September 18, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Jeff Keppinger (7) hits a single in the eighth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field. Boston Red Sox defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 7-5. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Should Mets Pursue Jeff Keppinger?

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OK, I know what you’re thinking; this should not be a priority for the off-season. The Mets already have Daniel Murphy slotted at second base, and unless they trade him away, they don’t need someone else to play that position. Even if New York kept Murph on their roster, Jeff Keppinger doesn’t hit home runs (9 HR in ’12, 41 HR in 8 year career). However, I’ve seen Amazin’ Avenue talk about him quite a bit, and it finally spurred me to do some digging on my own. So, why could acquiring the former Tampa Bay Ray make any sense?

Keppinger will be one of the few productive players from 2012 that the Mets will reportedly be able to afford. Keppinger will be turning 33 in April, and he was third-year arbitration eligible last winter, coming off a one-year/$1.53 million deal. Considering his .325/.367/.439 line, the Rays received a lot of bang for their buck. While he did overachieve this year, he is more than capable with the bat, sporting a career line of .288/.337/.396. Also, he’s a right-handed hitter that has historically killed lefties (.333/.376/.487 in 718 career at-bats), which would justify Sandy Alderson going after a lefty like Alex Gordon with more gusto, if he’s even still available.

Defensively speaking, Keppinger actually split time between three positions in 2012, playing 27 games at both second base and first base, and playing 50 games at third base, filling in for the injured Evan Longoria. So, he acted as a super-sub, and when his bat got hot, Tampa manager Joe Maddon was able to find a way to keep him in the lineup. Having a guy like him on the roster would give Terry Collins some flexibility; Keppinger has spent most of his time in the Big Leagues as a second baseman (307 games played), which could free up Daniel Murphy to be that super-sub that some people feel he’s better suited for with the Mets. Or, if Murphy takes the starting job again heading into 2013, Keppinger would take Ronny Cedeno‘s place on the roster, while being more effective.

There has been some chatter about free-agent and recent World Series hero Marco Scutaro (.306/.348/.405 with 7 HR, 74 RBI, 87 runs scored) being a fit for the Mets. While he absolutely would be, there has already been talk about mutual interest between Scutaro and the Giants to sign a new deal. The former Met just finished a three-year/$17 million deal, and now that he’s coming off a year in which he hit .360 down the stretch for San Francisco, was named NLCS MVP, and got the game-winning hit in Game 4 to clinch the World Series, his value is the highest it’s ever been, and it wouldn’t make sense to pursue him.

Signing Keppinger would not only give Collins flexibility during the season if Murphy is still around, but it would then give Sandy Alderson the option to deal him this winter; there has been some interest in Murph, as the Padres were pursuing him during the 2012 regular season. Despite a lack of power this year compared to previous years, he still put together the best full season of his career. The second baseman adjusted to his new position quite nicely and put together a .291/.332/.403 line with 6 homers, 65 RBI, and 40 doubles in 156 games played and 571 at-bats. Although that may not bring back a legit outfield bat the Mets desperately need, it could give the Amazins another shot at acquiring some young arms to help rebuild the bullpen, maybe more than one if he’s coupled with a young starting pitcher.

Alderson has said numerous times he won’t be making big acquisitions through free agency, and is unlikely to sign 2013 free agents to a deal more than one year, which could be the biggest hump in considering Keppinger, who is entering the free agent market for the first time. However, Sandy should consider pursuing him and offering either a one-year deal with an option for 2014, or a two-year deal because it will help the Mets build toward the future. I’m sure a lot of us are in agreement that Murphy isn’t the future at second base; he’s a great guy, even better player to have on the team, but he doesn’t fit the organization’s needs for the long term.

So, it’s a better idea to deal Murphy now, while his market value is high, and bring in a veteran like Keppinger that can be a productive stop-gap between now and the future at the position. Some feel Jordany Valdespin (.241/.286/.424) is the future at second base, and this kind of move would allow him to earn his keep in the Big Leagues instead of being shipped back and forth between the Majors and Triple-A like last season. As long as Jordany learns some patience, which the 24-year-old prospect is more than capable of doing, he may very well be manning the position for the Mets very soon. Also, I would like to see Wilmer Flores (.300/.349/.479 in ’12 between A and AA) shift from third base to second base to see how the 21-year-old takes to the position.

Keppinger gives the Mets a lot of more opportunity and flexibility at the position than Murphy would, while allowing the front office to get some productive players via trade in return. Depending on how fast he develops, Valdespin could be a year away from being a full-time player in Flushing, while Flores could be two or three away. So, offering Keppinger something in the 1-2 year range could be the best of both worlds. Plus if Valdespin or Flores progresses quicker than anticipated, who wouldn’t want an affordable utility infielder that can hit in the middle of a pennant race?

What do you think; would signing Jeff Keppinger be a good idea for the Mets?

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