The Milwaukee Brewers have been the most active team in Major League Baseball this offseason, and they should finish off the period by signing Dallas Keuchel.
The Brewers either released or lost the following players to free agency: catcher Yasmani Grandal, infielders Mike Moustakas, Eric Thames, Travis Shaw, and Tyler Saladino, and pitchers Junior Guerra, Jimmy Nelson, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Lyles. Subsequently, they’ve signed infielders Ryon Healy, Eric Sogard, and Justin Smoak, outfielder Avisail Garcia, and left-hander Brett Anderson.
Meanwhile, they traded right-hander Zach Davies and outfielder Trent Grisham to the San Diego Padres for infielder Luis Urias and left-hander Eric Lauer. They also traded right-hander Chase Anderson to the Toronto Blue Jays and acquired catcher Omar Narvaez from the Seattle Mariners.
Soak that all in.
Now let’s address the next order of business for president David Stearns: starting pitching.
Right now manager Craig Counsell‘s projected starting rotation includes Anderson, Lauer, Brandon Woodruff, and potentially Adrian Houser. Does that rotation include some pitchers on the rise or enticing youngsters? Sure, but it’s not enough for the Brewers to be a serious threat for the National League pennant.
Regardless of a team’s approach to constructing a roster, one universal truth remains: you need reliable starting pitching to contend. Case in point: the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros sporting arguably the two best starting rotations in baseball in the 2019 World Series.
Keuchel is an affordable, high-upside option for the Brewers.
He’s coming off a bizarre season with the Atlanta Braves where he wasn’t signed until June. At the same time, he pitched well for someone who didn’t participate in spring training with an MLB team and switched leagues (Keuchel spent the first seven seasons of his MLB career with the Astros). Keuchel recorded a 3.75 ERA across 19 starts, limited damage, and pitched to his career tendencies.
The southpaw is a pitcher of deception. He consistently throws a sinker, cutter, changeup, and slider. Keuchel is a groundball pitcher. He relies on getting hitters to bite on his off-speed pitches but ambushes them with a high 80s fastball at decisive times in at-bats. He also has a great deal of postseason experience (Keuchel has made 11 career postseason starts).
There’s no reason why he can’t pitch at a higher level in 2020, especially considering how he’ll likely have time to get accustomed to his new coaches (it’s called spring training).
Keuchel is more often than not going no further than six innings in a given start; that’s all the Brewers need. With a bullpen that features the likes of proven and in some cases elite relievers such as Josh Hader and Alex Claudio, as well as pitchers shuffling roles, Counsell and friends just need their starters to get through an order twice.
A five-inning start is marveled in the postseason. Plus, when you take into account the short leashes pitchers have in playoff outings, having a surplus of arms that can pitch four-to-five innings when called upon is a luxury.
The Brewers sometimes use relievers for multiple innings an appearance, which can result in their bullpen being a bit gassed midway through the regular season. They need starters to alleviate some of the pressure being put on their bullpen.
We know the Brewers likely aren’t going to back up the truck for premier starting pitching on the free agent or trade market; they’ve continually resisted doing so. But they still have to do something significant to that aspect of their roster.
There has been a theme to every signing the Brewers have made this offseason: they’re one-to-two year deals. They’re not handing out any long-term contracts, rather embarking on trail-and-error transactions, which a lot of teams do. In all likelihood, Keuchel will be signing a short-term deal considering how he wasn’t on a big-league roster until June last season, and he’s a pitcher over 30 who doesn’t record strikeouts at a high rate — which is the type of pitcher the sport is trending away from in terms of spending top dollar.
He has no leverage.
The Brewers positional depth chart is full, and they did a nice job filling the voids that existed around the diamond; Narvaez is one of the best hitting catchers in baseball; Smoak holds a power, switch-hitting bat; Sogard is a versatile infielder with power; Garcia is a steady, line-drive hitter and proven right fielder.
There’s too much talent around the diamond for this team not to have a starting rotation that rounds out a World Series contender. Heck, the Brewers offense, which includes Christian Yelich, Keston Hiura, Ryan Braun, Lorenzo Cain, and now several veteran newcomers, is one of the most potent groupings in the sport.
Keuchel isn’t a prototypical ace, but he’s a proven pitcher who would help construct a well-rounded Brewers rotation. Look, the Brewers didn’t lose the NL Wild Card Game to the Nationals last season because of starting pitching. At the same time, if your number-one arm, which was Woodruff last season, can only go four innings in a win-or-go-home game in your manager’s estimation, that’s a problem — no matter the bullpen day, reliever-based system in place.
So far, so good for the Brewers this offseason, but a gaping hole on their roster still exists. They have to address it; Keuchel fits the bill.