7:05pm: The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal tweets that the Braves and Keuchel are in “serious talks.” There’s “some thought” that the Braves are willing to offer multiple years to Keuchel, tweets MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. Earlier this morning, the New York Post’s George A. King III reported that Keuchel did indeed have teams willing to push their offer to the multi-year deal range, whereas the Yankees were still set on limiting any offer to one year.
2:18pm: The Braves have emerged as the “frontrunners” to sign free-agent lefty Dallas Keuchel, reports Mark Feinsand of MLB.com (via Twitter). The Yankees have been prominently connected to the southpaw since the draft-pick compensation tied to him expired on Monday, but Atlanta has long been mentioned as a potential landing spot as well. Feinsand notes that the Yankees are still in the mix, but Atlanta has recently stepped up its efforts.
Earlier today, SNY’s Andy Martino reported that the Yankees were also facing some degree of competition from the Cardinals. He, too, listed the Braves as a potential factor in the Keuchel market, along with the Twins, though Minnesota’s interest has yet to be characterized as particularly serious.
For the Braves, Keuchel would help to stabilize a rotation that is enjoying strong performances from high-upside young pitchers who are likely to eventually face some type of workload restrictions (e.g. Mike Soroka, Max Fried). Beyond that excellent pairing, the starting pitching hasn’t panned out as hoped in Atlanta so far this season. Mike Foltynewicz missed the first month of the season and hasn’t performed well since returning (today’s quality outing notwithstanding). Lefty Sean Newcomb was demoted to Triple-A early in the season due to significant control issues, and he’s come back as a reliever. Righty Kevin Gausman has an ERA north of 6.00 through a dozen starts. Of the Braves’ starters, Julio Teheran has been the most effective holdover, but there’s certainly room to add another veteran to the mix to help smooth things over.
Unlike fellow free agent Craig Kimbrel, Keuchel has been reported to be more amenable to the concept of a one-year contract. The New York Post’s Joel Sherman wrote earlier this week that agent Scott Boras has discussed some multi-year scenarios that would contain an opt-out after the current season, but a straight one-year pact would be less complicated and more palatable for a signing team. Braves leadership has previously spoken about payroll flexibility, though the exact level of financial resources Liberty Media is willing to provide to general manager Alex Anthopoulos is, of course, anyone’s guess.
Any one-year deal signed by Keuchel would come with a prorated salary; inking him for the same rate as the $17.9MM qualifying offer he rejected back in November, then, would cost a team just north of $11MM from today through season’s end. Atlanta has a payroll of about $121MM at present, and their previous franchise-record Opening Day payroll total was $122MM. Signing Keuchel would push the Braves into uncharted territory, financially speaking — particularly when considering the fact that they’ll likely still make some additions on the trade market in an effort to bolster the bullpen.
That said, the National League East is among the game’s more tightly contested divisions. The Braves are currently 1.5 games behind the division-leading Phillies, 3.5 games ahead of the Mets and five games ahead of the suddenly surging Nationals. Given the competitive nature of the division, it’s understandable that they’re perhaps willing to push beyond previous comfort zones as they vie for a second consecutive playoff berth. Atlanta is currently in possession of the second National League Wild Card spot, but the difference between a guaranteed ticket to the NLDS and a winner-take-all, one-game coinflip is significant for any club.