Last offseason was a difficult one for free agents — especially those who received qualifying offers. In today’s era, where more teams are rebuilding than competing, many teams found it difficult to spend top dollars on pitchers who are on the wrong side of 30. Not only that, teams find it difficult to relinquish high draft picks for those same free agents. Thus, as a result, both Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel have found themselves without a team all offseason and regular season, and through the MLB draft.
Now that the draft has finally passed, teams no longer would surrender a high draft pick to win their services. And now, the White Sox should insert themselves into the Dallas Keuchel Sweepstakes.
While Keuchel had an off-year in 2018, his numbers still weren’t too shabby. His ERA was a respectable 3.74, with a comparable 3.69 FIP. His strikeout total of 153 was the second-highest of his seven-year career, only behind his Cy Young year of 2015. Keuchel started 34 games and pitched 204 2⁄3 innings last year, which is the third time he’s eclipsed the 200-inning mark. He did surrender 58 walks, which is in line with his career BB/9 of 2.6.
The biggest concern with Keuchel last year was that he was simply more hittable, as he gave up 211 hits, for a .263 OBA. As a result, his WHIP of 1.31 was his highest since 2013. His sinking fastball, which averaged 89.1 mph per Baseball Savant last year, fared worse last year (.289 OBA) than it did the year before (.216 OBA); similarly, his OBA worsened from .167 to .260 from 2017 to 2018.
On the plus side, Keuchel negated those peripherals with improved numbers from his cutter, which he used primarily against righties. He more than doubled his cutter usage last year while reducing his OBA on that pitch from .341 to .231.
Over the course of his seven-year career per Baseball Reference, Keuchel has averaged the following numbers over a 162-game season: 14-12, 3.66 ERA, 3.72 FIP, 1.25 WHIP, 35 G, 216 IP, 207 H (.253 OBA), 62 BB (2.6 BB/9), 171 K, (7.2 K/9), 21 HR
Keuchel would likely require a few rehab starts in the minors before he’d be ready to pitch for any team he signs with. If he were to sign with the White Sox, he’d immediately be among the top two guys in the rotation, along with current ace Lucas Giolito. With results ranging from inconsistent to putrid from the team’s other starters, Keuchel should be able to help save what’s been a surprisingly decent White Sox bullpen thus far. Of course, by the time he’s ready, the White Sox could be much further away from playoff contention.
Acquiring Keuchel wouldn’t be so much an investment on this year, it’d be more of a future investment, as many of the team’s younger hurlers are battling injuries and/or inconsistency. It would help to have an experienced presence (who’s enjoyed the fruits of a successful rebuilding program with the Astros) to help mentor the likes of Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Michael Kopech and Dylan Cease and the oft-injured Carlos Rodon — not to mention others waiting for opportunities like Bernardo Flores, Jimmy Lambert or Dane Dunning. If all those guys are healthy, Lopez could be relegated to bullpen duties, which could perhaps be his destined role anyway.
What it would take to sign Keuchel? It won’t be easy, especially for a team recognized for its relative cheapness, as highlighted by the Manny Machado/Bryce Harper fiascos. Perhaps a four-year offer for $68 million (with the first year pro-rated) would be a nice place to start. It could easily take a larger offer than that to pry him from contending teams like the Yankees, Twins, Phillies and Red Sox.
Of course, the White Sox could opt to wait for the free agent class next year, but aside from Gerrit Cole (for whom there’s likely to be a bidding war), few starters stand out as viable options due to the high number of offseason extensions.
The signing of Keuchel would send shockwaves throughout baseball that the White Sox are nearing the end of their rebuild and ready to be viable competitors for many, many years to come.