Precisely why Dallas Keuchel remains unemployed isn’t entirely known or even knowable. Perhaps he squandered early market opportunities with too high an asking price. It may be that he’s still holding out unrealistic demands. On the other side, clubs are arguably far too willing to roll the dice on fresh young arms. Perhaps they’re too determined to maintain mid-season and future financial flexibility at the expense of immediate, season-long improvements.
The market has been quiet. Last we heard any news on Keuchel, agent Scott Boras said that the accomplished hurler was building up arm strength just as he would have in a team’s camp. While the market situation remains extremely foggy, Boras added that offers were still coming in. Keuchel still isn’t willing to take a “pillow contract,” Andy Martino of SNY.tv tweets today, so it seems he’s still holding out hope for a multi-year arrangement of some kind. He could follow the Kendrys Morales approach of waiting until the June draft to sign, thus shedding the requirement that a signing team surrender draft compensation, but that’s hardly the preferred means of procuring a desirable, long-term deal.
The real question remains: what teams are really motivated to go after Keuchel? We’ve looked previously at the market setting for the other unsigned hurler of note, Craig Kimbrel. Now we’ll do so with respect to Keuchel, taking a somewhat different angle of approach. While both are entering age-31 seasons in search of big money, with potential luxury tax ramifications for the signing team, their different pitching roles make for different market circumstances.
Rather than trying to create labels or categories, we’ll just run through the possibilities in narrative form. Here’s how the market breaks down …
It’s rarely wise to rule out teams entirely, but some teams lack the outlook and resources to be worthy of further consideration. The Orioles and Marlins can safely be scratched off the list of possibilities. It’d be nothing short of shocking to see the Royals make such a move when the club is already pushing high-priced starters into the bullpen. While the Giants and Rangers have much greater spending capacity, they’ve already got staffs full of veterans that include some significant financial commitments. The Tigers also seem to have already placed their bets for the coming season.
Neither is it really possible to envision a path for certain teams that have real hopes of winning seasons in 2019. The Indians and Pirates are low-budget contenders that don’t have the need to spend in the rotation; the Cubs and Red Sox are big-budget contenders that have full starting units and have probably already committed their 2019 payroll.
It’s not much easier to see a variety of other contending teams as Keuchel pursuers, though as we go down the line it becomes somewhat easier to imagine a move. The Boras connection to the Nationals means you can never say never, but the organization wants to stay below the luxury line and already has promised rotation spots to give hurlers. While some injuries arguably create an opening for the Dodgers, they still have ample options on hand and it’s tough to imagine them shoe-horning yet another pitcher onto their 40-man. Similarly, the Yankees have options — a trio of young arms holding down the fort with Luis Severino, CC Sabathia, and Gio Gonzalez waiting in the wings — but could still stand to stamp out some uncertainty. In years past, one or more of these clubs might have shrugged and thrown a stack of cash at Keuchel. It doesn’t feel very likely in this climate, particularly with the luxury tax implications for all of these clubs.
Several lesser-spending teams arguably make more sense on paper, but still feel unlikely. The Rockies, Reds, Cardinals, and Brewers could upgrade a rotation spot and boost their depth by adding Keuchel, but all likely feel it wouldn’t be enough of an improvement to warrant the cost with other, more pressing areas of need on their rosters.
Perhaps there’s a bit more cause for a pair of other National League clubs to consider a bold move. Like the above-mentioned teams, the value of a win is quite high given the densely packed divisions. But there’s a stronger case for Keuchel in particular for the Mets and Phillies. Both organizations have already already spent big on veterans. The former could bite the bullet and knock Jason Vargas out of the rotation. The latter could plug the higher-floor Keuchel into the starting unit while deploying Vince Velasquez as a potentially fascinating multi-inning reliever.
There’s at least an argument to be made for some other teams to take a look at the right price, even if the move would largely be future-oriented. Several American League clubs are lining up for a 2020 push — and surely also realize there’s at least some opening to surprise in the current year. At the right price point, Keuchel could be a value on a multi-year deal. The Mariners are always tinkering. The White Sox missed on their biggest targets. The Blue Jays added a few low-cost veterans but have tons of rotation uncertainty now and in the future. And on the NL side, the Diamondbacks are attempting to stay competitive while undergoing some roster changes.
Here’s about where things start to get interesting. The Rays already spent on Charlie Morton, but could consider Keuchel on much the same theory if the deal is short enough in length. While the Twins picked up Martin Perez to fill out their rotation, and have some younger depth pieces as well, the teams still has only meager future commitments and a big opportunity in the division.Neither of these teams really wants to spend on Keuchel past the present season, but there’s an argument that both should strongly consider making an exception.
Hopping over to the AL West, there are three clubs that make some degree of sense. The incumbent Astros know Keuchel better than anyone. They have kept in touch all winter long and remain an obvious fall-back spot, though it doesn’t seem they’ll move up their offer with so many internal options still available. The Angels and Athletics have ample need in the rotation. The public indications are that they’re fresh out of spending availability, but both organizations could justify stretching for Keuchel at this time.
Perhaps no teams in baseball make greater sense, though, than the Padres and Braves. It’s already an eye-popping offseason in San Diego, with Manny Machado coming aboard and top prospects Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddack making the Opening Roster, but the club’s rotation is still loaded with uncertainty. The Atlanta organization is defending a division title against three strong adversaries, has made it clear it has financial resources available now and in the future, and has seen several notable health questions arise in camp.
It’s hard to call any team in baseball an obvious favorite at this point. An injury could change the field quite a bit, though it’s anyone’s guess whether and when that might occur and Keuchel’s appeal as an immediate option will not exactly grow as he sits on the sidelines. It’s a tough spot for the veteran.