Friday, June 7, 2019

Braves sign Dallas Keuchel

Usually when the Braves are reportedly interested in a high-priced player, that report is completely wrong. The Braves are notoriously tight-lipped about their agreements, and they love to fly low under the radar.

This signing of Dallas Keuchel is the exception. I had heard from recent reports on Twitter that it was down to the Braves and the Yankees as possible candidates, which usually means that the Braves aren't really in the ballgame since the Yankees toss around cash like a trust-fund baby in South Florida.

HOWEVER, there's always the exception to the rule, and this time the Braves are the beneficiary of that exception. Dallas signed a deal with the Braves for a reported $13M, which is just over $21M prorated for the remainder of this 2019 season, after which he becomes a free agent again.

In my mind there's two reasons why the Braves structured the deal that way. First, it allows Keuchel to save a little face, because he rejected a $17.9M qualifying offer from the Astros, and subsequently will make less money to pitch this year. But with the Braves structuring it as a $21M deal, he can say he was worth more than the qualifying offer because the deal was actually prorated for less service time. That's a mental hurdle the Braves had to clear because Keuchel went out on a limb and got burned by the market.

The second reason the Braves structured the deal this way is because they only need Keuchel for this year. The starting pitching is stacked behind the current guys we have in the majors, and the Braves had a stop-gap solution in Kevin Gausman that simply didn't work. With Gausman a bust, they needed another mid-line starter to fill in the gaps, and possibly pitch in the playoffs. The rotation now would be Soroka, Fried, Keuchel, and Teheran in the playoffs. With Folty pitching the way he is right now, I don't think he would get a start in any series, but he's currently the 5th guy during the regular season.

Now, the Braves have to wait for Keuchel to get ready, which is the big concern. With this much time off, will Dallas be as effective as he would be with a full spring training behind him? The Braves will send him down to AAA to work things out, and I would expect to see Keuchel just before the All-star break given about 2-3 weeks to prepare.

The other questions is that at 31 years old, will Keuchel still have the same stuff that won him a Cy Young award in 2015? In 2018, he showed that he was a horse who could pitch tons of innings with a respectable 3.74 ERA, but he gave up more hits than he's ever allowed in his career, and his WHIP was the highest it had been in 4 years.

As a pitcher, he's a 4 pitch guy (Fastball, Slider, Cutter, Change), with the emphasis on his Cutter and Slider as his out pitches. He needs ground balls because he's not a blow-you-away guy with velocity (the Fastball is around 90). He's going to change speeds, mix up pitches, and dazzle you with an array of looks in the hopes the batter will roll over into a double play. When he's at his most successful, the walks are down, he's confusing hitters and he's keeping the ball in play in the ballpark.

Overall, if the Braves get the 2018 version of Keuchel, that's great and we can use it to make the playoffs. If they get the 2015 Cy Young version of Keuchel, they could easily have a piece that would help them battle to win a World Series. It's that simple.

The best part of the move, like many Alex Anthopoulos has made, is that it's a short term low risk gamble. One year deals are becoming the norm in baseball for older athletes because younger GMs have learned they are no longer in the steroid era of baseball. You can't pay a guy until he's 40 and think that's a good deal anymore. That's why Keuchel was on the market so long. He wanted an unreasonable amount of years that no MLB team was willing to give him.

Instead, now he's a rental player on a team that may be in the best position to win the NL East.


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