Rejecting a $90 million contract offer from the Astros must’ve not been easy for a certain bearded southpaw.
Fresh off a Cy Young campaign in 2015 when he made $524,500, left-handed starter Dallas Keuchel suddenly found himself as one of the best bargains in baseball. I do recall rampant talk that offseason around Houston about whether the Astros would offer a contract extension, and it always seem like an easy ‘yes.’
A new contract made sense in terms of long-term cost certainty, especially if the Astros could’ve buy out of Keuchel’s free-agent years. Also, by potentially locking down a Cy Young winner for multiple seasons before he hit free-agency (for another potential bargain), the Astros would’ve been praised among the fanbase, especially on the heels of an unexpected trip to the postseason. A bargain for a starting pitcher along with goodwill from the fanbase always leads to a win-win for the club. For the player, well, maybe not.
Per Ken Rosenthal’s report for The Athletic, the Astros, in fact, made a contract offer to Keuchel early in the 2016 season for five years, $90 million. However, the then-defending AL Cy Young winner would end up rejecting the offer. In hindsight, it was a notable gamble by the lefty as his 2016 season was eventually shortened due to left shoulder pain. As noted by Rosenthal though, Keuchel’s decision to reject Houston’s contract offer “still figures to prove wise.”
So, why is Keuchel’s rejection “wise” for him?
As Rosenthal states in his article, Keuchel did not desire to leave “money on the table.” He likely expected arbitration would be kind to him (he was right) and the allure of a potentially lucrative contract in a few years via free agency was the kicker. From a financial standpoint, it appears Keuchel has made the right decision, because he did earn $29.6 million from 2016-18. It wouldn’t take an unreasonable contract for him to surpass the Astros’ $90 million offer back in 2016. Sure, he probably won’t reach the nine-figure range on his next deal, but the likely former Astro will still command an annual value of roughly $20 million or so. When it is all said and done, Keuchel likely finishes with more money going this route than he would if he took Houston’s initial offer.
The gamble though, like with any player, hinged on his long-term health. Despite experiencing left shoulder pain in 2016, neck issues in 2017, and a foot injury before 2018, Keuchel never required surgery to repair his ailments. While troublesome, the injuries didn’t prevent him from posting a combined 8.6 fWAR during the past three seasons. Based on how events have unfolded during the past three years, Keuchel’s gamble looks like it paid off.
There is still the issue of signing a new contract. There are risks involved in signing Keuchel, but he could likely be worth it when compared to his peers. But he shouldn’t have an issue finding work, even in a market as slow as the current one. After all, it pays to be a quality starter with a proven track record.
For example, Patrick Corbin, 29, recently signed a six-year, $140 million contract with the Nationals earlier this offseason. The overall slow market didn’t really have a bearing on his suitors, which shows in his newest deal. While Corbin is two years younger than Keuchel, the latter has the edge on the former when it comes to a proven track record. Don’t forget that Keuchel was considered the second-best starter in free-agency following Corbin. Yes, the likely former Astro doesn’t suck. In fact, I am not sure why people would consider a starter with a 3.74 ERA and 3.69 FIP through 204 2/3 innings as a bad starter.
Anyway, Keuchel doesn’t deserve hate for rejecting the Astros’ offer nearly three years ago. He, like everyone else, deserves a chance to be compensated fairly compared to his peers. I know that I do, so let’s extend the same courtesy to him. Houston simply made an offer with the hope he would take it. Both sides acted in their best interests and couldn’t come to agreement. It happens all the time.