Dallas Keuchel is the newest member of the White Sox, courtesy of a three-year, $55.5MM deal with a vesting option that could push the final value of the deal to 4/$74MM. At 31 years old, Keuchel can’t be called an upside play, nor is he likely, given recent performance, to repeat the kind of output that saw him earn a Cy Young award back in 2015. But, in committing multiple years and an $18.5MM AAV to the lefty, the White Sox seemed to, for the moment, answer an age-old question: just what is the value of “pretty good”, anyway?
For front offices in recent offseasons, “pretty good” has seemed to be a non-starter. When Keuchel was on the market just last winter, more than a few observers offered opinions on why the lefty struggled to find a long-term deal: there was the dip in velocity; the mid-3.00 FIPs; a resounding lack of strikeout oomph. Few argued that Keuchel was an incompetent pitcher, but words like “impact”, “upside”, and “premier” were not what one would have ascribed to him. A year later, debate will likely still follow his receipt of a deal that, if vested, will be within throwing distance of a $100MM.
Then again, if the case of Dallas Keuchel and his recent forays into the open market say anything, the commentary may be more about the current qualifying offer system than anything else. Sure, one could argue that the prorated, one-year, $13MM deal he signed with the Braves last year was of the “prove it” variety— a chance to show that downward trends in velocity and underlying metrics wouldn’t threaten his bottom-line results. But did Keuchel really prove that in 2019?
Across 112.2 innings with Atlanta, Keuchel basically pitched to career averages. His 3.72 ERA (3.67 career ERA), 7.27 K/9 (7.16 career K/9), and 60.1% GB rate (58.9% career GB rate) in 2019 were all in keeping with his broader body of work, if not slightly better. Meanwhile, he continued to show diminished velocity (88.3 mean mph in 2019) and his 4.72 FIP would tell you he was somewhat benefitted by the defense playing behind him in Atlanta—leaving some remaining question as to whether his performance is sustainable. Basically, Keuchel is the same guy who entered last offseason in search of a long-term deal—except one year older, and, perhaps more critically, free of a QO. For those inclined to criticize this deal as an overpay based on what the lefty received last offseason, it would pay to bear that in mind.
Within the context of this offseason, Keuchel checks in comfortably below what Madison Bumgarner received from Arizona. That five-year, $85MM was slightly lighter in terms of AAV, although that was likely a secondary consideration with respect to the opportunity to maximize guaranteed dollars—plus, we know Bumgarner was rather adamant about ending up in Arizona and may have left richer offers on the table. Meanwhile, it trumps what Kyle Gibson earned, and is miles above the one-year, $9MM guarantee that Julio Teheran—another player comfortably within the hall of pretty good—received from Los Angeles. This may not register as brilliant analysis, but, for the moment, Keuchel’s deal seems to occupy its own little window in the winter of 2019-2020.
For a relatively recent precedent, we might look, perhaps a bit ironically, to the four-year, $67.5MM contract Nathan Eovaldi drew from the Red Sox in the very same offseason that saw Keuchel left out in the cold. Eovaldi was likely able to earn that sum because of his relative youth, postseason performance, and, of course, premier amounts of impact/upside. Keuchel was lacking in a few of those departments last offseason, but, then again, he offered a few things Eovaldi did not: a broad track record of stability, numerous 30-start seasons, and a sinker-based repertoire that may prove more immune to season-over-season vagaries. He may lack Eovaldi’s horizon, but he offers a “pretty good” floor. That Keuchel should ultimately line up alongside Eovaldi in terms of AAV is perhaps a fitting commentary on his value.
So, what say you? Is this an overpay for veteran stability or a reasonable investment in the market’s mid-point? Just what is the value of pretty good, anyway? (Poll link for app users)