Astros acquire Keppinger from Reds
Infielder dealt for cash considerations or player to be named
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Minutes after he heard he was traded to the Astros, Jeff Keppinger admitted he wasn't well-schooled on the infield situation regarding his new team.
"I know [Kazuo] Matsui plays second, [Miguel] Tejada plays short," he told reporters in Sarasota, Fla. "I don't know who plays third base. I know [Ty] Wiggington played there last year. [Geoff] Blum? I'm not sure, I have no idea. I'll find out in a couple of days."
Keppinger is about to find out he's walking into a situation seemingly a lot better for him than the one he is leaving. He's right about the projected starters around the infield, but he can now include himself as one who is going to see a lot of playing time.
Nearly two weeks after losing Aaron Boone for the season due to a heart ailment, the Astros found an alternative solution. Keppinger will assume Boone's duties as the right-handed complement to Blum at third, but he'll also receive time at short and second when Tejada and Matsui get those promised days off this season.
Keppinger, who turns 29 on April 21, hit .266 with three home runs and 43 RBIs over 121 games for Cincinnati in 2008. He struck out just once every 20.9 plate appearances, the best ratio in the Major Leagues last season.
"He gives us a guy with experience all around the infield," general manager Ed Wade said. "He's somebody who's played a lot at second, short and third. He'll certainly be a factor at third with Boone out."
"He doesn't strike out a lot," Wade added. "He's a rare player who has more walks than strikeouts every season. He's a contact hitter, a blue-collar player and he fits perfectly on our club."
Keppinger apparently popped onto the Astros' radar soon after Boone was out of the picture.
"The situation came up in the last week," general manager Walt Jocketty said. "Houston pursued the deal, and I think they were looking for somebody who could play in the infield for them with a right-handed bat.
"We resisted it at first. We looked at our situation. [Alex Gonzalez] should be able to play, which would limit Kepp's playing time. This is probably a better situation for him, so we ended up making the deal."
This marks the fourth time Keppinger has been traded in his career and in each instance, it has at least led to some big league playing time. The Pirates dealt him to the Mets in 2004, and the infielder ended up picking up 116 at-bats with New York that season. Two years later, he was off to Kansas City, where he saw 22 more games of big league action.
His big break came when he came to the Reds in 2007 and picked up 241 at-bats with Cincinnati. In total, he's played in 243 Major League games with 876 at-bats and has compiled a .287 batting average. He's walked 65 times and struck out just 49 in that span.
An even bigger selling point: Keppinger hit .351 and slugged .515 against left-handers last year. He logged 94 hits in 268 at-bats versus lefties, recording 17 doubles, three triples, seven home runs and 35 RBIs. He drew 22 walks and struck out eight times.
Coincidentally, the Astros host the Reds on Wednesday. It is unclear if Keppinger will make it to Kissimmee in time to face his now former Cincinnati teammates.
If he does arrive in time, Keppinger will probably find himself in the game at some point, even if he doesn't start.
"Maybe the opportunity is better for me over there," Keppinger said. "Maybe I'll get the chance to play. Looking around here, it didn't look like I was going to play too much.
"It's kind of how my career has been. It seems like I always get roadblocked by somebody for a team that doesn't feel comfortable with throwing me out there every day and I go to a team that needs something, and before you know it, they give me my shot to play a little bit. It's definitely a good opportunity for me."
Following the trade, the Astros optioned infielder Edwin Maysonet to Triple-A Round Rock. He had been competing with Jason Smith for the final utility infield spot, but that job apparently will go to Smith.
Third-base prospect Chris Johnson is still with the Astros and will likely make the journey to Houston for the two exhibition games at Minute Maid Park this weekend. He is not officially out of the running for a spot on the Opening Day roster, but certainly the addition of Keppinger greatly diminishes Johnson's odds to make the team.
"I'm not prepared to say Chris Johnson is not going to make the club or anything of that nature," Wade said. "I think we need to let this play out. But from the standpoint to be able to go out and find somebody who fits the role that Boone was going to fit and then some, I don't think we could have done any better than Keppinger."
After the game, the Astros optioned right-handers Alberto Arias and Jeff Fulchino to Triple-A Round Rock.
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.