11:24am: Toronto’s likely not a real threat to sign Keuchel, suggests Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith, who expects the club to shop for lower-tier free-agent starters.
9:40am: As the most accomplished starting pitcher available in free agency, left-hander Dallas Keuchel has unsurprisingly drawn plenty of attention this offseason. Count the Blue Jays among the teams with interest in him, Jon Heyman of Fancred reports.
Starting pitching is a concern for the Blue Jays, whose rotation ranked an atrocious 28th in ERA and an unimpressive 21st in fWAR in 2018. That included a solid 114 innings from lefty J.A. Happ, whom the Blue Jays traded over the summer and now have interest in bringing back in free agency.
As things stand, the most established starters remaining in Toronto are Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Sam Gaviglio and Ryan Borucki – a quartet that, with the exception of Borucki, struggled to prevent runs last season. Moreover, Stroman and Sanchez, despite the immense promise they’ve shown at times, have come up in trade speculation this offseason. Even if the Jays do keep them heading into next year, their control over the pair is dwindling, as both Stroman and Sanchez are only arbitration eligible through 2020.
While the Jays’ No. 1 and 2 starters are controllable for just two more seasons, it may take a contract at least twice that long to reel in the soon-to-be 31-year-old Keuchel. The career-long Astro is in line for a four-year, $82MM deal, MLBTR predicts. Whether the Jays would be well-served by making such a commitment is debatable. Toronto may have trouble pushing for a playoff spot during the very early portion of Keuchel’s deal, after all, as general manager Ross Atkins has suggested the team’s realistically hoping to return to contention in 2020 or ’21. In the meantime, the club should continue to have its hands full in a division led by the world champion Red Sox, the title-contending Yankees and the up-and-coming Rays.
Keuchel’s age, his status as a qualifying offer recipient and the Jays’ current state seem to make the two an imperfect match, though they may earnestly pursue the former AL Cy Young Award winner if they believe he’ll avoid a sharp decline. Keuchel’s run prevention, strikeout, groundball and swing-and-miss numbers dipped last year in comparison to his best seasons, but he remained a formidable producer. Further, Keuchel has never been one to rely on velocity or post gaudy strikeout numbers, and has instead leaned on his exceptional ability to induce weak contact. Keuchel’s big-talking agent, Scott Boras, plans to take advantage of that, having announced that he’s selling his client as the “soft-contact genius of his era.”