NASHVILLE — Add INF Jeff Keppinger to the list of players who should thank the Rays for the opportunity. And prepare to tack on LHP J.P. Howell as well.
Plucked off the non-tender list by the Rays, Keppinger parlayed his strong 2012 season in Tampa Bay into a jackpot, agreeing Wednesday to a three-year, $12 million deal with the White Sox to be their starting third baseman.
Keppinger made $1.525 million last season while hitting .325, with nine homers and 40 RBIs, as the Rays used him in a variety of roles to maximize his production.
The Rays had interest in bringing him back but quickly got the sense he would get more — in years and dollars — than they would offer.
"We're really happy for Kepp," Rays executive VP Andrew Friedman said. "He's true pro. He came in and fit in extremely well in our clubhouse, exhibited great versatility and crushed left-handed pitching. He did a really good job for us in a variety of roles. He's certainly going to be missed. And it worked out really well for him."
Howell said Wednesday his agent hadn't made him aware of any specific offers, thought the Nationals are reported to be heavily interested.
And with lefties raking in big bucks this offseason, starting with Jeremy Affeldt getting $18 million over six years from the Giants and, on Wednesday, Sean Burnett getting $8 million over two years from the Angels and Randy Choate $7.5 million over three from the Cards, the chances of Howell returning to the Rays are diminishing.
RAYS MATTERS: Braves INF Juan Francisco, who has big power, is a potential trade target. … Reserve OF Nate Schierholtz chose to sign with the Cubs over the Rays, per ESPN. … 1B James Loney's signing is expected to be announced today following successful completion of his physical. … The Rays are unlikely to make a pick in today's Rule 5 draft of minor-leaguers not on 40-man rosters; INF Cole Figueroa and LHP Braulio Lara are possibilities to be selected, according to Baseball America. … The Dodgers are among the teams with interest in RHP James Shields. … 1B/DH Dan Johnson has interest in returning but may end up going to Japan. … Agent Scott Boras said free-agent 1B Carlos Peña, despite his rough 2012 season with the Rays, "is still productive and he's gotten interest in this market."
NOT YOUR AVERAGE JOE: Manager Joe Maddon left Nashville to launch a 10-day good-deed tour, as he serves his seventh annual Thanksmas dinner at Tampa Bay-area Salvation Army Shelters then heads to Pennsylvania for fundraisers benefiting the Hazleton Integration Project in his hometown.
The first event is Friday, a fundraiser for the Thanksmas project at Tampa's 717 South restaurant (717 S Howard St.) from 5 p.m. on, with the restaurant preparing the Italian/Polish holiday meal and Rays players and coaches working as guest servers.
After shopping and cooking over the weekend, Maddon and the team will serve meals at shelters in St. Petersburg on Monday and Wednesday and in Clearwater and Tampa on Tuesday. He then heads to Hazleton for a weekend of events.
JOSH, AND DEALS: OF Josh Hamilton, the top free agent, met with the Red Sox and continues to talk with the Rangers. … Top RHP Zack Greinke's main suitors look to be the Dodgers and Rangers. … The Red Sox talked about trading CF Jacoby Ellsbury but say they plan to keep him for now. … Among deals agreed to Wednesday: RHP Joe Blanton got $15 million over two years from the Angels; OF Jason Bay with the Mariners; OF Nate McLouth with the Orioles.