Dallas Keuchel is a 31-year-old former Cy Young winner but is without a contract to start the season. Why is this, and might he be right for the Phillies?
Dallas Keuchel‘s current situation is frankly baffling to me. The man is 31 years old, sports a career ERA of 3.66, won the 2015 AL Cy Young, and 2017 World Series but yet remains unsigned a week into the season! Granted, his performance slipped a little last year (12-11, 3.74 ERA) but the man can still easily be a second or third starter on just about any rotation. So why haven’t the Phillies (or any other MLB team for that matter) swooped in and grabbed this guy yet?
Keuchel was mentioned as a potential target this offseason, and signing him would make a lot of sense. Aaron Nola is an ace, but after that, the rotation has questions. Jake Arrieta may no longer be a Cy Young-caliber pitcher, but he had some really great moments last year and has a ton of postseason experience from his time with the Cubs. He’s a solid second or third starter.
After that, the rotation is unproven, as Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez all have flashed potential, but have struggled with varying degrees of inconsistency. Jerad Eickhoff is currently rehabbing in Triple-A, and could take a rotation spot once healthy, but it’s hard to tell how he’ll look after missing all last year with carpal tunnel syndrome.
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While it’s possible Eflin or Pivetta could take the next step forward and become elite pitchers (or Eickhoff could come back and pitch well), Keuchel is a better option for a team looking to win in October. Keuchel has appeared in 10 career postseason games, with a record of 4-2 and an ERA of 3.31. Plus, he won the World Series with Houston in 2017. I’d much rather see him take the ball for Game Three of the NLDS than Pivetta, Eflin or Velasquez.
Perhaps the biggest reason Dallas Keuchel makes sense for the Phillies however, has nothing to do with career accomplishments, but simple biology. All the Phillies’ current starters (including Eickhoff) are right-handed, Keuchel’s a lefty. The Phillies struggled with lefties last year, allowing a .262/.338/.441 slash line and 94 homers as opposed to .237/.297/.378 and 77 homers vs righties. Keuchel by comparison, has allowed a .230/.272/.334 slash line to lefties for his career.
Keuchel and agent Scott Boras are reportedly looking for a long term deal, probably one longer than most teams are comfortable giving a 31-year old. Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell ran into a fairly similar situation last year. He was a top running back in the league, looking for a contract extension, and was unhappy with the offers from Pittsburgh.
The Steelers ended up franchise tagging him, but Bell refused to play under the tag, and decided to sit out until he got a contract to his liking. He ended up sitting out the entire season, thereby forfeiting 14.5 million dollars and ultimately signed with the Jets for less than what the Steelers reportedly offered.
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Keuchel finds himself in a similar situation now, although unlike Bell, he is technically not signed with any team. He also has declined offers from teams that aren’t to his liking, and is stubborn enough to hold out even after the season has started.
Holding out into spring training to get the deal you want is becoming increasingly common (think of Bryce Harper this year, or J.D. Martinez last year) but its still shocking to see a player hold out into the regular season. It’s hard to say whether Boras or the MLB teams are at fault for Keuchel being unsigned, since we don’t know the details of offers being made, but we are seeing an alarming trend of players being increasingly unwilling to compromise.
I like to refer to this trend as “Bell Syndrome”, a multi-million dollar game of chicken, where the players would rather hold out than compromise on an offer. Negotiating contracts becomes about more than money at that point; its about guarantees, getting a better deal than the next guy, and frankly about saving face and satisfying ego. It honestly feels a little bit like Cold War politics, where both sides would rather destroy each other (and themselves in the process) than compromise.
Craig Kimbrel has done the same thing this offseason, and its getting old. This has frankly gone on long enough. It’s time for Boras and Keuchel to get together with a team and settle on a deal done.
The Phillies have expressed interest in a short term deal, and Keuchel would be wise to take it. Teams have shown that they’re not going to give in, and offer him the long-term deal he wants, and at this point, he’s only hurting himself by missing time.
This trend is also bad for baseball, and for us as fans of the game. Having players like Dallas Keuchel sit out due to contract issues hurts the player, the team and the sport. Teams and players have always been at odds about contracts, but they seem less willing to cooperate now than ever before.
Unfortunately, I feel like these type of situations are only going to get more common as time goes on, and everyone will suffer for it.