The D-backs have agreed terms on a minor league contract with the left-handed free agent Dallas Keuchelreports Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (Twitter link). He’ll head to Triple-A for now, but there’s a potential opt-out date in the deal if he’s not added to the MLB roster by then. Keuchel is represented by Boras Corporation.
It’s a risk-free deal for the D-backs, who will only owe Keuchel the prorated league minimum for any time spent in the Majors. The remaining balance of his $18 million salary will still be paid by the White Sox, who released him late last month. The Sox are also still on the hook for the $1.5 million buyout of Keuchel’s 2023 option.
Keuchel is heading to the minors for now, but the new deal reconnects him with D-backs pitching coach Brent Strom, who was Keuchel’s pitching coach during his peak years with the Astros. At least for now, the two won’t be working side-by-side on a daily basis with Strom in the big league side, but the connection has most likely played a part in the mutual interest between player and team.
Winner of the American League’s Cy Young Award in 2015, Keuchel was a top force in Houston’s rotation from 2014 to 2018, throwing to a 3.28 ERA with a 20.2 percent strikeout rate, a strong walk rate of 6.4% and a dizzying ground ball of 60%. rate over the term of 950 1/3 innings. This included his stellar 2015 campaign, in which Keuchel topped the American League in wins (20), shutouts (two) and innings pitched (232) – while pitching to a best-in-class 2.48 ERA. in career. He hasn’t replicated that success since, but it was one of three sub-3.00 ERAs Keuchel posted over a four-year span.
Despite the impressive resume with Houston, Keuchel’s first trip through the free agent process didn’t go as hoped. Struggling with the burden of draft compensation after rejecting a qualifying offer from the Astros, Keuchel ended up waiting until after the 2019 draft to sign a one-year prorated contract with the Braves. (While waiting that long, he ditched the draft pick indemnification clause.)
It was a surprising scene, probably due to a combination of several factors. Project compensation undoubtedly played a role, and Keuchel surely hit the market with lofty multi-year goals that many teams found unreasonable. He’d also had several stints in IL since that Cy Young year and hit the market on the heels of a 2018 season that saw him post his lowest strike and ground ball rates since his 2012 rookie season.
Keuchel still earned a pro-rated $20 million salary on that deal (about $13 million), and he’s done well with Atlanta. In 112 2/3 frames that year, he landed a 3.75 ERA with a revitalized grounder rate of 60.1%. All it took was for the White Sox to secure Keuchel $55.5 million on a three-year deal as they emerged from a lengthy rebuilding effort.
The first season of that deal proved to be a crushing success, as Keuchel posted a career-best 1.99 ERA over 11 starts (63 1/3 innings) during the Covid-shortened 2020 season. Keuchel also got off to a good start in the second year of the deal, recording a 3.78 ERA in his first 14 starts of the season, but fell into a disastrous slump soon after and didn’t not really recovered yet.
Keuchel has made 24 starts since June 20 last year, allowing runs in 23 of them. During that time, he threw a 7.02 ERA with a 12.4% strikeout rate against a high 10.2% walk rate. He’s still pushing grounders to an above-average 52.2% clip, but that’s a far cry from his peak levels. It’s also worth mentioning that Keuchel only averaged 87.8mph on his heater during this time – almost three miles per hour slower than the 90.4mph he averaged during this season. winner of Cy Young.
Arizona’s top four starters this season have ranged from strong to great as each of them Zac Gallen (2.40 MPM), Madison Bumgarner (3.31), Merrill Kelly (3.66) and Zach Davies (4.18) have made at least 10 starts and totaled at least 54 innings. Fifth place was more of a challenge. Luke Weaver moved to the bullpen earlier in the year and was placed on the disabled list soon after. Humberto Castellanos (nine starts), Tyler Gilbert (tw0) and Caleb Smith (one – which was only one inning) made the rest of the team’s starts and generally performed poorly. Castellanos recently hit the injured list with a sprained elbow.
Keuchel will give the D-backs some depth to get behind this group. He will join another big league veteran Dan Straily, who struggled for his own minor league contract after a strong performance in South Korea, as an unregistered player in Reno. The Serpents also have the aforementioned Gilbert, right-handed Louis Frias and former top prospect Corbin Martin on the 40-man roster as options in Triple-A.