Arguably the best option left on the market, starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel still remains a free agent with less than three weeks to go before spring training starts. Normally an anomaly for big-ticket free agents to sign early on to the highest bidder, the past season began an unusual trend in which middle-tier free agents were more likely to sign early on and bigger deals were pushed off until spring training or later.
With Keuchel coming off a big season for the Houston Astros, the dominant lefty was figured to haul in a deal that could top $100 million in total value, a number that he may only be able to dream of for the time being. Not having had much movement on him during the offseason, Keuchel may be forced to sign an incentive-laden one year deal and look forward to free agency in 2020, something that the likes of Mike Moustakas did the last offseason before re-upping with the Kansas City Royals.
No team can ever have enough pitching, much less starting pitching, but with the market moving at a snail’s pace so far, teams can afford to hold out and wait on the top-market players until their price tags come down so they can swoop in and win the long sweepstakes.
For Keuchel, a left-handed starting pitcher normally never has to wait it out on the market, but he has been forced to sit tight while teams assess what the perfect price is for him. With that in mind, here are three teams that would be smart to come in and swipe Keuchel and instantly plug them into their starting rotation.
The lone National League representative on this list, the Milwaukee Brewers have had an interesting strategy when it comes to managing their staff. Relying mostly on their bullpen to carry them through games, their starting rotation was meant mostly to get through 3-4 innings, reaching a point where the dominant arms in the pen could come in and control the remainder of the game.
With guys like lefty Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress, Corbin Burnes and Corey Knebel headlining their stout bullpen, their rotation was not asked to carry the brunt of the load, leading to the success that guys like Jhoulys Chacin and Brent Suter enjoyed in 2018. Manager Craig Counsell and company have dutifully managed their way through games with their shutdown staff, and they were able to burst onto the scene in the playoffs by riding the same strategy.
Keuchel would be a wrench in their normal plan from 2018, but he would present them with an addition to their staff that they do not currently have. Combining him with a hopefully-healthy Jimmy Nelson, who is still on the road to recovery from a shoulder injury earned late in 2017, and they would be adding two aces to their staff.
If both Keuchel and Nelson were to return to full strength, they would boast something along the lines of Keuchel, Nelson, Chacin, Davis/Anderson/Burnes/Brandon Woodruff/etc. Suter underwent Tommy John surgery last season and will not be available until after the All-Star Break at the earliest for the Crew.
Keuchel would be an instant upgrade for this team, which would have big-time pieces in place to help avenge their Game 7 loss in last year’s NLCS. The money would be an issue, but if the opportunity presented itself, it would be a great chance to improve this team and hopefully push itself into the World Series.
The first of two American League franchises that could sign Keuchel, the Baltimore Orioles are in dire need for a fire starter for their franchise. After signing Alex Cobb last season to a bigger deal, Cobb did not carry his own weight and was a financial burden for a team that finished in dead-last in the AL East.
After finishing 61 (that is not a typo) games behind first-place and World Series champion Boston Red Sox, the team is looking to start fresh with a new front office and a new manager. Keuchel would represent a huge upgrade for the team and would instantly become the franchise’s best player by a long shot.
Keuchel would be able to instill a sense of how to actually pitch into the staff, one that has been severely lacking for the past few seasons. Having exclusively pitched in the AL, Keuchel has a great amount of familiarity with his opponents, which would help with his transition to Baltimore.
The only issue with signing with the Orioles would be his choice to prioritize money over results, which could look like a two-year deal worth around $40 million. Both sides could look for a short-term deal, as Keuchel may want out soon to help earn a championship, while the Orioles may want to protect themselves in case of a huge investment in a starting pitcher goes haywire again.
For a team looking to jump back into contention, starting by upgrading their rotation is a great area to emphasize, one that the Orioles should look to improve upon for the 2019 season.
Staying in the division, the Tampa Bay Rays, who had a comeback season but still finished third in the AL East, put together a 90-win season and look to be back to contending for the division and wild-card spots. Keuchel would be that final piece to get them closer to contention, and while he would not be enough to put them over, he would be a step in that direction.
Similar to the positives with joining the Orioles, Keuchel and the Rays would be a good match. A caveat again would be the financial aspect, but with the Rays it is different, as they are a smaller-market franchise, playing in a state desperately looking for something to cheer about.
Needing a reason to keep the franchise where it is, bringing Keuchel in could help show their dedication to winning and that they do not want to relocate to do that. This big splash would represent a step in invigorating fans as well, as it would help engage fans due to Keuchel becoming a household name after his countless impressive seasons down in Houston.