It's non-tender day. And as much as I want to start a rumor that the Giants aren't going to offer tender a contract to Pablo Sandoval -- too expensive! Turns out the hats just sell themselves! -- today is all about Jeff Keppinger and Mike Fontenot. They're a pair of utility infielders who, if you glued them together, would make one pretty awful baseball player, what with all the glue.
But their skills are complementary to each other. Keppinger hits righty, and Fontenot hits lefty. Both are 31 and in the "not quite good enough offensively to start" zone -- Kepp is a career .281/.332/.388 hitter, and Fontenot is a career .263/.332/.406 -- but both provide just a little more offense than teams usually expect from a utility infielder.
Keppinger was a bit of a dud after coming over from Houston, falling into the same pit as the rest of the offense. But I have a feeling we'd be a lot more into him if he hit for something close to his career average. He's completely dependent on his batting average -- not walking enough or hitting for enough power to sustain his value any other way. Before his career is over, though, I could see him hitting .310/.350/.440 over 400 at-bats after he's forced into a starting role because of injuries. Which year will that be? Well, that's the problem with average-dependent players. No one ever knows. Just sit back, and enjoy wherever they're taking you.
Fontenot wasn't exactly inspiring last season, hitting .227/.304/.377. That was good for a 92 OPS+, which also happens to be his career average. That's Mike Fontenot, alright. Below average, but not by that much.
If I had to choose one based on offense alone, it would be close, but I'd go with Fontenot. I think that Keppinger will have the best single season of the two over the remainder of their careers, but I wouldn't gamble that the season would be 2012. I'd trust Fontenot's okay patience and surprising power a little more. But it would be close, and I certainly wouldn't raise my voice in anger if someone suggested Keppinger was a better hitter. It's really not a big difference.
But, ah, that defense. If Mike Fontenot were a defensive whiz-kid, he'd be starting at short somewhere. As is, he's perfectly acceptable filling in all around the diamond. Jeff Keppinger is an absolute lamppost of a defender. Maybe it was just the contrast of watching him after Freddy Sanchez, but Keppinger looked like Ryan Garko moving to balls to his left. FanGraphs had him at -10.4 runs last year, but I'd like to think the computer just spit out a string of ampersands and closed parentheses when it attempted to calculate that number. They had to call the IT guy in the middle of the night and everything.
And that's Keppinger at second base. He hasn't played more than a dozen games at short since 2008, when he was the starting shortstop for the Reds. Adam Dunn played behind him in left. I'd like to think that Keppinger, Dunn, and the pitcher all had to move together at all times, like the players in RBI Baseball.
The Giants need offense, offense, offense, though, so isn't there an argument to be made that Keppinger is the better hitter, defense be damned? Nah. Again, it's close. And while a lot has been made of Keppinger being a righty to Brandon Crawford's lefty, the infielder that will need more rest than the others will be Freddy Sanchez.
Then you take into account the player who is most likely to play his way out of a job. As in, no complement needed; back to the minors. That'd be Crawford. And if there isn't a Fontenot on the roster, that leaves your starting shortstop as Manny Burriss in the event of emergency. He'd be Crawford without the glove, which would be amazing in worst kind of way.
Nope, has to be Fontenot. The defense is the obvious tiebreaker, but it's really everything. Fontenot is just about everything better than Keppinger, other than hit lefties. I urge you to vote Mike Fontenot when you step into your polling place tonight.
(Also, a better answer would be "both," with Burriss going to parts unknown, but c'mon. The Giants didn't just discover oil out there. Cut them some slack. And I'm not kidding about the panda hats. Buy a couple for stocking stuffers.)