Free agent left-hander Dallas Keuchel wants to get paid. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Angels need to establish a reliable starting rotation to compete for the American League playoffs; the two parties satisfy each other’s desires.
The 2018 Major League Baseball season was another playoff deprived year for the Angels. Finishing fourth in the American League West at 80-82, they missed the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season. They began the season strong, looking like a playoff threat, but injuries to rookie, two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani and right-hander Garrett Richards derailed both the Angels starting rotation and lineup. But there was still talent on their roster in Ohtani’s absence.
Offensively, the Angels featured the best player in the sport (Mike Trout), the power-hitting Justin Upton, star shortstop Andrelton Simmons, Albert Pujols, Kole Calhoun, before being traded, Ian Kinsler, and, when healthy, Ohtani. But, collectively, their offensive attack finished 2018 15th in MLB in runs (721), 23rd in hits (1,323), 20th in batting average (.242) and on-base percentage (.313), and 16th in OPS (.726).
The nagging issue with the Angels has been their starting rotation, but, last season, some young starters began to come into their own. Rookie right-hander Jaime Barria impressed with his ability to be efficient and work out of trouble. Finishing 2018 with a 3.41 ERA, he was arguably the Angels’ most reliable starter; in 30 outings, Andrew Heaney recorded a 4.15 ERA while totaling 180 strikeouts; Tyler Skaggs made a career-high 24 starts and recorded a 4.02 ERA while totaling 129 strikeouts.With the @Angels in need of reliable starting pitching, the club should be all over free-agent lefty Dallas Keuchel, writes @RPStratakos.Click To Tweet
Outside of potentially Barria, it’s difficult to get a gauge on whether the Angels have any starters capable of growing into an ace, or top-of-the-rotation force. And with Richards agreeing to a two-year deal with the San Diego Padres, the Angels could use a frontline starter. While there are doubts as to whether Keuchel is such a threat on the rubber himself, he would instantly be their best starting pitcher.
Right now, Keuchel is the most proven free agent starting pitcher on the open market. He’s a former American League Cy Young Award winner, a proven groundball pitcher, and can pitch in the postseason (Keuchel owns a 3.31 ERA in 10 postseason appearances, nine of which are starts). While he finished 2018 with an underwhelming 3.74 ERA and surrendered a career-worst 211 hits, the left-hander has been a top-of-the-rotation force in years past.
Keuchel has recorded an ERA under three in three of the last five seasons, and even when he’s labored, or hasn’t performed at an elite level, he’s been able to pitch deep into games. There are multiple teams in the sport who could insert Keuchel into their starting rotation as their ace; the Angels are one of those teams. Even if Keuchel performs at the level he did last season, as opposed to his 2015 Cy Young campaign, or even 2017 campaign, he makes the Angels a more well-rounded ballclub. By deepening their rotation, general manager Billy Eppler gives the Angels a chance to make a much-anticipated return to the playoffs.
Right now, the AL West is wide open. Yes, the Houston Astros are the team to beat in the division, but they’ve lost Charlie Morton to free agency and could potentially lose Marwin Gonzalez and Keuchel. Concurrently, they will be without right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. in 2019 due to an elbow injury and have Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole hitting free agency next offseason. The Oakland Athletics are a young ballclub coming off a 97-win season that included a Wild Card Game appearance, but they have multiple prominent figures to their 2018 success testing free agency such as Jed Lowrie, Jonathan Lucroy, Mike Fiers, Trevor Cahill, and Edwin Jackson. Plus, they’ve already lost backend reliever Jeurys Familia to the New York Mets on a three-year, and young left-hander Sean Manaea is going to miss 2019 with a shoulder injury.
The Seattle Mariners have traded James Paxton, Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, and Jean Segura; they’re clearly in a rebuilding phase. The Texas Rangers are searching for an identity and likely, at best, are two-to-three years away from competing for the playoffs. Furthermore, the AL, as a whole, isn’t going to be as formidable as it was last season with powerhouse ballclubs. The Cleveland Indians appear to be open for business when it comes to trading away some significant players, and the AL Central is the least competitive division in the sport to begin with. Outside of the Astros, the biggest threats in the AL arguably lie in the AL East with the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and Tampa Bay Rays — who all won 90-plus games in 2018.
Considering the uncertainty within their division and perhaps the AL, as a whole, why shouldn’t the Angels build a deep pitching staff for new manager Brad Ausmus, most notably, by adding Keuchel? Trout will be hitting free agency in two years, and it’s not known if he’s intent on staying with the Angels past his contract’s expiration date. Some would argue they’ve already wasted his presence given their failures over the last four seasons, but attempting to salvage the next two could pay dividends when the Angels are trying to convince Trout to stay another 10 or so years.
Keuchel is likely going to command a multi-year contract in the ballpark of $100 million. Look to Patrick Corbin as a guideline for what Keuchel should receive. The left-hander inked a six-year, $140 million deal with the Washington Nationals after finally breaking out for a big season which featured a 3.15 ERA, 246 strikeouts, and an All-Star Game appearance. Now, is Keuchel better than Corbin? He certainly has a better track record than the southpaw, but coming off a hot and cold season, and being an inconsistent pitcher for his career in general, Keuchel will likely reel in fewer dollars than Corbin. A five-year, $105 million deal would be suitable for both he and the Angels.
At some point, the Angels have to improve their starting rotation if they want to contend, and Keuchel is looking for a place to call home. He could be the start of more competitive baseball in Anaheim.