Dallas Keuchel just won his fifth Gold Glove, putting him in eighth place all-time for pitchers. It’s a huge achievement for Keuchel, and in turn the Chicago White Sox — but it’s virtually the only aspect of his game that White Sox fans value heading into 2022.
After failing to secure Zack Wheeler in the 2019 offseason, the White Sox quickly pivoted and inked Keuchel to a three-year, $55.5 million contract on Dec. 30, 2019, and he came in with high expectations from fans. In the abbreviated 2020 season, his first with the Sox, Keuchel posted a 1.99 ERA and was one of the best pitchers in the American League. He took home a Gold Glove, and was looking key rotation cog for 2021.
Although Keuchel began 2021 confidently, he really struggled to keep it together, and seemed to completely fall apart in the second half, as his end-of-season numbers reflected (9-9, 5.28 ERA, 95 strikeouts, 1.53 WHIP). Keuchel fell from the White Sox’s No. 2 starter behind Lucas Giolito at the outset of the season to the team’s default No. 5 behind Lance Lynn, Dylan Cease, and Carlos Rodón. Keuchel undeniably had a bad year, but was it fluky-bad or career-ending bad?
Keuchel’s contract is up at the end of 2022, and after his performance last season, it is highly unlikely the White Sox will be able to trade him out earlier without having to eat at least some of his salary. The team is likely going to be stuck for $18 million in 2022, and if he somehow hits 160 innings pitched will have his $20 million team option in 2023 vest (otherwise, a $1.5 million buyout).
So what happens next season? Can we trust Keuchel enough to put him in the starting rotation? The White Sox recently announced that they will not be extending a qualifying offer to Carlos Rodón, but they did take the $16 million option on Craig Kimbrel, appearing to double down on an already-questionable investment. Without Rodón — or, if constrained by budget, choosing Kimbrel over Rodón — Keuchel becomes crucial for 2022.
Giolito, Lynn and Cease are confirmed starters, and it is highly likely that Michael Kopech will move out of the bullpen, as he’s ready to start and proved that in 2021. So does that give Keuchel the fifth spot in the starting rotation? It certainly will be his spot to lose, because there simply is no one else right now. Garrett Crochet is likely to be ready to start, but not for another season or two. Otherwise, it’s Reynaldo López? Jimmy Lambert? Kade McClure? None are good options for a major league team, much less one aspiring to a World Series.
Not extending a QO to Rodón was a huge mistake, but that is done and finished, so no longer worth dwelling on. Keuchel needs to step up in 2022 to fill the gap. He has admitted that 2021 was a long way from his best performance and that he wants to get back to the player he can be, so I think we just have to hope that 2021 was an $18 million bust, and nothing more. I doubt the White Sox will trade him/eat whatever is left of his salary, so optimism for more successful times really seems like our only option for at least the next few months.
If Keuchel can come back in 2022 with the skills we know he has hidden in there — and let’s face it, more judicious use by Tony La Russa would really help the southpaw’s bottom line — the White Sox will feel the improvement in a big way. However, if his performance in the 2021 season is an indication of what we can expect in the next year, this will be the last season in Chicago for Dallas Keuchel.
What would YOU do with Dallas?
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Plug him in as the No. 5, he has a proven track record — but cut him off before 160 innings vests his 2023 option.
Plug him in as the No. 5, he has a proven track record — but we need him to throw 180-200 innings, so let the 2023 option vest.
Trade him for another bad contract that’s a better fit for the White Sox, eating little or no money.
Trade him for a strong contributor, eating $10 million or more in the process.
Ride him into 2022, but if necessary cut him at the midway mark and eat the contract (a la Adam Eaton).