In theory, the Astros could use another starting pitcher. Oh, look, Dallas Keuchel is still a free-agent. The baseball fit was already obvious in November, and that opinion remains the same in March. The tricky part of the equation is likely the business aspect.
There are a lot of baseball teams that could use free-agent lefty Dallas Keuchel. The Angels, Astros, Athletics, Braves, Brewers, Padres, Phillies, Twins, and White Sox are clubs that should consider signing Keuchel. One could probably argue for more teams to jump into the fray for the bearded southpaw’s services.
Well, it looks like Houston is continuing to gauge Keuchel’s market.
Per Buster Olney of ESPN, the Astros and Keuchel have had “recent dialogue” about a new contract, but nothing has materialized at this point.
From a pure baseball standpoint, Keuchel would only solidify Houston’s rotation, especially with Charlie Morton in Tampa and Lance McCullers on the Injured List for 2019. We’re already familiar with what Keuchel brings to the table as a pitcher and the Astros do too.
However, the business aspect has to be considered, because Keuchel is a free-agent. It is apparent at this point Keuchel isn’t likely to receive a lucrative four-to-five year contract. I could be completely off my rocker, but I just don’t see this market doing that.
Also, the Astros have long-term decisions to make starting next offseason when Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole are scheduled to enter free agency. Not to mention the possible new contracts for any combination of George Springer, Carlos Correa, and Alex Bregman in the next few years. Jeff Luhnow is already aware of those impending situations, which may be one reason why we haven’t seen the Astros push more to re-sign Keuchel.
Don’t forget that the Competitive Balance Tax is always on the minds of team ownership and front offices. Per Cot’s Baseball Contracts at Baseball Prospectus, the Astros have the seventh-highest payroll (~$182M) in baseball based on the CBT. With the current threshold standing at $206 million in 2019, the Astros have roughly $23.9 million to spend before they would be taxed on any overage.
By the way, Keuchel rejected a $17.9 million qualifying offer at the start of the offseason. Now, I’m not sure what Keuchel’s salary demands are in this process, but Houston wouldn’t have much room remaining under the tax threshold if he does re-sign. Say if the tax was only a one-year concern in 2019 and Keuchel agreed to a lucrative one-year contract, I’d say go over it to give your team the best chance of winning another World Series title.
While the Astros don’t have much in long-term salaries on the books beyond this year and next, the club will have to start spending more money to retain its core. In my opinion, it is probably the long-term consequences of signing Keuchel to a contract longer than two years that remains the major hurdle to clear. But both sides are talking, which is a good thing. As long as there is open dialogue between the two parties, then it is possible that we may see Keuchel back in an Astros uniform. In other words, this offseason/Spring Training has been weird.