Keppinger cut shows Sox mean business

Jeff Keppinger didn't live up to the expections the Sox had when they signed him before the 2012 season. Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY Sports

Hungry to continue their roster rebuild, the Chicago White Sox elected to eat some salary with Wednesday’s decision to designate Jeff Keppinger for assignment.

Talk about your changes in company policy.

When the White Sox were in sell-off mode last season, a big priority in making deals was finding trade partners who were willing to take most, if not all, of a player’s entire salary in a deal. With the Jake Peavy and Alex Rios deals, not to mention the Jesse Crain and Matt Thornton trades, the White Sox shed some $37 million-plus in future earnings, making that savings as attractive as the players who were being acquired.

What Wednesday’s move seems to signify is that guaranteed at-bats for infielders like Conor Gillaspie, Marcus Semien, and even Gordon Beckham, are worth the estimated $7.5 million the White Sox are set to pay Keppinger through the 2015 season.

And there aren’t just the infielders at the big league level that the White Sox need to consider. Infielders waiting in the wings include Matt Davidson, Carlos Sanchez and Micah Johnson.

Keppinger was actually one of the more news-making signings of the 2012 winter meetings, as the White Sox topped all bidders with a three-year, $12 million deal. The hope was that Keppinger could take over the third-base spot after batting .325 with the Tampa Bay Rays the previous season, but that kind of offense was never realized.

Another part of Keppinger’s appeal was a low strikeout rate, which only seemed to be a plus with guys like Adam Dunn and Tyler Flowers on the White Sox’s roster. Instead, his hitting trait that emerged more prominently was a low .283 on-base percentage.

On top of that, Keppinger ended up striking out 41 times last season, in no way one of the worst offenders with players at or near his 423 total at-bats, but it was the highest total of his career. In 2010, when he had 575 at-bats with the Houston Astros, he struck out 36 times.

Keppinger is simply a player who no longer fits into what the White Sox are trying to accomplish, so the team went the route that was best for the future.

“It didn’t work,” general manager Rick Hahn told reporters Wednesday. “That’s on me.”

Kudos to Hahn for recognizing his error and trying to rectify it as quickly as possible, even if it cost a huge chunk of money in the process.

One way to look at Wednesday’s move is that the White Sox are getting much more for their money these days, when compared to last season, so a bit of frivolous spending can be justified.

The White Sox committed to $118.9 million in salary last season. This year, they have committed to $90 million.

So what does nearly $29 million less get you? For starters, it can get you the same amount of victories after 41 games, since the White Sox entered play Wednesday with 19 wins, the same number they had at this point last year.

But the wiser spending has bought a much improved offense, which entered Wednesday’s game second in the American League with 201 runs scored, third in home runs with 44 and fourth in slugging percentage at .415. Consistency is also an issue, though, as the White Sox batted just .177 as a team in their previous four games.

But with youth on their side, the White Sox can see an upside that didn’t exist last year, and, by clearing Keppinger out of the way, that upside presumably can be realized quicker, even if it means paying somebody over $7 million while not getting anything in return.