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Is signing Dallas Keuchel the right move?

Where I play a bit of devil’s advocate

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

The Cardinals, to put it lightly, screwed up. They screwed up badly. The Cardinals entered this year with a dubious plan for the pitching rotation. For the first time in years, things were pretty reliant on nothing going wrong. Things predictably went wrong. The Cardinals were banking on Michael Wacha staying healthy for most of the year. Wacha threw a curveball and decided to be healthy, but bad for the first time. They counted on Dakota Hudson to be better than his projections. He hasn’t. They counted on Adam Wainwright to be healthy and competent, which surprisingly has worked out so far. No he hasn’t been great, but he’s fine as your 5th starter. If only he were the 5th starter.

When it became clear that Carlos Martinez was not going to be healthy at the time, that was the time to sign Dallas Keuchel. They screwed up then too. They should have signed Gio Gonzalez when he was available too, if not in spring training, then after the Yankees let him go. The time may have passed to get Keuchel though.

To me, the desperation to sign Keuchel is very clearly a “Be careful what you wish for” situation (as is signing Craig Kimbrel, though to a much larger extent). A potential Keuchel contract is giving me strong Dexter Fowler contract vibes personally. A slightly above average 31-year-old coming off his best season in a couple years. You’d like a better free agent player, but he’s the best available at his position and the need is there so it makes sense right now. Don’t believe me? Here are their ZiPS projection during their free agencies:

Fowler: 2.8

Keuchel: 3.1

To be fair, Fowler did have a -6 rating and he’s more of a -10 CF and that makes a huge difference, but also to be fair, the Cardinals signed Fowler before spring training so he was able to play the full season in his first year. (And yes, the OF need was there. Pham wasn’t a sure thing at this point AT ALL) 33% of the Cardinals games have already been played and Keuchel won’t be signed until after the MLB draft at the earliest. Let’s say he signs June 3, the day the draft officially begins (not sure if he can sign once it starts or when it’s over.) Let’s say you can get him to a minor league game by June 5. Let’s also say that he needs just three starts to be ready for the MLB. So he’ll be ready by June 20. The Cardinals have already played 54 games and will be playing their 75th game on June 20. That’s 87 games left, so 17.4 turns in the rotation, but let’s round up and say 18 starts.

Now his 2019 projection is 1.9 WAR. That would more or less seem like the best case scenario to me. I’m personally less of a believer in him than ZiPS, but just my opinion. What would it take to sign Keuchel at this point? There are reportedly four teams interested, including the Cardinals and Brewers, so less than market value doesn’t seem likely. This is Keuchel’s last big payday, so he’s going to want years.

I’ll go back to the Fowler example. The Cardinals were comfortable giving Fowler four years, he wanted five, and they wanted Fowler so they gave him five. Years and a no-trade clause of course would be how the Cardinals would top the other offers, because that’s what they’ve done in the past. Are we signing Keuchel to 3 years, 4 years, 5 years?

See what I mean though? This seems like a “be careful what you wish for” scenario to me. And that’s assuming he doesn’t suffer a drop off from, you know, not playing for half the year. He’s already going to lose close to 3 months in his prime for this deal. Anyway I thought I’d play devil’s advocate a little here. Yes, he’s the only free agent upgrade possible so no prospects necessary, but I don’t actually think he’s a good option either! The Cards just screwed up before the season started, and I’m not sure I want them to make another bad idea to fix that problem.

Don’t even get me started on Kimbrel though. That is an all caps BAD IDEA. Full stop. Same people complaining about Brett Cecil, Andrew Miller probably want Craig Kimbrel. NO. Don’t fall for the trap again! I don’t seriously think there’s a chance the Cards do this, but I’m addressing it to the folks who want Kimbrel in any capacity: do you have short-term memories loss? I feel like I’m going crazy whenever I see someone want him. Last year was already a steep decline from the previous year. NO GOD NO. This paragraph didn’t warrant a full post, because again the Cardinals aren’t doing it and also I don’t think it’s a large contingency of fans, but they exist believe me.