For as much attention as closer Craig Kimbrel has received over the past month, it's worth remembering he isn't the only noteworthy free agent remaining. Rather, left-handed starter Dallas Keuchel is still available, too -- a fact teams seem to have forgotten. Seeing as how we , let's do a similar exercise for Keuchel by highlighting three potential reasons he's yet to secure a contract for the 2019 season.
1. Keuchel isn't modern enough
We aren't talking about Keuchel's wardrobe or his beard, but rather his pitching style.
Front offices value some specific traits more than others, with the cool kids currently pursuing velocity and spin rate above all. Teams want pitchers who can throw hard and who can pitch up in the zone; Keuchel can't do either. Last season he ranked in the seventh percentile in fastball velocity and in the 19th percentile in fastball spin. Of the 268 pitchers to throw at least 1,000 pitches in 2018, he ranked 254th in average pitch height -- his game is all about locating his upper-80s sinker and sequencing well with his secondary offerings.
Keuchel's approach works for him just fine; hence a 110 ERA+ and a 2.64 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Unfortunately, the marketplace is more concerned with what happens next -- and believes the aforementioned indicators are more likely to result in good pitching than past good pitching. You can see the bias in other deals handed out during the winter. For instance, take Wade Miley, who the Houston Astros inserted into Keuchel's spot in the rotation. Miley is somewhat similar to Keuchel -- both are soft-tossing lefties who don't rack up the Ks -- and he received all of one year and $4.5 million despite pitching well for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Keuchel ought to sign for more than Miley did, but then, Miley should have signed for more than he did. It just goes to show the league has specific ideas about what it wants from pitchers and doesn't view those who don't fit within the parameters with much kindness.
2. Keuchel isn't a workhorse or an ace
Keuchel isn't a modern pitcher, and he also isn't a workhorse or an ace.
Though Keuchel topped 200 innings for the third time last season, it was his first time over that threshold in the past three years. Previously, he'd been limited to 49 starts in 2016-17 due to shoulder and neck issues. Those problems didn't surface last year, but it's worth mentioning that the Cincinnati Reds reportedly found something they didn't like in his medicals.
Keuchel can't be called a reliable workhorse, then, and he can't be labeled an ace, either. He's gotten results -- he has a 107 ERA+ over the last three seasons -- but he isn't Justin Verlander. He's an above-average starter with a decent attrition risk given his command-heavy approach and his recent history of potentially serious arm woes.
Interestingly, Keuchel has mostly avoided the third-time-through penalty that seems to affect most starting pitchers. He's permitted a .674 OPS against the first trip through for his career, then .677 and .687 the second and third times against the opposition. He did allow a career-worst .813 OPS on trip three last year. Whether that means something, who knows.
3. Keuchel isn't cheap
This is, almost without question, the biggest reason Keuchel remains on the open market. Teams can and will justify altering their predilections if a player comes cheap enough. They're less inclined to do so when the asking price is closer to market value.
Keuchel reportedly entered the winter seeking a six-year deal. Given how negotiations work, it's probably fair to assume his camp was hoping for a four- or five-year contract. Now, Keuchel is supposedly open to a one-year agreement -- provided it pays out more than the $17.9 million qualifying offer he rejected at the start of the offseason. Alternatively, he's willing to take less annually across a longer term.
Is Keuchel worth around $18 million for a season of work? Seemingly, yeah. Baseball-Reference credits him with 7.2 wins over the past three years -- or about 2.4 per pop. Baseball Prospectus has him down for 10.4 -- or 3.5 per. Split the difference and say he's been a three-win pitcher. Fine? Fine. It's reasonable, then, to expect him to be worth around two wins provided he stays healthy. Using a conservative cost-per-win estimate ($8 million), Keuchel checks in around $16 million. Remember, that's an intentionally sober forecast and estimate. If he's so much as a half win better, he'd be worth an estimated $20 million.
Beyond that, every team should have a different cost-per-win threshold based on their financial means, their competitive chances, and their team needs. The Pittsburgh Pirates have a quality rotation and are a relatively small market -- their reluctance to pay Keuchel $20 million for a year is understandable, but it doesn't mean the Los Angeles Angels should feel the same way.
For whatever it's worth, 23 teams have at least $20 million separating them from the luxury-tax threshold, per Spotrac, with 20 exceeding $30 million. Not all of those teams are serious contenders and/or are in need of pitching help, but teams like the Milwaukee Brewers, Texas Rangers, and Oakland Athletics should at least consider splurging on Keuchel -- provided, anyway, they're serious about upgrading their rotations in pursuit of a playoff spot. And that doesn't include other teams -- like the Angels, New York Mets, and New York Yankees -- who could go after Keuchel even if it means crossing (or further exceeding) the luxury tax.
Of course, with every passing day it seems more likely that Keuchel (and Kimbrel) will remain available until after the draft, when any potential pick-related compensation goes away. That's too bad. Keuchel, like Kimbrel, could provide some team with enough of a boost to help them find their way into the postseason. Yet his theoretical impact shrinks with each missed start.