There have yet to be any extension negotiations between the Astros and Dallas Keuchel, the ace left-hander told MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart and other reporters today. If a long-term deal is struck between the two sides, Keuchel said that it would have to happen by Opening Day — like most players, Keuchel doesn’t want to create a potential distraction for himself and his team by having talks drag into the season.
Keuchel and the Astros did work out a $13.2MM salary for 2018, avoiding arbitration in the southpaw’s final year of arb eligibility. He’ll hit free agency next winter going into his age-31 season and has already lined up some new representation, hiring the Boras Corporation last December. While some high-profile Scott Boras clients (i.e. Stephen Strasburg, Elvis Andrus, Carlos Gonzalez) have worked out major long-term extensions to stay with their teams, Boras generally advises his clients to test the open market, so it remains to be seen if a deal could be struck to keep Keuchel in Houston. The lack of negotiations to this point shouldn’t be seen as a major red flag, as most teams usually wait until later in the spring to fully delve into extension talks with pending free agents.
After winning the AL Cy Young Award in 2015, Keuchel battled some injuries in both 2016 and 2017, posting a 3.79 ERA, 2.83 K/BB rate, 7.7 K/9 and a league-best 61.2% grounder rate over 313 2/3 IP in those two seasons. That 3.79 ERA generally matched his ERA predictors in 2016-17, with the big swing in actual ERA (4.55 ERA in 2016, 2.90 ERA in 2017) likely due to a healthy difference in BABIP (.304 in 2016, .256 in 2017), which naturally has a big impact on a pitcher with so reliant on inducing ground balls. His home run rate has steadily risen in each of the last three seasons, though Keuchel’s hard-hit ball rate also dropped back to his career average after a spike in 2016.
The Astros’ trades for Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole created some speculation that the team was guarding itself against Keuchel’s possible departure, bolstering the rotation with two front-of-the-rotation arms that are under contract through at least the 2019 season. Talks between Keuchel and the Astros, as well as any other negotiations between teams and impending free agents, will be particularly interesting to monitor this spring in the wake of this offseason’s unusual lack of free agent activity. It could be that players are more open to extensions if they’re worried about being stuck without teams next winter, particularly since next year’s market will several huge stars (such as Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, or Josh Donaldson) sure to soak up many of the available dollars.