Keppinger signs with Rays as free agent

Of Jeff Keppinger's five previous teams, just one was in the American League. Now the veteran infielder will give the AL a second try with team No. 6.

The Parkview graduate reached agreement on a one-year contract with Tampa Bay as a free agent after not being tendered a contract by San Francisco in December. The deal, a cut from last year, is worth $1.525 million plus incentives.

Keppinger, who turns 32 in April, is being counted on by the Rays as a right-handed contact hitter who can play multiple positions. He has a career .324 average against left-handed pitchers and has played all infield positions, as well as the outfield.

"I'm up for anything," Keppinger told reporters after the deal became official Friday. "I know there's a lot of talk that people tell me I'm limited at playing certain positions. But I don't feel that way."

Keppinger's overall career average in seven seasons is .281 and he is one of the hardest players in the majors to strike out. He has put the ball in play on 84 percent of his plate appearances.

"Jeff is a good player who fits our club well," Rays executive vice-president Andrew Friedman said in announcing the deal. "He is a tough out, especially against left-handers, and his contact skills bring a useful dimension to our roster. We also value his defensive versatility, which will allow him to make an impact in many different ways."

Traded by Houston to the Giants last July, Keppinger was expendable in San Francisco with second baseman Freddy Sanchez returning from a shoulder injury.

Keppinger made $2.3 million last season and the Giants elected to go with the less-costly Mike Fontenot as a backup middle infielder, saying he was a better shortstop option if needed there.

The fact that Keppinger is considered to be best defensively at second base also was a factor in him not being considered by Atlanta as a possible shortstop option if rookie Tyler Pastornicky falters. The Braves re-signed Jack Wilson as Pastornicky's backup.

"(The Rays) can put me wherever they want," Keppinger said. "It doesn't matter."

Drafted by Pittsburgh in 2002 after a standout career at Georgia and traded to the New York Mets as a minor leaguer, Keppinger's only previous experience in the AL was with Kansas City in 2006, when he played in just 22 games.

Keppinger's major league breakthrough came the following season, when he took over as the Cincinnati shortstop and hit .332 in 67 games.

Keppinger batted .288 in 2010 for Houston with career highs in games (139), runs (62), hits (148), doubles (34), RBIs (59) and walks (51), but had offseason foot surgery and missed most of the first two months last season with the Astros.

His combined average with Houston and San Francisco was .277 in 99 games. He was hitting .307 for the Astros when traded to San Francisco, but tailed off to .255 with the Giants.