COMMENTARY | How many of you thought the Chicago White Sox would make a huge splash at the MLB Winter Meetings? You figured they'd open the checkbook, reeling in Zack Greinke, Ryan Dempster, or maybe even Josh Hamilton.
That didn't happen. To be honest with you, hell would have frozen over before any of those names would have donned a Sox uniform in 2013. The big move made by the White Sox was reeling in utility guy Jeff Keppinger. Are those crickets I hear?
I'm not saying that Keppinger is a bad player. But, really, Jeff Keppinger? This will be the guy's seventh team since reaching the Bigs in 2004. To hear people say that this guy could be the main man at third makes me laugh, or possibly cry. According to retrosheet.org, he has played in over 130 games in only one season. That was back in 2010 when he hit .288 with six home runs and 59 RBIs for the Houston Astros. Don't think for an instant that those power numbers are an aberration. In his career, Keppinger has averaged just under seven round-trippers a year (the average skews upward since he hit nine in Tampa Bay in 2012). But, to me, he appears to be a guy who is acquired in a trade, not one who is courted and signed for $12 million over three years.
There has to be more to the guy, right? Not really; he has just one triple and four stolen bases over the past three seasons. Wait a minute, I found it: He doesn't strikeout much. Actually, he puts the ball in play quite well. In 2,459 at-bats, he has only fanned 173 times. That's striking out just once every 14.21 at-bats. But he'll be 32 on April 21, and that should be a concern for a team that is old to begin with.
Now, before you get up in my grill telling me how great Keppinger is, let me tell you that I think he will make a great utility man. The man can be put just about anywhere, having played every position in his career except center field, catcher and pitcher. I love the versatility but don't love that a lot of people think he is the guy to lead the Sox at third. You know who he reminds me of? Do you remember Dave Roberts, the super-utility man who signed a big free-agent deal with the Astros back in 1980? It only took him one season to wash out in Houston before he was sent packing to Philadelphia. I pray Keppinger's career in Chicago doesn't end like that.
I am sad the Sox didn't make a bigger play to bring back Kevin Youkilis. Youk was decent with the bat, hitting .236 with 15 bombs. He was stellar at third, committing just six errors in 78 games. But more than that, he was a leader in the clubhouse with the cache of two world titles. All the hope of him returning to the Sox ended when he signed a one-year deal with the New York Yankees worth $12 million. I said this at the end of last year and will say it again now: The Sox should have offered Youkilis two years at $14 million, with a option for a third year. Obviously, that didn't happen.
The one guy the Sox didn't have to make a deal for at the Winter Meetings was Brent Morel. Morel, who battled back injuries all of last year, is the wild card in this whole equation. According to Whitesox.com, Morel says his back is feeling great. Is it, though? Do any of you think he'd come out and say his back hurts? The situation reminds me of former Sox third baseman Joe Crede, who spouted the same thing years ago, and then ended his career after one miserable season in Minnesota.
I've dealt with Morel the past couple years, and there is not a more hard-working guy. If he is able to come back and reclaim third, I think he'll work hard. Yes, he had some offensive troubles, but, defensively, he is a vacuum at the hot corner.
Maybe there is more to come from the Sox brass. If not, I know I'll be hearing this at The Cell in '13: "Batting eighth for your White Sox, third baseman Jeff Keppinger."
Bill Mahoney is a freelance sports producer who has worked with the Chicago White Sox for the past 10 years.
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