The Rockies are in agreement with right-hander Chad Kuhl, reports Thomas Harding of MLB.com (Twitter link). It’s a major league contract for the former Pirate, tweets Nick Groke of the Athletic. The ACES client receives a $3MM guarantee with additional possible incentives, reports Mark Feinsand of MLB.com (Twitter link).
Kuhl had spent his entire career in Pittsburgh after being selected in the ninth round in 2013. He made the big leagues in June 2016 and posted decent numbers over the next season and a half. He pitched to a 4.20 ERA in 70 2/3 innings as a rookie, then worked to a 4.35 mark over 157 1/3 frames the following year. Kuhl’s strikeout and walk numbers were both a tick worse than the respective league averages, but he sat in the mid-90s with his fastball and generally did a solid job avoiding damaging contact.
The 2018 season was a disappointment, though. Despite a slight career high in strikeout rate (21.7%), his rate of home runs and barreled balls allowed skyrocketed. The University of Delaware product managed a 4.55 ERA in 85 innings before landing on the injured list with a UCL issue in his elbow. He eventually required Tommy John surgery that cost him the rest of that campaign and all of 2019.
Kuhl returned for the shortened 2020 season, putting up a 4.27 ERA even though his walk rate jumped to an unpalatable 14.2%. Those strike-throwing troubles mostly persisted last season, when he dished out free passes at a 12% clip. Kuhl struggled as a starter through July, then missed three weeks battling COVID-19. Upon returning, the Bucs moved him into the bullpen. He finished the season with a personal-worst 4.82 ERA over 80 1/3 frames in 28 appearances (14 of them starts). The Pirates non-tendered him in November, ending his five-plus year run in the Steel City.
Since returning from the Tommy John procedure, Kuhl’s performance has been a bit below average. It’s a low-cost dice roll for the Rockies, who watched Jon Gray depart in free agency before the lockout. While Kuhl’s results haven’t been great of late, his velocity has essentially returned to its former levels. He averaged a bit north of 94 MPH on both his four-seam and sinker last season, and his slider has been a decent swing-and-miss offering over the course of his career.
Germán Márquez, Kyle Freeland, Austin Gomber and Antonio Senzatela are all returning, but the fifth spot in the rotation has been an open question. Kuhl now joins Peter Lambert and former first-rounder Ryan Rolison in that mix, and the Rox are sure to require some outings beyond their top quintet (as all teams do throughout the course of a 162-game season). If Kuhl ultimately wound up back in the bullpen, he could serve as an important option for skipper Bud Black against right-handed opponents. He’s held righties to a tepid .253/.327/.392 mark in his career, but his inconsistent changeup has contributed to a massive .269/.363/.491 slash allowed to lefty-swinging batters.
In order to finalize Kuhl’s signing, the Rockies will need to make a 40-man roster move. Groke tweets that’s likely to be the placement of reliever Scott Oberg on the 60-day injured list. Oberg, a productive high-leverage reliever between 2018-19, hasn’t pitched in three years on account of persistent issues with blood clots in his arm. He underwent the latest in a long line of surgeries to address the issue last November.