I was in a meeting earlier today for one of the kiddos, and I exited to a text from Michael about a Bruce Levine radio hit that mentioned Dallas Keuchel in connection with the Cubs. It was an odd one, so we chatted on the phone, and popped a little discussion into the morning Winter Meetings post.
At the time, it wasn’t entirely clear that Levine was saying the Cubs are interested in Keuchel, but now, it is clear that he’s saying it:
— 670 The Score (@670TheScore) December 9, 2019
You will note up front that this is one of those unique rumors where a reporter gets the chance to write about both of the teams in his city, with notes on free agents from the same agent. That’s not to say it’s not worth discussing! It’s just that it makes for a convenient article, and you should probably keep that in mind when considering how aggressive the Cubs might (or might not) be on Keuchel. (Castellanos was discussed earlier today.)
Per Levine, Keuchel has received “real interest” from the Cubs, so we’ll just take that at face value, and then put it within a context that makes sense, given what we know of the Cubs’ needs and desires this offseason.
Would the Cubs go out of their way to land Keuchel right now, in mid-December, to a top-of-the-market deal? Nah. I really don’t see that. Would they happily keep him engaged in that swath of useful back-of-the-rotation starters who might still be looking for jobs in January (after the Cubs explore trades)? Sure. Thus, do I think the Cubs will actually land Keuchel – a soft-tossing veteran lefty who’ll probably give you innings but without a lot of upside? I do not. But hey, always worth considering on the right deal.
Keuchel, 32 on New Year’s Day, saw his market evaporate last year in the face of declining velocity and performance, a qualifying offer, and a general concern about how he projected out into his 30s. He did not sign until well into the season on a one-year deal with the Braves, ultimately throwing 112.2 innings with a 3.75 ERA (15% better than league average by ERA-). His peripherals were not as compelling (18.7% K rate, 8.0% BB rate, 1.28 HR/9), but he’s finding success as one of those soft-tossing, elite-groundballing, contact-managing types. I don’t think there’s any reason to believe he won’t be a perfectly solid 3/4/5 in a good rotation for the next couple years.
… but is that really the kind of starting pitcher the Cubs should go after right now?
Like I’ve said before, I kinda prefer the Cubs to just go ahead and take bigger swings on guys who could surprise to the upside at a lower cost (Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Collin McHugh – and I’d add Kevin Gausman, who was since non-tendered, to that group). But if Keuchel winds up getting on a couple years on a very reasonable deal? I mean, I guess why not? He’ll give you the performance at a time when the Cubs are still trying to be competitive (that still matters!), and would also become a useful trade chip if things really went to crap in the short-term.
That is all to say, sure I suppose it makes sense for the Cubs to be in conversations with virtually every starting pitcher in this tier, including Keuchel. I just don’t see a deal happening any time soon unless there is a PARTICULAR lower-tier starter the Cubs are absolutely convinced they can unlock another level (and it’s hard to see an established “solid” guy like Keuchel being that guy).
Furthermore, for all this talk about a bargain late in the offseason, Keuchel projects to get something like three years and $40-$45 million (FanGraphs, MLBTR), which doesn’t seem like where the Cubs are going to be allocating that money.