The D-Backs have agreed to a minor league contract with free agent Lefty Dallas Keechelreports Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (Twitter link). He will move to Triple-A for now, but has worked an eventual opt-out date into the deal if he isn’t added to the MLB roster by then. Keuchel is represented by Boras Corporation.
It’s a risk-free deal for the D-backs, who only owe Keuchel prorated league minimums for any time they spend at the majors. The balance of his $18 million salary will continue to be paid by the White Sox, who fired him late last month. The Sox are also still on the hook for the $1.5 million buyout for Keuchel’s 2023 option.
Keuchel is on his way 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 prime with the Astros. At least for now, the two won’t work side-by-side with Strom on a daily basis in the big league team, but the connection most likely played a role in the mutual interest between player and team.
2015 American League Cy Young Award winner Keuchel was a force at the front of the Houston rotation from 2014-2018, averaging a 3.28 ERA with a 20.2% strikeout rate, a strong walk rate of 6.4% and a sky-high 60% groundball rate rate over the life of 950 1/3 innings. That included his stellar 2015 campaign, which saw Keuchel pace the American League with wins (20), shutouts (two) and innings (232) — all while posting a career-best ERA of 2.48. He hasn’t repeated that achievement since, but that was one of three ERAs under 3.00 that Keuchel posted in a four-year period.
Despite the impressive résumé at Houston, Keuchel’s first journey through the free-agent process didn’t go as hoped. After turning down a qualifying offer from the Astros, Keuchel was faced with the burden of draft pick compensation and waited until after the 2019 draft to sign a prorated, one-year contract with the Braves. (By waiting so long, he threw off the draft pick compensation scheme.)
It was a surprising scene, probably due to a combination of factors. Draft compensation undoubtedly played a role, and Keuchel certainly came out with lofty multi-year targets that many teams found inadequate. He’s also had multiple IL appearances since that Cy Young year, reaching the market after a 2018 season that saw his lowest strikeout and groundball rates since his 2012 rookie season.
Keuchel still raked in a $20 million (about $13 million) split salary on that deal, and he’s done well with Atlanta. In 112 2/3 frames this year, he posted a 3.75 ERA with a revitalized grounder rate of 60.1%. It was enough for the White Sox to guarantee Keuchel $55.5 million on a three-year contract as they emerged from a protracted rebuild.
The first season of that deal proved an overwhelming success as Keuchel posted a career-best ERA of 1.99 across 11 starts (63 1/3 innings) during the Covid-shortened 2020 season. Keuchel also got off to a strong start in the second year of the deal, posting a 3.78 ERA in his first 14 starts of the season, but he went into a catastrophic slump shortly after and has yet to really recover.
Since June 20 last year, Keuchel has completed 24 starts and allowed runs in 23 of them. During that time, he has achieved a 7.02 ERA with a 12.4% strikeout rate at the bottom of the barrel versus an increased walk rate of 10.2%. He still induces Grounder with an above-average clip of 52.2%, but that’s a fair distance from his peaks. It’s also worth noting that Keuchel averaged just 87.8 mph on his heater during that span – nearly three mph slower than the 90.4 mph he averaged during that Cy Young-winning season is.
Arizona’s fourth-best starters this season have all been solid to excellent, as has everyone Zack Gallen (2.40 ERA), Madison Bumgarner (3.31), Merrill Kelly (3.66) and Zach Davis (4.18) Have made at least 10 starts and completed at least 54 innings cumulatively. Fifth place was more of a challenge to fill. Luke Weber moved to the bullpen earlier in the year and hit the injured list not long after. Humberto Castellanos (nine launches), Tyler Gilbert (tw0) and Caleb Smith (one – that was only one inning) made the rest of the team’s starts and generally fared poorly. Castellanos was recently injured with an elbow strain.
Keuchel will add some depth to the D-Backs to blend in behind this group. He will join another big league veteran Dan Straly, who was struggling with a minor league deal of his own after a big showing in South Korea as a non-squad player in Reno. The Serpents also have Gilbert mentioned above, right Luis Frias and former top prospect Corbin Martin on the 40-man roster as options in Triple-A.