Dallas Keuchel isn’t asking for $300 million, and it doesn’t seem like he’s looking for Max Scherzer‘s seven-year, $210 million deal, yet he remains a free agent. With that said, the left-hander isn’t the first premier starting pitcher to be a free agent in spring training. In fact, right-handers Jake Arrieta and Lance Lynn were unsigned at this time one year ago. So is Keuchel this offseason’s Arrieta or Lynn?
Four months ago, Keuchel looked poised to be one of the most sought-after players on the open market. He had been one of the best left-handers in Major League Baseball in recent memory and was co-headlining the free agent starting pitching market alongside Patrick Corbin.
Last season Keuchel recorded a 3.74 ERA and 1.31 WHIP — which was the highest WHIP he recorded since 2013 (1.54). In doing so, Keuchel surrendered a career-high 211 hits. He put runners on base and had to work out of trouble often while his command came and went. And, in general, inconsistency has been an issue for Keuchel. After winning the American League Cy Young Award in 2015, he recorded a 4.55 ERA in 26 starts in 2016, was nowhere near the threat he was the year prior, and was a shaky force on the rubber every fifth day.
At the same time, Keuchel has put together some captivating seasons. In his 2015 Cy Young season he was a beast. Recording a 2.48 ERA and 1.02 WHIP while totaling a career-high 216 strikeouts, he was a force to be reckoned with; the postseason was a continuation of his superb regular season campaign. In two postseason starts Keuchel threw a combined 13 innings while totaling 14 strikeouts and surrendering just one run.
In 2017 Keuchel rekindled his Cy Young heroics in the 23 starts he made. Recording a 2.90 ERA while giving the Astros length, he returned to being a potent threat on the rubber. He was able to work out of trouble, pitch to his strengths, and find his command.
So which pitcher is Keuchel: the workhorse left-hander capable of serving as an ace, or the unsteady one who puts the game in harm’s way? Regardless of which pitcher he truly is, Keuchel should’ve been able to receive a hefty long-term deal, especially considering the contract Corbin inked.
Back in December, Corbin agreed to a six-year, $140 million deal with the Washington Nationals — which surprised many. Last season he recorded a 3.15 ERA and 1.05 WHIP while totaling 246 strikeouts (another career-high); Corbin’s production earned him a spot on the National League All-Star Game roster. While Corbin had a superb 2018 campaign and throws a nasty splitter, it was astonishing to see him cash in on a $140 million contract based on how he never had a season of that magnitude before and dealt with several worrisome injuries before 2017. It’s merely what happened with right-hander Yu Darvish last offseason.
Before hitting the open market a year ago, Darvish was a hard-throwing right-hander capable of being a top-of-the-rotation force, but he also dealt with elbow injuries and postseason struggles. Plus, he was coming off a postseason in which he recorded a 6.14 ERA in four starts. But it didn’t matter, as Darvish was given a six-year, $126 million deal from the Chicago Cubs. Meanwhile, Arrieta, who co-headlined the free agent starting pitching market alongside Darvish, remained a free agent in March.
Now, was Arrieta remaining on the market that long partially his fault? Yes, he was supposedly offered the same deal Darvish signed with the Cubs before he inked his deal. But Arrieta, like Keuchel, was a former Cy Young Award winner and a big-game pitcher. In fact, he was coming off throwing a combined 10.2 innings while surrendering just one earned run in the postseason. Arrieta was one of the best pitchers in the sport, could pitch deep into games, and recovered from a disastrous start to 2017 in the second half of the season — and the postseason.
Arrieta ended up signing a three-year, $75 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. The amount of money he received per year was fair considering his success in years past, but the number of years was a repercussion of remaining on the open market for as long as Arrieta did.
After missing 2016 due to an elbow injury, Lynn returned to being a steady force in the St. Louis Cardinals starting rotation, recording a 3.43 ERA in 2017. Before his injury the now 31-year-old was one of the most reliable right-handers in the sport, as well as a model of consistency and reliability; those are the types of pitchers who are usually snatched up quickly. On the contrary, Lynn was a free agent in March and ended up signing a one-year, $12 million deal with the Minnesota Twins.
After recording a combined 4.77 ERA with the Twins and New York Yankees, Lynn signed a three-year, $30 million deal with the Texas Rangers this offseason; a year and a half ago he seemed poised to receive a significantly more substantial deal.
There are pros and cons to both outcomes for Keuchel. With an Arrieta-like deal, Keuchel could be compensated handsomely and try to re-up on a similar deal when the contract expires. On the other hand, he could outpitch the contract. With a Lynn-like contract, Keuchel could pitch well and get the long-term deal he wanted next offseason. On the other hand, if he pitches poorly, his chances of getting a mega deal could be over.
Time with tell where Keuchel ends up. But if history repeats itself, he’ll be signing a short-term hefty deal, or a one-year prove-it one. A monster deal, in excess of five years and $100 million, seems unlikely.