joining his fifth team in eight years because he is solid but not a star. He has a .284 lifetime average and is hitting .305 with four home runs and 20 RBI this season in just 44 games due to injury.

He has struggled with injuries throughout his career, playing in over 107 games just twice since entering the league. He posted a career-high 137 last season, and cannot match that this season.

But if he can stay healthy for 64 games (one of which is in the books with his flyout pinch-hit appearance today), he is capable of hitting at the top of the order.

He is ideally-suited for the second hole.

He is not a base-stealer, and he has just a .318 OBP—far too low for a leadoff hitter. He lacks the power to hit in the middle of the lineup, having never hit more than one home run per 15 games before doing so thus far this season (one per 11).

But he makes contact, never getting more than 36 strikeouts in a season, and hits for average. That will move the Giants lead-off hitter up to scoring position, often without costing the team an out.

The Giants are not strong in the leadoff spot, but now they will be from the second through fifth spots.

Keppinger should be followed by Nate Schierholtz against right-handed pitching and either Aaron Rowand or Aubrey Huff if he returns to form against lefties. The other would follow Pablo Sandoval, the team's only great hitter.

Still, he makes the Giants lineup pretty deep considering the injuries. Cody Ross and possibly Brandon Belt (if Huff is unable to return to form) are productive players in the lineup.

That leaves them weak only at about one more spot in the order than most teams on the senior circuit. But they would be getting great defense from catcher Chris Stewart and shortstop Brandon Crawford, the most important two positions on the field, in exchange for about one hit per series fewer a piece compared to the league standard.

Pat Burrell or Rowand make decent pinch-hitting options, as would Belt or Huff. Make Fontenot, Eli Whiteside and Burriss make solid defensive replacements and capable emergency pinch-hitters for the numerous long and tight games the Giants play. Rowand, Fontenot and Burriss all make good pinch-running choices.

In other words, the Giants got enough to contend against the best teams because of their depth and pitching. They can just outlast you, and that is why they win at a two-to-one clip in both extra innings (10-5) and one-run games (26-13, some of which were extra innings as well) while being a .500 team in games with bigger margins.

They were able to accomplish that without not only Keppinger, but Panda and Torres missing as many of those games as Posey and Sanchez played. It should only improve the lineup to add another hitter qualified to be at the top of the lineup.

They are probably now as close to Philadelphia as they were last season...one player rising up like Cody Ross did in 2010 away from an upset.

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