The Nationals’ trade of right-hander Tanner Roark again puts Joe Ross and Erick Fedde atop the team’s list of options in the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation, meaning they’ll once again be on the hunt for starters. To that end, Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com reports that the Nats have interest in top lefty Dallas Keuchel but are “leery of giving him the five- or six-year deal he seeks.”
That’s the first word on the asking price for Keuchel, and it’s a fairly steep one, as most would expect. Of course, early asking prices are always going to be high — typically higher than the eventual landing point. If agent Scott Boras and Keuchel are ultimately seeking four to five years, for instance, it’s only natural to see them set out asking for five to six years. MLBTR estimated a four-year, $82MM deal for Keuchel at the outset of free agency, and a recent reader poll saw only about 15 percent of respondents believe a five-year pact was within reach.
Keuchel, 31 on New Year’s Day, is the top remaining starter in free agency but is one of several available pitchers to whom the Nationals have been linked since trading Roark. In the 48 hours since that swap, Washington has been tied to Yusei Kikuchi, Anibal Sanchez and Wade Miley. Keuchel would give the Nationals a virtually unparalleled top four alongside Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin but would also quite likely give the Nats an unheard of four starting pitchers with annual salaries in excess of $20MM. Like Corbin before him, Keuchel would cost the Nationals a pick in next year’s draft by virtue of the fact that he rejected a $17.9MM qualifying offer.
As for those wondering about the wisdom behind trading Roark only to immediately search for a replacement, it’s possible that the organization simply felt Roark’s rising arbitration price — MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz pegged him at $9.8MM — outpaced reasonable expectations for his performance in 2019. Roark’s strikeout, swinging-strike, home-run and ground-ball rates all went in the wrong direction in 2018, as did his velocity.
In the meantime, the Nats added a 100-mph arm, Tanner Rainey, in exchange for Roark’s final season of team control. While Rainey’s MLB cameo in 2018 was unequivocally brutal (19 runs on 13 hits and 12 walks with seven strikeouts in just seven innings), he also notched a 2.95 ERA with 13.5 K/9 across the past two minor league seasons. Walks were still an issue in the minors, though, as he averaged 5.4 free passes per nine innings pitched.