Once again, the Braves are being linked to Dallas Keuchel. According to Jon Heyman, he is on the top of the Braves’ free-agent wish list, something that has been rumored for a little over a week now.
Braves seem to have Keuchel atop their wish list. Seek 1 starter, 1 reliever and 1 outfielder.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 10, 2018
Of course, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman quickly shot down those rumors when they were first reported, saying that the Braves had not been in contact with Keuchel or his representatives. That seems pretty odd for somebody who is at the top of their reported wish list. It could be a case of Keuchel’s agent making it appear like there is more interest than there really is, or perhaps Atlanta is putting on their best poker face. Regardless, with Keuchel being the most accomplished starting pitcher left on the market and the Braves obviously in need of one, it makes sense that Atlanta would be considering such a move. Which leads to the question: Should the Braves sign Dallas Keuchel?
The Case For:
Keuchel has become an ace-type pitcher for the Houston Astros but was not projected as such. He doesn’t have the overpowering arm that has become ever-so-popular in the MLB today. His fastball sits in the high-80s to low-90s, but it is his ability to throw it for strikes along with its versatility that makes it so effective. Keuchel throws both a sinking two-seam fastball and a cutter, which forces a ton of ground balls and weak contact. Combine that with a changeup, slider and his command of the strike zone, and you have a recipe for success in the MLB.
The bearded-one first experienced some of that success in 2014, going 12-9 with a 2.93 ERA in 200 innings pitched. Not many people expected that from him when he was a prospect, but that was just the beginning. He followed that up with a Cy Young campaign in 2015, winning the award behind his only 20-win season and a 2.48 ERA.
However, since that year, Keuchel has experienced his fair share of ups and downs. He went 9-12 with a 4.53 ERA in 2016 before returning to the All-Star game in 2017 only to allow the most hits in the American League in 2018. That, along with his lack of a power arm, will make his market a lot colder than most Cy Young award winners that hit free agency in their primes.
That’s what makes him an intriguing fit for the Atlanta Braves, who are searching all the cracks for someone who can lead their talented young pitching staff. Keuchel may not be able to throw it 100 MPH, but he has all the other tools that make pitchers successful. He has command of all his pitches, doesn’t walk batters and uses his brain as much as any pitcher in the league. If he’s to be had at an affordable price, there’s no questioning the Braves should be seriously considering it.
Not to mention, he has championship pedigree from when he was teammates with Brian McCann. Atlanta signed McCann to a one-year deal this offseason. The Braves also hired Mike Fast as a special assistant to the general manager. Fast was previously the director of research and development for the Houston Astros. Keuchel himself has pointed to analytics as a reason for his surprising success at the major league level, so reuniting with the man who headed all of that for the Astros organization makes sense. This could be the ideal fit for both sides.
The Case Against:
The best case for Keuchel coming to Atlanta might just be his outstanding beard. He and Folty could create a dynamic duo of bearded arms at the top of the Braves rotation. However, realistically, the Braves should not be looking to acquire Keuchel- and it really comes down to two things- consistency and money.
Keuchel has rarely been the same pitcher who won the Cy Young back in 2015. 2016 was a mess that saw him finish with a losing record, 64 fewer innings pitched but 3 more home runs allowed and a 4.55 ERA. He returned to the All-Star game in 2017, going 9-0 with a ridiculous 1.67 ERA in the first half of the season, but followed that up with a pedestrian 5-5 record and 4.24 ERA in the second half. 2018 was more of the same: He led the league in hits allowed and put up a 3.74 ERA while going 12-11. Not exactly the numbers the Braves are going to be looking for out of the ace of their staff.
Perhaps a move to the National League could provide a boost for Keuchel, but not enough to make him worth the money he is about to receive. The starting pitchers market this offseason was about as bad as it could have been, which is why the best of this class is going to receive some inflated contracts. That has already started with Patrick Corbin, who signed a six-year, $140 million deal with the Washington Nationals. Now, Corbin may be a year younger and coming off a career year, but he doesn’t have near the resumé that Keuchel does.
Keuchel has put up better or similar numbers nearly every season, and he’s done it in the American League. He’s also already turned down a $17.9 million qualifying offer from the Houston Astros, meaning he certainly expects to earn in the ballpark of $20 million a year in his next contract. That’s quite expensive for a team that reportedly only has about $20 million left to spend and multiple positions of need left to fill.
Obviously, the Braves could make this move and continue to acquire players through the trade market. However, I still don’t view this as being a wise or realistic signing. The Braves are looking for a real ace: someone with a track record of dominance who can lead a postseason rotation. I’m not sure Keuchel has ever been that, and you shouldn’t expect him to be just because you invested $100 million+ into him.