Dallas Keuchel will be arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter and is under team control through at least the 2018 season, but the lefty tells Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle that his agent, Darek Braunecker of Frontline Athlete Management, has discussed a multi-year deal with Houston. For his part, Keuchel is very open to remaining in Houston long-term. As he tells Drellich:
“[Houston] is all I’ve known, and it’s where I want to be. I know we’re in a great position for the next probably five, 10 years… it’s all about winning. Me personally, it’s not about the dollar amount. … With that being said, it’s got to be something that’s fair and that’s right for both parties. I’m not trying to break the bank. I’m just out here to have fun and pitch and do the best I can.”
The 27-year-old Keuchel had a breakout season in 2014 and has emerged as one of the American League’s top pitchers with an elite 2015 season that features a 2.37 ERA, 7.9 K/9, 2.1 BB/9 and a 63.1 percent ground-ball rate in 178 2/3 innings. As Drellich notes, comparable pitchers (at least, in terms of service time) such as Wade Miley and Lance Lynn signed away their three arbitration seasons last winter for $19.25MM and $22MM, respectively. Keuchel, however, has a much stronger two-year platform heading into arbitration and could surpass both of those figures for his arb years.
It stands to reason that the Astros would want to secure at least one, if not two or three free agent years for Keuchel, which, in my mind, would need to be valued in the $15-17MM range. However, from the player’s point of view, signing away precious free agent years isn’t as desirable, even if it’s for a relatively sizable sum. Keuchel’s best chance at a $100MM+ contract would be to hit the open market heading into his age-31 season, as he’s currently projected to do. He also has a strong arb case this winter based on his excellent 2014-15 work, so he can reasonably bank on a pair of life-changing paydays in the next two offseasons even if his 2016 campaign doesn’t go as well as 2014-15. Keuchel’s comments about not breaking the bank do offer some hope, however, that he could look to set some kind of precedent for extensions for players with three to four years of service time, as opposed to maximizing his arb salaries and signing a nine-figure contract in the 2018-19 offseason.
There’s also some logic behind the scenario in which Keuchel signs a three-year deal that locks in only his arb seasons. Keuchel would secure his first fortune and still be positioned to hit the free agent heading into his age-31 season. The Astros, in turn, would gain cost certainty over a pitcher whose arb prices could escalate at an abnormally high rate due to his status as one of the American League’s best arms and a potential Cy Young candidate.
Drellich also spoke to right-hander Collin McHugh, who said that he, too, is interested in signing a long-term deal with Houston, although no talks have taken place between the Astros and McHugh’s agents at Moye Sports Associates. McHugh, however, has one less year of service time and won’t be arbitration eligible until next winter. McHugh, another somewhat surprising breakout pitcher in the Astros’ rotation, has pitched to a 3.36 ERA with 8.2 K/9 against 2.4 BB/9 in 313 2/3 innings since being claimed off waivers in the 2013-14 offseason.
Also of note, Drellich reports that the Astros plan to make a run at re-signing Houston native and July trade acquisition Scott Kazmir this winter, though there have unsurprisingly been no talks at this point, as Kazmir is intent on testing the market.