Although he reached free agency last offseason as one of the most accomplished starters on the open market, former AL Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel went without a team for a shockingly long time. Keuchel, who looked like a shoo-in to sign a lucrative multiyear deal at the outset of the winter, ended up settling for the Braves’ one-year, $13MM offer shortly after the amateur draft in early June.
The fact that Keuchel’s previous team, the Astros, attached a qualifying offer to him before he became a free agent was an obvious cause for the difficulty he encountered on the market. The longer Keuchel sat without a deal, the closer the draft came. The closer the draft came, the more content teams were to wait Keuchel out and attempt to sign the Scott Boras client without having to give up compensation in the form of a pick(s).
With the qualifying offer system still intact heading into this winter, there could be some soon-to-be free agents who meet a similar fate to what Keuchel and fellow post-draft signing Craig Kimbrel faced earlier in 2019. Keuchel won’t be one of them, as a player can’t receive a QO twice, though he explained to Jesse Rogers of ESPN that he remains frustrated with the setup that’s in place.
“This is whole draft-pick compensation thing went from a throw-in for a team losing a player, to is he really a free agent now?” Keuchel said.“How can you be free if there is a draft pick attached to you? And why do they value draft picks so much when the percentage of picks who make the league, and are better than you, is what, like .01 percent? There are so many things wrong.”
Like many of his fellow players, Keuchel’s irked by the last two offseasons, both of which were notoriously sluggish from a free agency standpoint. “It’s not just us being the bad guys,” Keuchel said of the players.
Keuchel’s among those displeased with the way free agency has been trending, though that doesn’t mean he didn’t receive multiyear offers during his trip to the market. On the contrary, the Angels were among those who were willing to commit more than one year to Keuchel, per Rogers. However, Keuchel believed those teams “undervalued” him, writes Rogers. It also seems signing with a playoff-caliber club was a priority for Keuchel, who, despite his relatively underwhelming results in free agency, believes he’s now “in the best possible for scenario for myself” as a member of a World Series-contending Braves team.
Although he wasn’t the ace-caliber hurler we’ve seen in the past, Keuchel did help the Braves to an NL East title after his midseason arrival. The 31-year-old threw 112 2/3 innings of 3.75 ERA/4.72 FIP with 7.27 K/9 and 3.12 BB/9 and a 60.1 percent groundball rate in the regular season, and then added 4 2/3 innings of one-run ball in the team’s Game 1 loss to the Cardinals in the NLDS. With that series heading to a winner-take-all Game 5 on Wednesday (in which Mike Foltynewicz will take the mound for Atlanta), Keuchel might not make another start for the Braves. The club could try to re-sign Keuchel whenever its season ends, but it if that doesn’t happen, he’ll have to test the free-agent waters again. While it’s likely Keuchel’s next deal will outdo his current pact, he doesn’t seem thrilled about returning to the market.
“I still have to go back into the zoo [free agency] but I figured if this offseason doesn’t present more offers, more swiftly, like the NBA or the NFL, then the normal fan will see exactly what’s going on,” Keuchel said. “That’s what I want people to see.”