The offseason and Spring Training leading up to the 2009 season wasn’t exactly spectacular for the Houston Astros. Ty Wigginton, the incumbent third baseman, was non-tendered. Coming into camp, the likeliest scenario for his replacement was a platoon of Geoff Blum and Aaron Boone.
The hole at catcher was plugged at Ivan Rodriguez, a move that left me largely unsatisfied, as I’ve talked about before. The fifth starter spot went from Brandon Backe to Russ Ortiz, which is a slight upwards move, but does not make up for the additional loss of Randy Wolf‘s 16.1 VORP went un-replaced, unless you count Mike Hampton‘s paltry 6.6.
When Boone left the team to have open heart surgery, it opened a big hole at third base. The options seemed to be to prematurely promote Christopher Johnson, or to go with Blum as the everyday option at third. Blum has value, but it’s largely as a utility infielder off the bench: A defensive third baseman who plays shortstop, second, and first, and provides a switch-hitting option off the bench.
Today, though, General Manager Ed Wade may well have redeemed his poor offseason by trading for the Cincinnati Reds’ Jeff Keppinger, primarily to play third base. A lot of fans won’t know much about Keppinger, who has only strung together 876 at-bats over periods of four seasons with the Reds, New York Mets, and Kansas City Royals. He’s a natural second baseman, but has gotten more time at shortstop in the majors than at any other position.
His career line is .287/.338/.390, which is not fantastic, but it does include time missed tending to – and recovering from – a fractured tibial plateau. In other words, the shin bone was broken at the knee, which is the same injury Jermaine Dye suffered once upon a time. His .322/.375/.423 line in the minors (including .338/.380/.432 in AAA action) gives him a lot of upside, despite the fact that he will turn 29 in April.
Should Johnson prove himself in Round Rock and merit a mid-season promotion, Keppinger becomes a great utility player off of the bench. And he was acquired for a PTBN or cash – far superior to a free agent signing, or spending a top-line prospect, who are preciously few in the Astros’ system.
Three available players interested me – Keppinger, Colorado’s Jeff Baker, and Florida’s Dallas McPherson – but I absolutely love this move. In fact, I would say it’s redemption for Wade’s otherwise-mediocre offseason.
PECOTA had Keppinger slotted at a VORP of 11.6, with just 457 plate appearances at three positions (as well as pinch-hitting). They have him slated for a .342 OBP. Keeping him at third and moving Blum to the bench gives a swing of 3.5-4.0 wins, by my estimation.
To me, this unsuspecting move – which won’t raise a lot of eyebrows among casual fans – is the single-most exciting news I’ve gotten all day. I love this move.