The Braves are reportedly in the driver’s seat to land free-agent left-hander Dallas Keuchel, who they hope would provide a significant in-season boost to a so-so rotation. Aside from Mike Soroka, Max Fried and Julio Teheran, no one in Atlanta’s starting five has performed all that well this year. Even Fried’s bubble has burst to some degree since a tremendous start to the season, while Teheran’s peripherals provide far less hope than his sterling 3.28 ERA.
Beyond Soroka, Fried and Teheran, 2018 summer acquisition Kevin Gausman, ’18 standout Mike Foltynewicz, and youngsters Sean Newcomb, Kyle Wright, Touki Toussaint and Bryse Wilson are the only other Braves who have made starts this season. Gausman has long been a credible starter, but he has pitched to a hideous 6.15 ERA (albeit with a much rosier 4.03 FIP); Foltynewicz’s 6.10 ERA actually sits well ahead of his awful 6.68 FIP; and Newcomb and Toussaint are now functioning as relievers, serving as two of the most reliable options in an Atlanta bullpen that has endured no shortage of down moments in 2019.
Considering the difficulties of their pitching staff this year, it’s no surprise the Braves are pursuing Keuchel. The latest reports indicate the Braves could reel in Keuchel on a multiyear deal. Earlier this week, though, there were rumblings indicating the Braves weren’t keen on paying Keuchel the prorated portion of the $17.5MM qualifying offer ($11MM-plus) that he rejected at the outset of the offseason. Potential price aside, the Braves will have to ask themselves a.) how long it’ll take for Keuchel to get ready and b.) how effective he’ll be after sitting out several months.
Former Braves/Padres/Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel just agreed to terms with the Cubs on Wednesday after a long free-agent trip of his own, and it’s likely he’ll be prepared to join Chicago within the next couple weeks. A similar time frame may be in the cards for Keuchel, who has been throwing sim games of at least 95 pitches in recent weeks as he waits for his next opportunity.
As for his on-field performance, Keuchel has generally been excellent since he broke out in 2014 – the year before he won his lone AL Cy Young Award. However, the longtime Astro did see his strikeout, groundball and run prevention numbers drop off to certain degrees in 2018. Having totaled fewer than seven strikeouts per nine a year ago, it’s fair to guess the quality of defense behind Keuchel will play a key role in his ability to stymie opposing offenses this season. With that in mind, it’s important to note the Braves’ defense has been one of the one of the worst in the majors on grounders in 2019.
Defensive concerns aside, it’s worth pointing out signing Keuchel would only cost the Braves money. As everyone who has paid close attention to his free-agent journey knows, inking Keuchel before June 2 would have meant surrendering both draft compensation and cash. Nevertheless, if you’re a Braves fan, perhaps you’d rather see them give up talent from their farm system in a trade for a starter (Madison Bumgarner? Marcus Stroman?) than sign Keuchel. The reigning NL East champion Braves are two games out of their division lead right now, so they may have to get this decision right if they’re going to overtake the first-place Phillies.
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