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Forget Harper or Machado, let’s go get Dallas Keuchel

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The former Houston lefty is the best pitcher still available and has a chance to have an immediate impact

MLB: ALCS-Boston Red Sox at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a bit since anyone has pegged Bryce Harper as coming to St. Louis. It’s probably safe to say that unless the market shifts quite a bit Harper will be playing right field or batting DH for someone other than the Cardinals on Opening Day.

Manny Machado? It’s been around a month or so since anyone has entertained the idea that Manny would be a Cardinal. Most likely not happening.

That’s why an alternate plan should be to bolster the pitching corps. Now, I’m definitely of the opinion that the bullpen needs attention a bit more than the rotation. There’s quite a few articles out there, including here on VEB that detail that need. So I won’t even delve into that. While the starters were better off, they were far from perfect.

The Cardinals rotation was 10th best overall in 2018 with a 14.3 WAR, better than the Braves, Brewers, Cubs, and As which all made the playoffs. A best-in-baseball 0.85 home runs per nine innings. One big deficiency was the number of walks, as the team walked 9.5% of the batters they faced, 5th worst in the game.

Alternatively, Keuchel walked 6.6% of the batters he faced in 2018, which is right in line with his career average of 7%. That 6.6% would have made him 2nd best on the Cardinals staff, behind only Miles Mikolas. Even if you factor in Keuchel’s Steamer projections for 2019, and all Cardinals pitchers repeated their 2018 performances, he still would be behind only Mikolas with a 7% mark.

The same goes for his WAR numbers, too. In 2018 Keuchel finished at 3.6, the 2nd highest in his career, which also would have put him at 2nd behind Mikolas. Steamer says 3.2 for Keuchel for 2019, which again would be 2nd behind Mikolas.

On the negative side of things, Keuchel doesn’t strike a lot of batters out. His K% was down among some of the lower numbers in the league at 17.5%. Mikolas was slightly better at 18.5%. Keuchel also finished 2018 with a below-average SIERA of 4.15 which would put him solidly in the middle of the Cardinals rotation of 2018.

The money is another big component here. Keuchel declined to sign the $17.9M qualifying offer the Astros put in front of him in November, wanting to test the market. Patrick Corbin definitely set the expectations high with his six-year, $140M ($23.33M AAV) contract with the Nationals. It’s likely that Keuchel would want a similar, but slight lessor deal, in the neighborhood of 4-6 years, and somewhere in the neighborhood of $20M-$21M per year.

The Paul Goldschmidt situation is what makes signing Keuchel tricky. With one year left on his current deal, Goldschmidt is probably looking to get paid next winter. Last offseason, then-28-year-old Eric Hosmer signed an eight-year, $144M (18M AAV) deal with Kansas City. 31-year-old Carlos Santana signed a three-year, $60M ($20M AAV) contract with Cleveland. Goldschmidt will be 32 going into next winter and will probably be looking for over $20M a year depending on how 2019 goes.

If the goal is to keep Goldschmidt long-term, then signing Keuchel to a multi-year deal is tough. That’s a lot of money for two players that would be in their late 30’s at the end of those extensions. This gives you two options:

  1. Talk Keuchel into signing a one-year deal. See what you’ve got with him and make a run for a World Series without committing as much cash this season. Sell him on winning another championship this season, which should get him even more money next winter.
  2. Or, do what the Nationals did with their pitching staff and defer everything. If you’re not familiar with how backloading a contract works, there’s this article and this article that detail exactly how they’ve gone about it. It’s worthwhile for a franchise to spread that money out, but the risk you run is you could be in the Nationals’ situation and have a lot of money tied up and nothing to show for it yet.

Now, one last thing to keep in mind is that the Cardinals 40-man roster is full. Someone will have to go for the Cardinals to sign anyone at this point, whether it’s Dallas Keuchel or not. Unless any other dominoes fall, there’s no room for Keuchel on the roster whether you agree the Cardinals should try to acquire him or not.

All stats from MLB.com, Baseball-Reference.com, and FanGraphs.com.