Astros: What would a long-term contract for Dallas Keuchel look like?

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 29: Dallas Keuchel
HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 29: Dallas Keuchel /
facebooktwitterreddit

Dallas Keuchel, the Astros’ 2015 AL Cy Young winner, will be looking for huge payday around this time next year.

Let’s be honest for a moment: Dallas Keuchel will be paid next off-season. There is no way around that notion. Barring something unforeseen at this point, Keuchel will be one of the most sought after names on the market next off-season. The question is whether the Astros or another team will be responsible for paying Keuchel the big bucks in the coming years.

Now, I understand if you view this post as a bit premature. After all, Keuchel still has to pitch for the Astros in 2018. He is under contract and will be paid $13.2 million this upcoming season. At the same time, this off-season has been awfully slow and I want to take a break from the Gerrit Cole reaction train.

Get it?

Cole-train?

I’ll walk myself out.

For those who may still be reading, I commend you for persevering through my lame attempt at humor. Anyway, Keuchel will get paid next off-season. The question now is what would a long-term contract for Keuchel look like?

Courtesy of Fangraphs’ Contract Estimation Tool, I can put together a reasonable attempt at a long-term contract for Keuchel. Or my version of reasonable.

But first, let me list the parameters and the logic behind my contract madness.

  1. Since we do not obviously know what will be Keuchel’s actual performance for 2018 or his projection for the 2019 season, I’ve decided to use 3.5 fWAR as the projection for 2019. This isn’t too far off from Keuchel’s 2018 projection based off of Steamer’s projection of 3.8 fWAR in 2018. The year-to-year decline from 2018 to 2019, in theory, shouldn’t be too sharp for Keuchel. And that is assuming he declines, which isn’t a known certainty. The bearded southpaw could improve. Alas, a slight decline isn’t unreasonable to expect.
  2. In terms of career Wins Above Replacement, I simply added Keuchel’s Steamer projection of 3.8 fWAR into his current career fWAR of 15.2, which sums into a career fWAR of 19. Again, not a known certainty if Keuchel will post a similar fWAR or not. This is my best educated guess.
  3. A win in Major League Baseball today costs roughly $8 to $9 million. For the purpose of projecting Keuchel’s next contract starting in 2019, I’ve decided to move the cost for a win up to $9 million. You could argue $8.5 million for this off-season, but $9 million per win isn’t outlandish.
  4. There will be three aging curves that I will present below: ages normally, ages well and ages poorly. I will also be using a five-year contract model based on traction for starting pitchers in the free-agent market today demanding six or more years. Five years at this point seems like a reasonable estimate.
  5. Lastly, a 5% inflation rate will be used in each of the three estimations.

So, let’s begin.

Contract Option No. 1

The first contract I put together for Keuchel will be a five-year commitment with the bearded southpaw as if he “ages normally” throughout the contract. All of the parameters noted above apply.

Dallas Keuchel’s Contract Estimate — 5 yr / $121.9 M

Assumptions

Value: $9M/WAR with 5.0% inflation (for first 5 years)
Aging Curve: +0.25 WAR/yr (18-27), 0 WAR/yr (28-30),-0.5 WAR/yr (31-37),-0.75 WAR/yr (> 37)

So, a five-year commitment of $121.9 million for Keuchel. Compared to the prices that Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta have been rumored to demand, this isn’t a bad price for a contending franchise. Keuchel could step in provide a few wins in the first three or so years of the contract. The injury risk in Keuchel will be a key sticking point in any contract, but this one takes him through only his age-34 season so a team should feel confident about receiving some quality production. After all, 12.5 fWAR isn’t a bad projection for Keuchel from this point on for five years.

Contract Option No. 2

The second contract option will be the essentially the same as the first contract option. The only difference will be the aging curve, which has been changed to “ages well”.

Dallas Keuchel’s Contract Estimate — 5 yr / $148.0 M

Assumptions

Value: $9M/WAR with 5.0% inflation (for first 5 years)
Aging Curve: +0.25 WAR/yr (18-27), 0 WAR/yr (28-30),-0.25 WAR/yr (31-37),-0.5 WAR/yr (> 37)

This contract option is obviously more beneficial for Keuchel. His earnings increase by roughly 21% over the life of this contract compared to the first option. Based on the aging curve, Keuchel will post about 15 fWAR in five seasons on this contract. That is a bit on the optimistic side as Keuchel has posted a 15.2 fWAR in his career up to this point. And the southpaw is entering his age-30 season with an injury history. I am not saying Keuchel can’t post a 15 fWAR over the next five seasons, but I am not holding my breath.

Contract Option No. 3

The third contract option, like the first two listed above, is different based on the aging curve. This time the aging curve has been changed to “ages poorly”. Am I committing blasphemy against everyone’s favorite southpaw?

Dallas Keuchel’s Contract Estimate — 5 yr / $95.8 M

Assumptions

Value: $9M/WAR with 5.0% inflation (for first 5 years)
Aging Curve: +0.25 WAR/yr (18-27), -0.25 WAR/yr (28-30),-0.75 WAR/yr (31-37),-1 WAR/yr (> 37)

This contract would have Keuchel making only $95.8 million over five years, which he obviously wouldn’t sign if he enter the open market today. Under this aging curve, Keuchel will post about a 10 fWAR. Honestly, it isn’t outlandish to believe that Keuchel will post something similar to a 10 fWAR over the next five seasons if injuries are a recurring factor. The past two seasons have only re-enforced the notion that injuries could be an issue as time advances. Yet, when healthy, Keuchel will most likely post an additional two-to-five wins, which is indicated in the previous two estimates.

Next: Let's discuss Gerrit Cole's home run issue in 2017

At this time, it is unknown whether Keuchel will be in Houston this time next year. The off-season class following the upcoming season features some impressive names like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. If Keuchel can pitch like he did to start the 2017 season, he will join that list as a top free agent. The second option would likely be a starting baseline in negotiations. Oh, his annual value, which is included in the three estimates, won’t be cheap. This may price the Astros out of the competition for his services. Of course, the biggest unknown is injuries. Keuchel has dealt with neck and shoulder issues off-and-on since 2016. Then there was a foot injury in the second-half of the 2017 season. The difference between health and injuries for Keuchel may be a $50 million swing in either direction.

**Statistics and information courtesy of Fangraphs**