Unable to have him just get on-base and do little else for the Birmingham Barons forever, the White Sox bit the bullet and designated Jeff Keppinger for assignment Wednesday. It was the kind of definitive cancellation of a bad signing usually reserved for that one sports league with non-guaranteed contracts.
It's a fun move for us fans and bloggers, because it's a departure from the normal fate of having to tolerate a struggling player for the sake of a rich owner's financial concerns, and because it forces GM Rick Hahn to be very honest about the direction of the franchise.
"There was a brief conversation this morning, and he understood the rationale for it and we wished each other well," said Hahn of Keppinger's reaction. "It comes down to wanting to use plate appearances at the big league level for younger players we have."
But let's not fall all over ourselves. 95% of saber-friendly baseball blogging is lauding GM's for being brilliant, and a story about a GM nixing his own bad contract--even if he's commendably contrite about it--doesn't need to be added to the chorus of praise.
The White Sox put up guaranteed eight-figure money to make sure they didn't have the worst third-basemen situation in the league again, and wound up ensuring what they sought to avoid.
Who's to blame? Probably not Keppinger. The beat writers seem universally sympathetic to the effort Keppinger put in and the injury difficulties he went through. I got the sense it was a bridge too far to suggest he was never 100% at any point he was in a White Sox uniform, but between the broken leg during the 2012 off-season, the issues with shoulder strength during 2013 Spring Training, his season-ending shoulder surgery in 2013, and his 2014 shoulder woes, we'd need to bust out a desk calendar and markers to figure out exactly when he might have been playing at his best.
Keppinger is pretty adamant that we didn't ever see it:
Should we blame Rick Hahn? He says we should, but he's not the first Chicago public official to be oddly insistent about falling on his sword. Hahn giving Keppinger three years certainly wasn't the safest bet in the history of signings, but it came in the context of the Sox trying to find the best third basemen on the market after getting the worse offensive production in the league from the position in 2012.
Keppinger certainly didn't have a good season in 2013, but this the same offseason that saw a bidding war (started by a child) emerge for Jack Hannahan. Kevin Youkilis, the incumbent that Keppinger was signed in favor of, plays in Japan now. Paired against the other options, the Keppinger deal barely looks that bad now. They could have had Eric Chavez or Kelly Johnson, but would still need a platoon partner for the former and weren't the only team that thought the latter was about done.
No, Hahn's decision seems like the best stab at fixing a desperate situation. Perhaps we've tired of blaming the cause because we have visited it so many times. But Jeff Keppinger gets to be in the position to be a scapegoat for breaking down and playing poorly in his age-33 year due to bad development, years of bad drafts and Brent Morel being the best homegrown third basemen since Joe Crede's back gave out. This band-aid didn't work, which stands the reason why the Sox decided to get out of the band-aid business years ago.