One of the ways that smaller market, or younger, teams have been able to compete is by signing their younger players to extensions that take them into free agency. Having that cost certainty when it comes to the arbitration years, as well as being able to have a year or two of those free agent seasons under command, can certainly help a team with limited payroll continue to excel. Just look at the Tampa Bay Rays, and how they signed James Shields, Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria, among others, to long term extensions before the idea of arbitration had even entered their thoughts.
The Houston Astros have already begun to implement this strategy to a degree. Jon Singleton has already been signed to a four year extension with three option years that would keep him in Houston through the 2021 season. The Astros have tried to sign George Springer to an extension, but that has not gotten anywhere. Perhaps the next player they could look at locking in would be Dallas Keuchel.
Keuchel truly burst onto the scene last year, as he produced a 12-9 record with a 2.93 ERA and a 1.175 WHiP. He led the American League in complete games, and struck out 146 batters against 48 walks. He also won a Gold Glove award, as his defense on the mound was head and shoulders above the rest of the American League. In short, Keuchel appears to be the type of pitcher that the Astros can build around.
Call to the Pen
Yes, the Astros would be taking a chance that Dallas Keuchel is truly the pitcher that he appeared to be last season. However, as someone who has proven to be an extreme ground ball pitcher, getting a grounder on 63.5% of balls in play and posting a ground ball to fly ball ratio of 1.82. Should the Astros infield defense continue to do their part, and those ground balls find their mitts instead of holes in the defense, the Keuchel could continue to be that same pitcher.
In fact, Keuchel could be even better next season without doing much differently. Last year, he gave up a .298 batting average on balls in play, which was exactly the league average. With better luck on the batted ball, Keuchel could see that ERA decrease even more. With the Astros looking like a much better squad than they were last year, he could be on the precipice of making an All-Star Game.
It is that potential, and the hope of what he could be shortly, that makes Dallas Keuchel an attractive option as a possible extension candidate. While pitchers are notoriously fickle beings, being able to lock in a young pitcher like Keuchel who may be on the verge of becoming one of the better starters in the American League should be a priority. Why worry about the top of the rotation when one of the pieces is already in place, and signed for the long term?
The Houston Astros have several young players who could be candidates for an extension. Dallas Keuchel may be at the top of that list.