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?

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.

Arbitration Eligible: Mike Fontenot

After hitting .227/.304/.377 in 252 plate appearances (85 games) this season, Mike Fontenot enters his third year of arbitration eligibility. Though the numbers — particularly the low batting average — don’t exactly jump off the page, he was quietly a solid producer at the plate. His walk rate (9.9%) was a notch above league average, and though he’s not much of a power hitter, he hit the ball with astonishing authority (44% of his hits going for extra bases). Despite missing 40+ games due to a groin strain and otherwise receiving limited playing time, Fontenot was good for roughly one win above replacement (by both rWAR and fWAR).

Oddly enough, Fontenot — primarily a second baseman — spent the majority of his time at shortstop this season. He’s nothing special defensively — whether at second, short, or third, but he did demonstrate that he’s serviceable at both middle-infield positions (and even third base in a grind). Going by FRAA, he’s mostly been an average defender over his career, and it’s reasonable to expect him to more-or-less provide that quality of fielding in the near future (though he’s clearly not an ideal defensive shortstop).

Fontenot signed a one-year $1MM deal in his first year of arbitration-eligibility, and signed for a nearly identical amount last season (one year, $1.05MM). This offseason, he projects to earn a slight increase, though he’ll still — in all likelihood — go for under $2MM. Beyond Brandon Crawford (not yet arb-eligible) and Freddy Sanchez (under contract for 2012), the Giants have little infield depth. As a left-handed hitter, Fontenot complements Sanchez (career .707 OPS v. RHPs) well, and his versatility makes him a useful bench guy.

Though the Giants are probably thinking about non-tendering him, it’s in their best interest to retain him — especially considering the cheap price tag. He’s hit .263/.332/.406 (92 wRC+) over his career, and that kind of production (particularly from a left-handed middle infielder like Fontenot) is inherently valuable.