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Keppinger feels it's a perfect fit with White Sox

Keppinger feels it's a perfect fit with White Sox

Keppinger feels it's a perfect fit with White Sox
CHICAGO -- In the recruitment of free agent Jeff Keppinger, the White Sox clearly received an assist from the city of Chicago.

"Well the team they have and the city," Keppinger said during a Monday afternoon conference call, after his three-year, $12-million deal was made official, when asked for deciding factors to move him toward the White Sox over interest from the Yankees, as an example. "I've been there a bunch in the National League.

"I played a lot against the Cubs and really liked that city. I thought it would be a good fit for me with the length of contract I got."

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Fans on the South Side of Chicago will embrace Keppinger, 32, if he continues to show his adept bat-handling skills at the plate and fills the void at third base left by Kevin Youkilis' departure. Keppinger receives $3.5 million in 2013, $4 million in '14 and $4.5 million in '15, bringing the White Sox payroll to $93.45 million committed to 11 players.

According to general manager Rick Hahn, who also took part in the conference call, Keppinger currently stands as the team's starter at the hot corner. But the White Sox are not done looking for infield help, already making an offer to free-agent third baseman Jack Hannahan.

Keppinger's versatility, having played 50 games at third base, 27 at first and 27 at second for the Rays in 2012, allows the White Sox to make him a full-time player with third base simply serving as his primary location. His ability to make great contact at the plate, with just 173 strikeouts in 2,705 plate appearances, leaves the .288 career hitter a perfect fit for the lineup's two-hole and a nice counterbalance to the lineup's free swingers.

There wasn't much of a focus on Monday, though, on setting things in stone for the newest White Sox addition. Not with more work to be done by Hahn and the organization.

"It really doesn't matter where I hit in the lineup, because hitting is just fun for me," Keppinger said. "I like the challenges of hitting in the two-hole. It involves different approaches, whether it's taking pitches to give a guy a chance to steal a base, giving yourself up for the team or moving guys over for the three-hitter. It's kind of tough sometimes to do all those little things, but I pride myself in getting all those little things done."

"He puts the ball in play a lot," Hahn said. "He has the ability to do little things to help you win. But I'll leave it to [White Sox manager] Robin [Ventura] as to how he wants to do the lineup based on who we have come Opening Day."

This free-agent process briefly slowed down a bit for Keppinger, when he sustained a broken right fibula upon falling down the stairs at home during this offseason, with teams needing to check medical records and follow up after surgery. Keppinger explained on Monday that he was wearing flip-flops and slipped on the stairs, thinking he just rolled his ankle upon catching himself. But he didn't land right and had the small break surgically repaired.

A walking boot that Keppinger is wearing comes off on Tuesday, and he has been told by the doctors that he should be fully healthy and ready to go by Spring Training.

"Yeah, it definitely wasn't a fun time, and it was nerve-wracking when I got the X-rays and they told me it was fractured," Keppinger said. "It's basically just strengthening the leg back up and getting the flexibility back in the foot."

His .325 average with the Rays in '12 marked a career high, to go with his nine homers and 40 RBIs. Keppinger has never struck out more than 36 times in any of his eight Major League seasons for the Mets (2004), Royals (2006), Reds (2007-08), Astros (2009-11), Giants (2011) and Rays. He has been one of the toughest players to strike out in his league on four occasions (2008, 2010-12), while producing more RBIs than strikeouts in a season seven times.

Among active players, Keppinger checks in second with an average of 15.64 plate appearances per strikeout. He joins Albert Pujols and Dustin Pedroia as the only three active Major Leaguers with more extra-base hits and walks than strikeouts.

Adam Dunn was a Keppinger teammate with the Reds, and the versatile addition looks forward to reuniting on the White Sox with the slugger. Keppinger also shares a University of Georgia connection with Gordon Beckham.

There might be times where Keppinger spells Beckham at second or even gives Paul Konerko or Dunn a break at first. For now, Keppinger is the White Sox third baseman, with the right-handed hitter carrying a .376 against left-handers in 2012 and a career .333 mark against southpaws into his chosen city for a team with a definite chance to achieve postseason success.

"Signing Jeff takes pressure off of plugging an infield hole. Now we can look for other upgrades on our roster," Hahn said. "He has the flexibility and versatility for us to be creative with other options as the offseason unfolds and over the next couple of seasons."

"I've never seen the playoffs, and that's something I'm striving for," Keppinger said. "Like I said, I like the team the White Sox have. I really like the city. I wanted to be there in Chicago."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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