Seattle Mariners: Can they Poach Pitching Help from Houston?
The Seattle Mariners need starting pitching. I know it, you know it, and the world knows it. Today, we dive into the free agent market and determine whether or not Dallas Keuchel makes sense for the Seattle.
Mariners fans should be quite familiar with Houston Astros left-handed pitcher Dallas Keuchel. He has helped the Astros to 4 playoff appearances and a World Series win in 2017. However, Keuchel will become a free agent for the first time after the 2018 World Series and will be one of the better arms available this winter.
Today, we will break down the pro’s and cons of Keuchel, and whether or not he will be a possibility for the Mariners this winter.
Dallas Keuchel will enter the 2019 season in his age-31 season. In his 7 years with the Astros, Keuchel made 2 All-Star Games, 3 Gold Gloves, and 1 Cy Young Award. The Cy Young season was the best of his career. He went 20-8 with a 2.48 ERA and a 1.017 WHIP over 232 innings pitched.
Since then, Keuchel has been perfectly good but has not been able to replicate the 2015 season. Over the past 3 seasons, Keuchel has averaged 173 innings pitched, a 3.78 FIP, and a 1.25 WHIP.
Keuchel gives up a lot of hits which disqualifies him from Ace status. However, he is also an elite groundball pitcher who doesn’t give up home runs. Like, at all. In his 7 year career, Keuchel has surrendered an average of just 0.9 HR per 9 innings pitched.
There is some reason for skepticism, as Keuchel’s groundball percentage dropped from 66.8% in 2017 to 53.7% in 2018. His hard-hit rate also increased by four percent, meaning he gave up more hard contact in 2018 than 2017.
Overall, Dallas Keuchel would probably qualify as a number 3 starter.
As is the case with most free agents, it is nearly impossible to nail down a free agents contract. We do not know what his market will look like. We don’t know how other teams value each player. What makes this cost analysis particularly difficult is not knowing how desperate teams will be.
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There is a shortage of reliable starters in MLB right now, which causes many teams to overpay for good but not great starters. However, last season we saw the opposite occur. The starting pitching market was more than reasonably priced last winter, and it is difficult to know where the market stands this year.
As we stated in our payroll diagnostics piece, the Mariners may have just $20 million to spend this off-season.
We know the going rate for “ace level” starters is typically between $25-$30 million AAV (average annual value). Keuchel is not at that level. Nor should he be considered as good as a true number two type of arm. He doesn’t miss enough bats to garner $22-$25 million AAV.
Over the past few years, the best comparison to what Keuchel could get is probably Mariners starter Mike Leake. Like Leake, Keuchel is a high groundball pitcher who eats innings and doesn’t miss many bats.
Leake signed a 5-year deal in 2015 worth $80 million. The deal also includes a 6th-year option worth $18 million with a $5 million buyout. This is the approximate range for a Keuchel deal. Leake was younger at the time of his deal than Keuchel will be, but prices are always going up.
Overall, the estimated cost is going to be a 5 or 6-year deal worth between $80-$90 million. Keuchel will also likely get the qualifying offer, which means the Mariners would also have to forfeit their second-round pick to sign Keuchel in this range.
As we have discussed above, the need is obvious. The fit also makes some sense. Keuchel is well versed in the American League West. He has nice numbers in Safeco Field. He fits the “control the zone” style of starter Jerry Dipoto covets.
Keuchel would likely be the Mariners #2 starter, slotting behind James Paxton, but ahead of Mike Leake and Marco Gonzales. Kechuel would give the Mariners another innings eater in the middle of their rotation, affording manager Scott Servais the luxury of having a quicker hook on other starters, knowing that Keuchel or Leake will almost certainly give him 7 innings every time through the rotation.
Overall, Keuchel may not be the best use of funds for the Mariners. Signing Keuchel would likely be the most significant move Seattle could make. He doesn’t carry the kind of upside necessary to vastly improve the rotation.
Obviously, he would help. But the Mariners probably need to add 6-8 wins to their club to be competitive in 2019. Using all their money on Keuchel could get them closer, but not far enough to justify the signing.