It's been a weird, wild offseason for Jeff Keppinger. He was one of the few bright spots on a very dark 2010 Astros team, hitting .288/.351/.393 in 575 plate appearances after taking over as the starting second baseman in April. He led the team in doubles with 34. Only Chris Johnson had a higher batting average and only Lance Berkman had a higher on-base percentage, but neither guy had has many plate appearances as Kepp. In short, it was a career year for the 30-year old middle infielder.
So why were the Astros shopping him all offseason?
For one, players in their 30s who have career years at the plate don't tend to repeat the performance in the next year. Essentially, hoping that Keppinger would once again put up those numbers (which wouldn't be spectacular on a good team), is asking for trouble. Secondly, Kepp's defensive range was never great. Sure, he was steady enough with the glove to play short and was an upgrade over Matsui at second, but Keppinger will win no Gold Gloves at either position.
Then there's the little matter of money. Keppinger was once again going into an arbitration year. That's what got him traded to the Astros in the first place and why the team is shopping him now. Keppinger earned $1.15 million last year after striking a deal with the Astros to avoid arbitration. He's likely looking at a $2 to $3 million salary in 2011. For a part-time player, that's a little high. Add to that the Astros are trying to hold tight to a budget and just committed money to a new starter at second base in Bill Hall and...well, you can see where this is going.
I bring all this up because of the comments made by Astros general manager Ed Wade in regards to the news that Keppinger will undergo foot surgery to fix the injury that has sidelined him since the end of last season. The surgery will probably keep him out until May or possibly June. By that point, who knows what the Astros roster will look like. It's also unfortunate for all parties. This injury limits the Astros chances of trading Keppinger and getting something of value for him to restock the farm. It also hurts Keppinger from finding a team that will have a use for him. Most likely, the Astros will bring him back in May but may trade him shortly thereafter for pennies on the dollar.
It's rare that you find one story that tells you why something didn't happen in the offseason, but this is it. With all the talk of upgrading the middle infield, no mention of Keppinger was made. Maybe that's because the Astros were shopping him constantly or maybe they knew the injury was lingering. It's still nice to know the hand the Astros were dealt. Now, who takes Kepp's spot on the 25-man roster? Angel Sanchez? Tommy Manzella? Koby Clemens?