Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Keppinger climbs the standings

WHGB11For British fans used to the way transfers work in football – i.e. players have most of the power and finalizing deals can take a while – one of the most unusual aspects of the baseball trading business are the sudden mid-season moves. 

One day a player is on the field for one team, the next he is playing for another.  His circumstances change in an instant, often without any say so on his part. 

A player on a division leader based on the east coast can find himself being moved to a team completely out of contention on the west coast.  All he can do is shrug his shoulders, collect his belongings and get on a plane.

Anyone watching the San Francisco Giants’ game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday gained an insight into the reality of the process. 

Jeff Keppinger is an archetypal journeyman ballplayer, an average hitter who can man a number of infield positions. He was traded by the Houston Astros to the Giants last Tuesday and was expected to be with his new team ready to play the very next day.  A flight delay disrupted the initial plans, so he eventually arrived at AT&T Park as the game was in progress.

The Giants’ TV broadcast showed him arriving with his equipment, some of which was still packed in Astros-branded bags, being shown the way to the home clubhouse.  In the top of the sixth inning, he walked into the Giants’ dugout and started introducing himself to his new colleagues, shaking hands with manager Bruce Bochy and then being talked through the team’s signs by a coach.

Just a few hours removed from standing with his bags in a Houston airport, the AT&T Park public address announcer was saying “please welcome to San Francisco, number 8, Jeff Keppinger” and he was being cheered as he entered the batter’s box for the first time in a Giants uniform against Clayton Kershaw.

Such is the whirlwind life of a Major Leaguer.

Keppinger was originally drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2001 and his move to San Francisco is the fifth time he has been traded.  He was part of a deadline deal in 2004 when he was traded to the New York Mets alongside Kris Benson before being shipped to Kansas City in July 2006, then on to Cincinnati in January 2007 and then to Houston just prior to the start of the 2009 season. 

He’s 31 years old and effectively he has had no say in what team he plays for – and by extension where he lives, during the season at least – so far in his professional career. 

I wonder what Carlos Tevez would think of that?

In this case, despite not getting a say in the deal, it has worked out well for Keppinger from a professional point of view. 

He’s moved from an Astros team at the bottom of the National League Central to the defending World Series champions, currently sitting at the top of the National League West and with a great shot at making it back to the postseason.  Within the space of twenty-four hours he has gone from playing out the string to playing for a pennant.

Fans say goodbye to Beltran

The New York Mets finished up a home stand on Thursday and they will not return to Citi Field until 1 August: the day after the non-waiver trade deadline.  That created a strange situation for Carlos Beltran.  He has been with the Mets since the 2005 season; however his contract is up at the end of this season and his status as the best bat potentially available on the trade market makes it extremely likely that he will be playing for another team by the time the Mets arrive back home.

When he walked up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning on Thursday, many Mets fans stood up and applauded, as they did when he walked back to the dugout.  Beltran doesn’t know for definite if he will be traded, nor does he know where he will be traded to and it isn’t as though he has asked for a move away. 

In Beltran’s case, he does have a degree of control because he has a no-trade clause.  Rumours suggest that he wants to stay in the National League and that would seem to point to three potential destinations: Atlanta, Philadelphia or San Francisco.  The SNY commentators were debating the issues of dealing him to a division rival, coming down on the side that it shouldn’t really matter because he will probably only be with them for a few months.

That’s the way the Mets’ Front Office should look at it: accept the best deal whoever offers it.  Most Mets fans might see that as the sensible approach too, but it wouldn’t make it any more fun for them to see him celebrating a World Series in a Braves or Phillies uniform.

Seeing-eye singles

I would be very surprised if two of the more-touted names from the National League are actually dealt.  The Ubaldo Jimenez situation has all the hallmarks of a team putting feelers out just in case someone is willing to blow them away with an offer they couldn’t refuse.  As for Hunter Pence, I suspect the Astros value him more highly than other teams.  He’s their best player, but he’s a very good everyday player rather than a great one.  That makes it difficult for them to trade him at this point, particularly with a new owner on board and General Manager Ed Wade being out of contract at the end of the season.

Congratulations to Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven for being inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame yesterday.  I came to the game after Alomar’s regrettable spitting incident, so my first memories of him are from his time with the Indians as part of a great double-play combo with Omar Vizquel.  As for Blyleven, thanks to MLB.TV I’ve had the pleasure of listening to him commentate on plenty of Twins games in recent years and it’s great to see someone with links to European baseball making it to Cooperstown.

One Response to Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Keppinger climbs the standings

  1. Matt Smith July 30, 2011 at 2:55 pm #

    Jeff Archer posted the following comment:

    “Let me tell you of the weirdest trade I was ever involved with. In 1970, I entered a team into one of the best fast-pitch softball leagues on the east coast of the US. We struggled, but by the end of the season, we finished in third place, well behind the chmaps and runnerup. For the 1971 season, I recruited heavily and had a much better team. However, I was weak at second base. One night, we beat the dogshit out of the last place team. But, I noticed that a very good second baseman, Kenny Fitzgerald, didn’t even play. After the game, I went to the manager and asked about Fitzgerald. I told him that he was the missing link for our being contenders and that if he didn’t have any plans for him, I would like to secure him for the season. To do this, a manager had to give an official release. He called Fitzgerald over and said, “Archer’s interested in you. Would you want to play for him?” Fitzgerald said, “Sure.” Then, the manager walked toward my equipment bag that I was filling up to take to my car. He looked around and said, “Here’s the deal. I’ll take two game balls, two batting practice balls and that bat (pointing to one on the ground) and he’s yours.” I was shocked and immediately gave him the equipment and he went to the scorer’s booth, picked up a realease form, signed it and gave it to me. He did this right in front of Fitzgerald. His team finished in last place and my team won the Rhode Island state fast-pitch softball championship. Fitzgerald played three years for me and was a superb second baseman. When he had a good game, I would always kid him and say that I got him for a bat and four balls.”

    Great story, Jeff!

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