- After a relative flurry of activity, the MLB free-agent market is moving slower than Albert Pujols running to first.
- Former Cy Young-winner Dallas Keuchel is one of the biggest names still waiting to sign.
- Which team will give in to Keuchel’s hefty asking price?
Manny Machado and Bryce Harper continue to dominate the 2019 MLB offseason news cycle. Neither of the perennial MVP contenders has found his home for 2019, and until they do, several other free-agent dominos will remain standing.
One such domino is former Houston ace Dallas Keuchel.
Keuchel is valuing himself highly on the free-agent market. His asking price started high — five-years, ~$100 million — and has stayed high. According to Ken Rosenthal, Keuchel is confident that, once Harper and Machado sign, the teams that whiffed on landing a big bat will open up their checkbooks for the best arm remaining.
Keuchel is right about being the best starting pitcher left on the market. Patrick Corbin (Nationals), Charlie Morton (Rays), J.A. Happ (Yankees), and Hyun-Jin Ryu (Dodgers) have already signed for 2019. At this stage, the next-best starter after Keuchel is arguably Gio Gonzalez, and that’s not a promising landscape for pitching-needy teams.
Best Remaining Free-Agent Starting Pitchers
|Dallas Keuchel||31||204.2 IP, 3.74 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 2.62 WAR|
|Gio Gonzalez||33||171.0 IP, 4.21 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 1.50 WAR|
|Wade Miley||32||80.2 IP, 2.57 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 1.48 WAR|
|Derek Holland||32||171.1 IP, 3.57 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 2.12 WAR|
|Brett Anderson||30||80.1 IP, 4.48 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 0.47 WAR|
|Bud Norris||33||57.2 IP, 3.59 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, -0.02 WAR|
|Ervin Santana||36||24.2 IP, 8.03 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, -0.60 WAR|
|Drew Pomeranz||30||74.0 IP, 6.08 ERA, 1.77 WHIP, -0.48 WAR|
Keuchel’s 2018 stats don’t really stand out from the crowd. But his pedigree far outstrips the competition; not only did he win the 2015 AL Cy Young, he’s recorded an ERA under 2.95 three times in his career (2014, 2015, 2017). What we saw in 2018 was probably his floor.
Which teams are most likely to cave and give Keuchel the lengthy five-year term he’s looking for?
Odds on Dallas Keuchel’s 2019 Team
|Team||Total Payroll Commitments for 2019||Proj. 2019 Record at FanGraphs||SBD”s Odds to Sign Keuchel|
|Atlanta Braves||$78.5 M (19th)||82-80||5/1|
|Philadelphia Phillies||$92.7 M (15th)||80-82||5/1|
|San Diego Padres||$67.9 M (21st)||76-86||8/1|
|Milwaukee Brewers||$98.3 M (13th)||79-83||12/1|
|Los Angeles Angels||$142.1 M (5th)||84-78||13/1|
|Houston Astros||$99.7 M (12th)||95-67||14/1|
|Cincinnati Reds||$56.9M (24th)||79-83||15/1|
Keuchel’s landing spot is wide open at this stage. While a number of teams are interested, none have emerged as a strong frontrunner. Given his age and sub-par 2018 performance (by his standards), it’s no surprise that basically the entire league would like to have him, but no team is completely enamored.
Braves and Phillies are the Favorites
The Braves and Phillies are the favorites at this stage. They are in something of an arms race in the all-of-a-sudden-stacked NL East. The Nationals already landed Corbin and are potentially going to retain Harper; the Mets still have Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard leading one of the best starting rotations in MLB (at least on paper); and the Marlins … well, every division needs its whipping boy.
With Corbin signing, this is the current NL East 2019 fWAR projections: Nationals (~47), Mets (39.8), Braves (35.2), Phillies (30.5) and Marlins (lol). https://t.co/n8ZThXTDzk
— Zach Dillard (@Zach_Dillard) December 4, 2018
But the fact remains, the NL East is going to be hotly contested, and both the Braves and Phillies could use a reliable veteran. While the Braves finished fourth in the majors in starting-pitcher ERA last year (3.50), they lost Anibal Sanchez and they cannot count on Mike Foltynewicz (2.85 ERA) or Kevin Gausman (2.87 ERA) being as good as they were last year.
Foltynewicz lowered his ERA by nearly two full runs compared to 2017, making a 2019 regression likely. Gausman, acquired mid-season from the Orioles, lowered his own ERA by 1.56 runs after arriving in Atlanta. His career ERA over five seasons is 4.12.
As for the Phillies, their rotation was hit-and-miss outside of Aaron Nola. They wound up 16th in starting pitcher ERA (4.12) even though Nola and his 2.37 ERA ate up 212.1 innings.
Are You Serious about the Padres?
Yes, the Padres are actually a serious contender in the Keuchel sweepstakes (using that word liberally).
The Padres have interest in Dallas Keuchel, according to sources, though the asking price is currently prohibitive (likely so for most teams). Keuchel, a Scott Boras client and the top free-agent starter left, isn’t expected to sign until late in the offseason.
— Dennis Lin (@dennistlin) December 14, 2018
General manager A.J. Preller is willing to take shots — just look at his 2018 acquisition of Eric Hosmer (eight-year, $144 M contract with full no-trade clause). Preller already inked oft-injured Garrett Richards to a two-year, $15.5 M deal and the Friars’ rotation still needs huge upgrades to reach average. They finished last year 27th in starting pitcher ERA (5.09).
Where do you think Keuchel is going to land? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.