It’s too early to count out a reunion between Dallas Keuchel and the Astros, as Fancred Sports’ Jon Heyman reports (Twitter link) that Houston continues to have interest in the free agent left-hander. We haven’t heard much connecting Keuchel and the Astros this winter, though back in late December, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart speculated that the Astros could reconsider signing Keuchel if he was still on the market by late January, and if the team hadn’t made any other notable pitching signings.
This is exactly the situation both sides find themselves in, four weeks later, and it’s fair to wonder if there could be more than a “slim” chance (as McTaggart described things) of Keuchel again donning a Houston uniform in 2019. There hasn’t been much recent news on Keuchel, as it could be that his market is being held up until Bryce Harper and/or Manny Machado both sign contracts. Of the teams who have been linked to Keuchel this offseason, at least three (the Phillies, Nationals, and Padres) have also had interest in one or both of Harper and Machado. Of course, Washington could be out of the running for Keuchel regardless of what happens with Harper, as the Nats have already augmented their rotation by signing Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez.
Beyond those three teams, the Reds, Rangers, Brewers, Angels, Braves, and Blue Jays have all reportedly had some level of interest in Keuchel at certain points this offseason. This group could all still be fits on paper, though Texas, Cincinnati, and Los Angeles have all preferred to add shorter-term arms to their rotations. Keuchel, meanwhile, was still looking for at least a five-year contract as of last month.
With all this in mind, there seems to be some room for the Astros to re-emerge as a potential landing spot. Keuchel is represented by Scott Boras, who has negotiated some creative contracts for his pitching clients in recent months, and thus could find some common ground if Houston is wary of making a big multi-year commitment to a 31-year-old southpaw. Since Keuchel rejected a qualifying offer, the Astros are currently in line for a compensatory draft pick if signs elsewhere, but the club could decide that foregoing that extra pick is worth it if Keuchel could be re-signed at an acceptable price.
The Astros’ pitching staff was already expected to take a hit this winter with Keuchel and Charlie Morton (now with the Rays) hitting free agency, but they lost another arm in early November when Lance McCullers underwent Tommy John surgery. While the one-two combo of Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole gives Houston plenty of quality at the front of the rotation, the back end is less certain. Collin McHugh is returning to starting after a year in the bullpen, youngsters Josh James and Framber Valdez have less than a year of MLB experience between them, and some highly-touted arms in the farm system (namely top prospect Forrest Whitley and righty J.B. Bukauskas) are entirely unproven at the big league level. Adding a seasoned, playoff-tested veteran like Keuchel would go a long way towards reinforcing the staff in a year that the Astros hope to again contend for a World Series title.