By Michelle Dingley
It’s déjà vu all over again. The trade deadline is fast approaching, and the Giants are in need of a bat to help their anemic offense. It sounds a lot like 2010. Last season, Brian Sabean made a few small but key trades to keep us in contention, rather than getting one big bat. Fans seem to think this year will be different. We have to defend the title, and getting a slugger would definitely help.
In the past month, the rumor mill has gone crazy over Carlos Beltran. He flew to the All-Star Game on the same chartered plane as Bruce Bochy and the Giants, and you can bet they used that time to schmooze with the Mets’ outfielder. Brian Wilson put in a televised pitch to Beltran during the midsummer classic, practically asking him to sign the paperwork live on the air. It’s been reported that Beltran would waive his no-trade clause to join the defending World Champions. So it should be no surprise that the Giants have officially traded for … Jeff Keppinger.
Wait, who? Jeff Keppinger, formerly the Houston Astros’ second baseman, joins the Giants in exchange for two minor-league southpaws, Henry Sosa (who had just been promoted to AAA from AA) and Jason Stoffel (from AA). Keppinger also can be used as a utility player, as he has played short, third, first and outfield during his career. To clear roster space, Hector Sanchez was sent back down to Fresno.
Getting a second baseman from the Astros should sound awfully familiar. Within a day of Freddy Sanchez’s potential season-ending injury, former Astros’ second baseman Bill Hall was signed by the Giants. Unlike Keppinger, however, Hall was not traded but instead released by the team. The fact that Hall was not good enough for the Astros, statistically the worst team in baseball, did not bode well for his career in San Francisco. His career batting average is .248 with a .307 on-base percentage. In 46 games forHouston, he hit .224 with a .272 OBP. In his 16 games withSan Francisco, Hall hit only .158 with a .220 OBP. Manny Burriss has better numbers than that (.217/.268 OBP in 48 games).
Bill Hall’s problems haven’t ended at the plate. He has committed 6 errors in 197 total chances at second base this year (.970 fielding percentage), including 2 for San Francisco in only 29 TC (.931). In one game with the Giants, Hall has made a ridiculous baserunning error. When running from first on a potential double-play ball, Hall did not slide into second, instead running straight into the infielder. He was automatically out, and the opponents easily turned two. There is no reason for this to have happened. He is a veteran player, plus he plays second base. Hall has to know the rule that you must slide into second. Mistakes like this will not endear you to the fans.
With Hall now on the DL, Keppinger is expected to be the everyday second baseman, and he will bat in the two hole. While his numbers won’t exactly light the world on fire, he is a decent hitter. Keppinger is having a good year with the bat, and most of his stats are up compared to his average. His career batting average is .283, with a .337 OBP, .394 slugging and a grand total of 30 home runs over seven years. This year with the Astros, he’s hitting .307 with .320 OBP, .436 slugging and already 4 big flies.
Some fans may think that what the Giants need is a slugger, someone to crush the ball into the Cove on a regular basis. Looking at our offensive shortcomings and the games we lose, that’s not the case. Sure, it’d be nice to have a big home run threat in the lineup, but that’s not our most pressing need. We lose games because we cannot capitalize when we have runners in scoring position. We have trouble moving players over, and we can’t hit a sac fly to save our lives. With a runner on third and less than two outs, the team is hitting .289, which ranks us 23rd out of the 30 major league teams in that situation. With runners in scoring position, we hit .229, 27th out of 30. What we need is a consistent hitter, someone who can do those little things we seem to be lacking elsewhere in the lineup. Keppinger is no slugger, but he does carry that .307 average to a team with an overall .243 BA. Any extra hits will help.
Landing a no-name player (no offense, Jeff) instead of a star is Sabean’s M.O. We got lucky digging through the scrap heap last year (no offense, Pat), so why not try that again? The primary reason we are unlikely to trade for a big name is that the price is too high. We will not be trading any member of our starting rotation, and our bullpen is probably just as safe. We are also hesitant to trade our best prospects, which would potentially hurt us for years down the road in favor of a possible short-term improvement. Sabean surely has more trades in the works, but it would be a shock if we land a big name player.
In his first at-bat as a Giant, Keppinger received a standing ovation from the sold-out crowd, welcoming him to the team. You’re one of us now, Jeff. Just go out there and do your best. And when you run to second base on a grounder, please slide.