If Jeff Keppinger had been a more anticipated, more revered, more depended upon or just a flat-out better signing, his shoulder might be working its way up the list of reviled and disappointing body parts in Chicago sports history.
Instead it’s kind of an underplayed issue in a White Sox career that was unexciting at its outset and quickly became irrelevant after it revealed itself quickly to be an utter disaster.
Keppinger made his Spring debut as a pinch-hitter on Saturday and will not be playing the field until the weekend. For the second-straight year, Keppinger is behind schedule on his shoulder strengthening program and unable to play third base in a live game, and this only reads as a familiar problem because he went through it last Spring.
Last year it stemmed from a slow start brought on by a flukishly broken leg putting his whole schedule out of wack, now it’s due to the minor shoulder surgery that was supposed to put to bed all the issues that plagued his 2013 season. During the middle of these two surgeries, he went through a nearly two-month period where he could not come close to putting a decent charge into the ball, even when he squared it up, with inconsistent results at best afterward.
With this in mind, I pestered Dan Hayes during the latest report of Keppinger’s woes with the question of whether he’s been at his best at any point with the Sox
@JRFegan Technically it was fine last year, just started throwing program late. Perhaps in getting ready later, hurt it trying to catch up.
— Dan Hayes (@DanHayesCSN) March 1, 2014
And Dan cautioned against dismissing reports from the team out of hand to fit the idea of Keppinger being permanently not right.
Yet at this rate, we will have gone too long without seeing Keppinger at his best for it to ever matter. He was too hampered last season to removed third base from a need situation for the White Sox, and now even if he’s decent to start the season, it won’t keep Matt Davidson off his neck. If anything his struggles have served to allow us introduction to Conor Gillaspie–a superior player at this point–and his contract will likely facilitate Gillaspie’s exit.
Keppinger’s deal was always supposed to be too mild to ever become an albatross, but the expenditure becomes less the problem than the commitment it buys. The White Sox are not hamstrung on team expenses because they owe Jeff Keppinger $8.5 million, but they are loath to cut their losses on him for that figure.
As a result, Keppinger hangs around long after the question of whether he can being a passable third basemen and hold up under a regular starter workload have been answered with negatives.
If he hasn’t been beaten up enough, Keppinger could serve as the last representative of a stretch in White Sox history of securing non-marquee free agents to provide reliable performance they couldn’t count on getting from their moribund farm system. The only affordable option of a bad year for third basemen in a rapidly shrinking free agency market, Keppinger’s performance is the type of diminishing returns teams that put themselves in desperate positions can expect.
Coincidentally, the White Sox have decided that for 2014, getting out of this business for the long-term is just as important as winning now.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan