Arbitration Eligible: Jeff Keppinger

Yesterday, I looked at Mike Fontenot, who’s entering his third year of arbitration eligibility this offseason. Now we’ll examine Jeff Keppinger – one of a few Giants infielders up for arbitration this year. Like Fontenot, Keppinger is up for his third year of arbitration eligibility (though this is also Keppinger’s final year; Fontenot, on the other hand, is a Super Two). Oddly enough, the two have been similarly productive at the plate over their careers (both share a 92 OPS+).

In any event, Keppinger was acquired midseason in exchange for Henry Sosa and Jason Stoffel, and while the Giants didn’t give up a whole lot in the trade, the move didn’t exactly pan out. Keppinger, who lacks both patience and power at the plate, hit .255/.285/.333 in 230 plate appearances with the Giants (56 games), and .277/.300/.377 on the season as a whole. His hitting was quite underwhelming, and his defense was just as bad. He showed an incredible lack of range at second base in those 56 games, and actually managed a major-league worst -12 defensive runs saved in 791 innings in 2011.

Keppinger made $1.15MM a couple offseasons ago, and that amount doubled in his second go-around of arb-eligiblity. He’s set to again earn a pay increase — he’ll probably make nearly $3MM — which makes him a legitimate non-tender candidate; Brian Sabean has even referred to Keppinger as “maybe a luxury item.” Given that he’s not much of a hitter — the prototypical empty batting average guy — and that he’s not versatile defensively (even his defense at second base leaves a lot to be desired), the Giants are probably best off non-tendering him. Or there’s another option…

Middle infielders are getting paid this offseason — guys like Mark Ellis, John McDonald, Aaron Hill, etc. are signing for good money. As Josh has speculated, the way the market’s shaping up, the Giants might be able to trade Keppinger for a decent return. As a high-contact hitter — career 6.2% K rate — it’s easy to see how he could generate some interest on the trade market.

Anyway, Keppinger’s not really a good fit for the 2012 San Francisco Giants (even as Freddy Sanchez insurance), and whether it’s via trade or non-tender, the organization should part ways with him.