How Kikuchi’s deal impacts Keuchel’s market

After a seven-season tenure with the Astros that included a trio of 200-inning seasons, an American League Cy Young Award in 2015 and an overall 3.66 ERA, Dallas Keuchel is now a free agent.

Below, you will find a list of the latest news and rumors surrounding the left-hander.

How Kikuchi’s deal impacts Keuchel’s market
Jan. 1: Another pitcher is off the market, as Yusei Kikuchi — one of Japan’s top pitchers the past several seasons — has agreed to a deal with the Mariners, according to multiple reports. Arguably no position has been more active in free agency than starting pitchers, as just about all of the big names have found homes, from Patrick Corbin (Nationals) and Nathan Eovaldi (Red Sox) to J.A. Happ (Yankees) and Charlie Morton (Rays).

One top arm, however, remains very much available: Dallas Keuchel. Now that fellow lefty Kikuchi is off the board, what does that mean for Keuchel?

For one thing, the 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner is unquestionably the best starter left on the open market. Gio Gonzalez, Derek Holland, Clay Buchholz and Wade Miley are among the next-best options for teams seeking rotation help. While they are coming off solid 2018 campaigns, none of that quartet can match Keuchel’s age, resume and durability. The southpaw, who turned 31 on New Year’s Day, has pitched 950 1/3 innings over the past five seasons and owns a 3.28 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP over that span.

For another, Keuchel did not lose a potential suitor when the Mariners reached their agreement with Kikuchi, as Seattle has not been linked to the former Astros pitcher. That, along with Keuchel’s standing as the top free-agent starter, puts him in good position to land a long-term, big-money contract. Put simply, if a team that still has a need for a starter who can pitch at or near the front of a rotation, the list of candidates pretty much starts and ends with Keuchel.

While it’s been reported that Keuchel is seeking a five- or six-year pact, some teams have indicated a hesitation to go to that length. But all of the above factors may mean one club will be willing to make at least a five-year commitment, especially after Kikuchi — who is younger than Keuchel at 27 but also an unproven commodity in MLB — scored a guarantee of four years and $56 million, according to MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand.

Tweet from @Feinsand: Source confirms Yusei Kikuchi gets a $14M AAV over 4 guaranteed years with Seattle. He can opt out after 3 years at $43M, or the Mariners can extend for 4 more years at $66M. If Seattle doesn???t extend, Kikuchi has 2022 option for $13M. @JonHeyman had contract details first.

The Reds, Phillies, Angels, Brewers, Rangers and possibly the Astros are among the teams that have been linked to and/or could be good fits for Keuchel. If there is a risk for him, it’s that those clubs could look to sign starters who come with less of a track record but intriguing upside at a lower financial commitment. Or Keuchel’s suitors could pivot and make a push to make a swap for, say, right-handers like Corey Kluber (Indians), Zack Greinke (D-backs) and Marcus Stroman (Blue Jays) or lefty Madison Bumgarner (Giants), all of whom have been rumored as trade chips.

Is a Keuchel reunion a realistic possibility for the Astros?
Dec. 29: Dallas Keuchel remains unsigned with the new year looming, and the Astros have yet to make a notable addition to their pitching staff, which raises the question: Is there a realistic chance the team will reunite with the left-hander? MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart isn’t ruling it out, but thinks it’s still a long shot,

“I think it certainly could happen, but I think it’s slim at this point,” McTaggart said Friday on MLB Network. “I think if we’re a month from now, if we’re in late January and the market for Keuchel isn’t what he wants, and the Astros still haven’t filled this so-called void they have for a No. 3 starter, then I think maybe Keuchel comes into the picture.

“I don’t think the Astros would go five years for Keuchel like we hear that he wants, but things change.”

Houston is down three starters from its 2018 rotation, with Keuchel and Charlie Morton departing as free agents and Lance McCullers Jr. recovering from Tommy John surgery. But the club still has Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole leading the starting staff and can fill the final three spots with a combination of Collin McHugh, Brad Peacock, Josh James and Forrest Whitley.

The Astros also need to keep next offseason in mind, with Verlander, Cole, McHugh and a number of key relievers set to hit free agency, and Alex Bregman eligible for arbitration for the first time.

Phillies not willing to go five years for Keuchel
Dec. 28Phillies owner John Middleton famously said earlier in the offseason that the organization may be “a little stupid” in how it spends its money, bolstering the notion that Philadelphia is going all-out to land one of the two premier free agents on the market, Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. But the club could use upgrades in other areas as well, including the starting rotation.

MLB.com’s Jon Paul Morosi reports that the Phillies are pursuing free-agent lefty Dallas Keuchel, but aren’t willing to meet the former American League Cy Young Award winner’s preference for a five-year contract. Philadelphia currently has a strong one-two punch at the top of its starting rotation, with southpaw Aaron Nola and right-hander Jake Arrieta. But behind those two, there is inconsistency and limited experience in Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez and Zach Eflin.

Keuchel, who turns 31 on New Year’s Day, posted a 3.74 ERA over 34 starts for the Astros in 2018. He was an All-Star for the second time in his career in ’17, bouncing back from a mediocre and injury-shortened campaign the prior season by posting a 2.90 ERA over 23 starts. Since his brilliant season in ’15, when he won the Cy Young Award, Keuchel has seen his fastball velocity diminish, although his ground ball rate remains high, making him an attractive option, particularly in hitter-friendly ballparks like Citizens Bank Park.

