Mike Fontenot agrees to one-year deal with the Giants

According to Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB Trade Rumors, Mike Fontenot and the Giants have agreed to a one-year deal for 2012. This almost certainly guarantees that Jeff Keppinger will be non-tendered, as Brian Sabean had said that it would be one or the other. The Giants definitely made the right decision here: Fontenot is a solid defender at second, and he can play a passable third base/shortstop. His bat, though not particularly special, is pretty useful as well: he’s hit .263/.332/.406 (91 wRC+) over his career, and is coming off a decent season at the plate (.227/.304/.377, 87 wRC+). It might not seem like much, but he was worth one win above replacement in 85 games this year. Not bad for a bench guy. Additionally, as a left-handed hitter, he seems to complement Freddy Sanchez pretty well. Keppinger just wasn’t a good fit.

UPDATE: Confirmation — Fontenot has agreed to a one-year deal; Jeff Keppinger and Eli Whiteside have been non-tendered. The deal is for $1.05MM — very reasonable, and slightly less than I had anticipated.

The Non-Tender Deadline

So this is the Giants’ offseason. The biggest remaining decision, Mike Fontenot or Jeff Keppinger, will be made today. And after today, the roster — give or take a spring training invitee — will just about be set.

No Jimmy Rollins. No Jose Reyes. No Carlos Beltran. Not even a Rafael Furcal.

In an effort to keep payroll down, the Giants are going the “Law of Averages” route; they’re depending on fewer injuries, better offensive performance, and more situational luck. To an extent, this makes a lot of sense. There’s really no telling what Buster Posey will look like next season, or how many games Freddy Sanchez will play, or if one of the Giants’ frontline starters will finally go down. But I suppose it’s fair to assume the Giants will be healthier in 2012, if only because the injury toll seemed so abnormally high in 2011.

And the hitting, well, it can’t get any worse. …wait, it can? Oh god.

In any event, the team posted a .561 OPS with two outs and runners in scoring position. That’s 30% worse than those hitters did overall (70 tOPS+), and it’s thus a figure that’s bound to go up. As bad as the hitting was, they’re certainly due for a healthier dose of situational luck.

So a little luck in those departments, and maybe the Giants are in business. Maybe.

They missed out on Willie Bloomquist (hooray!), but in Emmanuel Burriss, they’ve got someone equally terrible. Buster Posey, coming off that season-ending injury, will be (presumably) backed up by Chris Stewart. And Brett Pill will probably be getting at-bats at the major-league level in April. That’s a thin bench. Scary thin.

The fact that it’s gotten to this point — where Jeff Keppinger v. Mike Fontenot is such an important decision for the organization, speaks volumes about the Giants’ offseason. The team scored 570 runs in 2011, but they have done little to improve upon that. It’s neither an expensive strategy nor a sound one. And it guarantees that 2012 is going to be a loooong season.

As for today, hopefully the Giants make the right decision. Keppinger is a singles hitter, and that’s about all he does. No walks, no strikeouts, no homers. He’s basically bizarro Pat Burrell. He’s not useless with the bat, and he can hit southpaws pretty well…but he only profiles as a second baseman, and it’s not a position he plays very well. Give me Fontenot.

Now, how many days until pitchers and catchers report?

Giants Rumors: Hiroyuki Nakajima, Cody Ross, Carlos Beltran

Very busy day for rumors. Here’s the latest on Hiroyuki Nakajima, Cody Ross, Carlos Beltran, and more:

Looking at A Potential Platoon SS Option

The Giants have had an interesting offseason, starting with committing $9.25 Million to two relievers despite having pressing needs at SS, back up catcher, and a corner Outfield spot. This likely means that the Giants will have the cut costs at one of these positions and perhaps more. Given that the Giants seem somewhat comfortable with Brandon Crawford at SS, they could look go dumpster diving to look for a cheap insurance/complementary plan. One way they could do that is with Ryan Theriot.

Theriot isn’t great offensively or defensively. Offensively he comes from the Jeff Keppinger school of not striking out but also not walking or hitting for power. Defensively, both DRS and UZR have him at about five runs below average at SS. He is also a non-tender candidate and was replaced by Rafael Furcal after an August trade. Cardinals GM John Mozeliak recently said that he “…would have no problem with [Tyler Greene] and Descalso as our middle infield.” So given that Theriot was replaced on a championship team and could be non tendered why would the Giants want him? Well for one, he’s a veteran and there is a familiarity factor. Is that a good reason? not necessarily but I do think it plays a role, especially with the Giants management. Secondly, he looks like he could be a solid part of a platoon. In 835 PA’s against Left-handed pitching Theriot has hit .301/.373/.401, whereas he has hit just .276/.334/.337 against righthanders.  Given his defensive limitations a platoon with him and Brandon Crawford could be appealing, as Theriot could play the 1st 6 innings against a LHP and Crawford could come in as a defensive sub and either replace Theriot or Theriot could shift to 2nd base where he is better suited.

While Theriot is not a glamorous option, or even an appealing one, he is also not Yuniesky Betancourt, which should count for something. And given that other mid level SS targets, like Clint Barmes are getting a lot of attention and will likely get a 2 or 3 year deal, a Theriot/Crawford platoon could be a cheap, moderately effective way to go.

 

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.