The Cubs, Yankees, Diamondbacks and Mariners were among the teams that wanted infielder Jeff Keppinger. Getting a three-year deal with a playoff contender in a city he loved to visit and play in as a National Leaguer led to his officially becoming a White Sox on Monday.
"The team that they've got and the city,'' the versatile Keppinger said of his decision to join the White Sox without receiving promises about his role or position. "I really like Chicago. I was there a lot playing in the National League. I didn't play a lot against the White Sox but I played a lot against the Cubs and I really liked that city. I thought it would be a good fit for me for the length of the contract I got.''
The Sox reeled Keppinger in at the Winter Meetings in Nashville last week. After he passed a physical, they announced his agreement for three years and $12 million. Keppinger will receive $3.5 million in 2013, $4.0 million in 2014 and $4.5 million in 2015. It's the 32-year-old's first multiyear deal.
"Jeff adds a valuable and different type of offensive player to our lineup," general manager Rick Hahn said. "Combined with his ability to play quality defense at multiple positions as well as his overall approach to the game, we are thrilled to add him to our mix.
"If we were to start the season today I would expect him to be Opening-Day third baseman, but there still is a fair amount of the offseason to go. We'll see how it plays out in the coming weeks and months. At this time it plugs a hole for us but he has the flexibility and versatility to allow us to be creative with other options as the offseason unfolds and into the next couple of seasons.''
Hahn said discussions with other clubs and free agents are continuing.
"We're talking to other clubs and other free agents about potential fits,'' he said. "I don't think we'll ever got to where we don't feel there is a spot to potentially upgrade the roster. Signing Jeff takes a little pressure off plugging that infield hole for now but it doens't mean we won't look at other potential upgrades on the roster.
Keppinger batted a career-high .325 with nine home runs and 40 RBI in 115 games for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2012. He started 41 games at third base, where he could be the Sox starter in 2013. He also started 23 games at second, 21 at first and 19 as the designated hitter. His .325 average overall would have ranked third in the AL but he fell 84 plate appearances shy of qualifying. Among active players, he ranks second with an average of 15.64 plate appearances per strikeout.
Keppinger said his role with the Sox wasn't discussed specifically. He fits the mold of No. 2 hitter, where he spent a lot of time when he played for Houston and San Francisco. He said hitting is what makes baseball fun for him.
"I like the 2-hole,'' he said. "With the Rays last year, I bounced around all over the place. It doesn't matter where I hit in the lineup. In the 2-hole I like the challenges. Sometimes you have to go up there with different approaches. Sometimes you have to take pitches and let the leadoff hitter steal. Sometimes you have to give yourself up for the team and move guys over. I like the challenge the 2-hole brings, it's tough sometimes but I pride myself in getting the job done.
The Sox agreed to terms with Keppinger during the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn., last week. The deal could not be announced until he passed a physical. Keppinger broke his leg in an accident at his home in November but is expected to be ready by spring training. He said he slipped going down stairs and thought he rolled his right ankle.
"I thought I could catch myself and didn't land right,'' he said. "It was pretty nerve-wracking when they told me it was fractured.''
He expects to get out of his walking boot Tuesday and was told by doctors he'll be ready for spring training.