No surprises here as a rather famous bearded southpaw makes an expected decision.
Back on November 2nd, the Astros extended left-handed starter, Dallas Keuchel, a $17.9 million qualifying offer. It was a wise decision as Houston would recoup a draft pick if Keuchel chooses to sign elsewhere. Also, in the unlikely event that he decided to accept the offer, the Astros would secure the services of a quality starting pitcher for one more season. A one-year, $17.9 million contract isn’t back-breaking towards a baseball payroll. And, yes, Keuchel remains a quality pitcher.
Anyway, Keuchel did the expected: Reject the qualifying offer.
The latest news was quite likely as Keuchel enters his first foray into free agency. Although he never fully recovered his 2015 Cy Young form — 2.48 ERA in 232 innings — the age-30 starter has made a name as one of the more consistent pitchers in baseball, when healthy. His 3.74 ERA in 2018 was still better than league average (4.15 ERA in 2018), and he topped 200 innings for the first time since 2015. It was an excellent time to enter the open market as he will draw plenty of interest from numerous suitors.
With the overall lack of quality arms in free agency with a similar track record, Keuchel is viewed as one of the best options to sign outright. FanGraphs’ estimates his next contract to fall within a $19.8-to-$21 million annual value for four years. Not a bad contract estimate for a left-hander to help headline a starting staff. Unless last year’s slow offseason impacts free-agent pitchers like Keuchel and Patrick Corbin, teams won’t be afraid to offer sizeable contracts. Contenders like the Yankees, Angels, and Braves could use his services in 2019 and beyond. While the Astros could always resign him, the possibility appears quite doubtful at this point.
The key concern about Keuchel going forward remains his long-term durability. Between a shoulder injury in 2016 and persistent neck issues last year, he didn’t approach the same level of dependability that he showed in 2014 and 2015. Any team that signs him will be banking on him not spending any extended periods of time on the DL. That said, his full 2018 season quieted those doubts and injuries shouldn’t be a hindrance in contract negotiations. As a pitcher who doesn’t throw past the lower nineties and relies on contact to generate outs, prospective suitors may not care about those past injuries as much as initially thought. At the end of the day, Keuchel made the best decision for him, which is chasing the best contract offer he can receive.