- Dallas Keuchel has finally shed the draft pick compensation attached to his prolonged free agency. Assuming he signs sometime soon, these are the team he could benefit most.
Editor's note: As we examine the best fits for Dallas Keuchel below, check out the same list for free-agent closer Craig Kimbrel.
Maybe, for a little bit, there was a time when the discussion about Dallas Keuchel was actually about Dallas Keuchel. If there was, however, it’s long since passed. For months now, the discussion has instead been larger commentary on the state of baseball’s free agency, on aging curves, on the semantics of rumor reporting, on the value of a compensatory draft pick.
The pitcher himself—the question of what he can actually bring to a team right now—has been, if not quite an afterthought, still not exactly a steady point of focus. Now, though, we’ve seen the expiration of the draft pick compensation tied to Keuchel (through the qualifying offer he received from Houston) and the conclusion of the first round of the draft itself. It’s as good a time as ever to return to the original question here: Who needs Dallas Keuchel, and what can he do for them?
It’s hard to find an aspiring contender who couldn’t benefit from a bit of extra rotation depth. Keuchel, even with his extended offseason, should be able to provide exactly that. (The 31-year-old says he has been working out regularly, throwing simulated game sessions every five days.) He showed some discouraging signs last year, with the lowest strikeout rate since his rookie season and a sharp decrease in groundball rate as he began to rely less on his signature sinker. This could be nothing, another down about to give way to an up, or it could be something. Even if you weigh those red flags heavily, however, and figure that he projects only as a roughly average middle-of-the-rotation starter for the rest of the year… there are plenty of clubs who need a roughly average middle-of-the-rotation starter.
Who could use him the most, though? Here’s our list of the most likely candidates:
The Yankees’ need isn’t quite desperate. They’re sitting atop the AL East (if only barely), and their rotation has been more than respectable, with a 3.82 ERA. But Keuchel still feels like a natural fit. Ace Luis Severino has been sidelined all year with a strained lat and isn’t due back until at least late July. James Paxton has lost time to injury; so, too, has CC Sabathia. It seems likely that some sort of innings restriction might be in store for Domingo German, in his first full season in the big leagues.
According to a source, the Yankees and Braves are the favorites to sign Dallas Keuchel. Both teams are believed to be in the same area with their offers at the moment.— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) June 4, 2019
In other words, there’s plenty to suggest that this rotation would be interested in getting a boost down the stretch, particularly in a tough division that promises a race down to the wire. The Yankees’ depth has already been tested considerably, and it makes sense that they’d want to guard against trying it too much further. As for the (presumably multi-)million dollar question? Yes, Keuchel would reportedly be open to shaving his beard to join the team.
The NL Central is the tightest division in baseball, with fewer than seven games separating first and last place. St. Louis is currently smack-dab in the middle of this—three games behind first-place Milwaukee, 3 1/2 ahead of last-place Cincinnati—which is enough to make them chase any sort of extra boost, and the rotation would be a natural area of need. Miles Mikolas has struggled to live up to last season’s marks, Carlos Martinez has struggled to stay healthy, and Michael Wacha has struggled to do anything. With a 4.22 ERA (roughly average) and 2.28 K/BB (dead last in the National League), the rotation could clearly benefit from an upgrade in Keuchel.
The Braves need more help in the ‘pen than they do in the rotation; if they’re going to sign one of the final two pitchers available, Craig Kimbrel would seem to be the most logical choice. But Atlanta’s been repeatedly linked to Keuchel, too, which shouldn’t be too surprising. The Braves’ rotation has been generally good; it’s enjoyed an awe-inspiring rookie performance from Mike Soroka, a regular inspiring sophomore one from Max Fried, and a capable veteran presence in Julio Teheran. Yet it’s certainly had its weak spots (Mike Foltynewicz’s injury and subsequent struggles prime among them), and isn’t exactly in a spot to turn down any help as it battles with Philadelphia for the top spot in the NL East. The Braves will be closely monitoring their young pitchers’ workloads down the stretch, and Keuchel’s experience would make him a perfect addition to eat some necessary innings. Perhaps the front office is finally ready to stretch out in the space created by the financial flexibility that it applauded this winter.
Some teams involved in Dallas Keuchel have interest in him in range of qualifying offer -- in other words, an $18m salary prorated according to his service time for the rest of the season. Keuchel's camp aiming for multi-year deal in recent conversations, but that could change.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) June 4, 2019
The Brewers’ 4.53 ERA for its starting rotation is the highest of any team in first place. They’re lucky to sit atop the NL East—by run differential, they’re fourth in the division, rather than first—and a rotation upgrade has seemed like a logical move for them for months now, stretching back to last year. (Gio Gonzalez, while a smart addition in his own right, doesn’t exactly count.)
Even under the best of circumstances, their starting five would not jump out as anything special, and they’ve had far from the best of circumstances: Gonzalez and Jhoulys Chacin are both on the IL, Jimmy Nelson is only just now coming back from surgery, Corbin Burnes has imploded. And their ‘pen hasn’t been as strong as it was last year, giving the rotation even less of a margin for error. Keuchel looked like a good fit for Milwaukee back in November, and he still looks like a good fit now.
The Twins’ dazzling start has made for one of the best stories in baseball, to say nothing of the fact that it’s all but guaranteed them a postseason berth. And while the single biggest driving factor there has been their slugfest-esque lineup, the rotation hasn’t been too far behind. Their 3.49 ERA is second lowest in the AL, behind only that of the Rays, despite being largely similar to the same group who put up lackluster numbers last year. Which is exactly why they’d make sense as a fit for Keuchel: Jake Odorizzi probably isn’t going to preserve this 1.96 ERA, Martin Perez might go back to looking like his old self at any time, someone (anyone!) could get hurt. Minnesota’s rotation has managed strong results so far, but it doesn’t have the depth to successfully navigate much in the way of bad luck or injury, and as it gears up for a playoff run, Keuchel could go a long way toward shoring them up here.