added 4/2/2009 by Scott Barzilla
Perception is a weird things sometimes. The Jeff Keppinger acquisition is a hard one to get a hold on when it comes on the heels of the Ivan Rodriguez signing. Sure, Rodriguez isn't what he used to be, but it's pretty clear that he will be standing at the podium in Cooperstown after he retires. If Keppinger goes to Cooperstown he will have to pay for the ticket just the same as you or me. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that. Keppinger is probably as good as he'll ever be while Rodriguez used to be an MVP back in the day.
So, don't be surprised if a number of your friends ask who the hell Jeff Keppinger is. The first thing you do when you evaluate a trade like this is ask what role the team hopes he will play and whether he is qualified for that role. At this point, we can guess that Keppinger will be the right-handed platoon partner for Geoff Blum and an occasional shortstop and second basemen. Defensively, he seems more than adequately equipped for all of those positions although he won't make anyone forget Brooks Robinson, Ozzie Smith, or Bill Mazeroski.
What might be more worrisome is that he will remind many of those three with the bat. Adequate fielders and hitters don't create a lot of excitement, but they do hold down the fort. Like Rodriguez, Keppinger won't be an all-star performer this year, but he also won't create tons of laughter when teams think of the Astros third base situation. Keppinger is proof enough to show that it doesn't cost much to go from woeful to below average or even average. The big money comes when you are going from average to good and good to great.
The second consideration in trades comes in who you give up. This part of the trade is murky considering it is one of those infamous player to be named later deals. Rumors are that it will be Brandon Backe. If that is the case then call Ed Wade the magician of the year. Many wondered why the Astros kept Backe this winter and then again this spring following his injury. If he is able to spin a pitcher with a 6.00 ERA in 2008 for anything more than a bucket of month old Gatorade he is a good candidate for Executive of the Year. Without knowing for sure we will have to wait and see.
The most intriguing part of the deal comes in knowing that Miguel Tejada is in the last year of his contract and the Astros had no obvious replacement. Keppinger started more than 100 games at short for the Reds in 2008. He could be a possible replacement for Tejada in 2010 and a cheap one at that. Naturally, that might end up being the best part of the deal. Keppinger obviously isn't the prototypical third basemen, but for a year he is a decent stopgap.
There were other candidates out there that could have been had, but none of them offered any automatic success. Neither does Keppinger. This is where the perception of Ed Wade comes in. This depends on who you ask. If you ask most of baseball they think he is a bottom tier GM, so they will point to the fact that he could have had someone for free in 24 hours. They will point to the fact that he could have swung a deal for someone better. Yet, when you go inside the Houston city limits (or Astrosnation) you will see that Wade looks good when compared to his predecessor.
Tim Purpura might have either let Chris Johnson take the job in spite of the evidence that he is not ready or Morgan Ensberg might have been signed. Purpura responded to crisis by hoping it would go away. Wade moves quickly. Some might say too quickly, but he saw two holes this spring and worked to fill both holes. Say what you will about the relative skills of both, but they are better than what was there before. Now, as to how Keppinger will look this year? If we go by career averages, he will hit for a good average, draw a few walks, and make a whole lot of contact. Given the shortage of patient hitters the Astros have, he might fit best in the two hole behind Kaz Matsui. Either way, he might be a game or two better than Aaron Boone would have been and that's a decent return.