Philadelphia is not the first team to reportedly balk at the contract length Keuchel is looking for. The Nationals and Reds also showed interest, but backed off given the five- to six-year deal Keuchel wanted.

Tweet from @jonmorosi: Sources: #Phillies pursuing Dallas Keuchel but thus far have been unwilling to meet Keuchel’s request of a 5-year contract. @MLB @MLBNetwork

Video: MLB Tonight on the Phillies’ interest in Keuchel

After addressing rotation, are Reds still in mix for Keuchel?
Dec. 26: The Reds entered this offseason focused on improving and deepening their rotation, which makes Dallas Keuchel a potential target. Whether Cincinnati actually would meet Keuchel’s asking price, however, always was a question, and the club no longer is as desperate for starters after trading for Tanner Roark and Alex Wood.

Reds president of baseball operations Dick Williams made it clear the team is still in search of upgrades, so Keuchel can’t be ruled out. But he isn’t the only free agent who would improve a rotation that posted the sixth-worst ERA (5.02) in MLB a year ago, especially if the club isn’t looking to pony up for a five- or six-year contract approaching nine figures, as MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon writes.

There are plenty of less expensive options available, such as Gio Gonzalez, Derek Holland and Wade Miley. The Reds have also been connected to trade targets such as the Indians’ Corey Kluber, the Blue Jays’ Marcus Stroman and the Yankees’ Sonny Gray.

MLB.com’s Jon Paul Morosi reported earlier this month that the Reds were among the teams showing interest in Miley, who recorded a 2.57 ERA for the Brewers under the tutelage of pitching coach Derek Johnson in 2018. Johnson is now in that same position for the Reds.

Tweet from @jonmorosi: Source: #Reds among teams showing interest in free-agent starter Wade Miley, who worked with current Cincinnati pitching coach Derek Johnson during his breakthrough 2018 season with #Brewers. @MLB @MLBNetwork

While none of those free-agent pitchers might be as good of a fit for the Reds as Keuchel, signing one of them could be more in character for a club that isn’t known for spending big money on free agents.

Keuchel drawing interest from at least four teams
Dec. 23: While many of the top starting pitchers on the free-agent market have already signed, Dallas Keuchel remains available, and there’s no indication his situation is going to reach a conclusion anytime soon.

The Phillies could meet his asking price, especially if they strike out on both Manny Machado and Bryce Harper and face the possibility of walking away from this offseason with Andrew McCutchen as their biggest free-agent addition. But if not, the left-hander may need to consider lesser offers, much like Jake Arrieta — another Scott Boras client — did in March when he signed a three-year, $75 million deal with Philadelphia.

If the 30-year-old Keuchel is willing to do that, it could open the door for a number of smaller-market teams to make a serious pursuit. That includes the Brewers, whom Jim Bowden named as the best fit for Keuchel in a story for The Athletic (subscription required) on Friday.

According to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, the Brewers are one of the teams that has shown interest in Keuchel, along with the Phils, the Angels and the Rangers. Cafardo also notes that the Astros may circle back on the southpaw, writing that “not everyone is convinced Keuchel won’t be back in Houston.”

Milwaukee has a clear need for Keuchel at the top of its rotation, with journeyman Jhoulys Chacin shaping up to be the club’s Opening Day starter in 2019. But it’s questionable whether the Brewers would invest $70 million or more in Keuchel one year after signing Lorenzo Cain to a five-year, $80 million contract. The Brewers also would need to surrender another Draft pick to sign Keuchel after giving one up to land Cain, as both players rejected qualifying offers.

The Angels signed Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill this past week, lessening their need for Keuchel. But with pressure on the team to build a contender before Mike Trout becomes a free agent in two years, Los Angeles could still try to add Keuchel.

Halos out of running for Keuchel?
Dec. 20: The Angels have been connected to free agent Dallas Keuchel this offseason, but the club’s moves over the past two days make it far less likely that the left-hander will be landing there.

After agreeing to a one-year deal with Matt Harvey on Wednesday, the Angels reportedly signed Trevor Cahill to a one-year contract Thursday. The two pitchers will cost them $20 million in 2019, not including incentives.

According to MLB Network insider Joel Sherman, the top of the starting pitcher market was too expensive for Los Angeles’ liking, leading the club to spread out its resources in an effort to bolster its rotation depth.

The industry sense, per Sherman, is that the Angels don’t want to go over the $206 million luxury-tax threshold. While that likely means the team isn’t prepared to pursue Keuchel or any other high-priced starter, Los Angeles may still have another big free-agent signing in the works, as Sherman notes that the Angels “have been viewed as perhaps [the] frontrunner” for catcher Yasmani Grandal.

Tweet from @Joelsherman1: #Angels felt top of SP market (Corbin, etc) was too expensive. So with Harvey/Cahill spent $20M on 1-yr deals to try to throw bulk with Barria, Heaney, Skaggs, Tropeano, Pena as way to get thru season. They also have been viewed as perhaps frontrunner for C Yasmani Grandal.

Tweet from @Joelsherman1: Here is the thing about #Angels shunning top of pitching market with industry sense that ownership doesn???t want to go over $206M luxury tax. Only have 2 more yrs of Trout to show can win. So investments in winning now also might be investments in keeping best player in the game.

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