Major League Baseball will technically begin its regular season in less than 2 weeks when the Mariners take on the Oakland A’s. And yet, one of the biggest names on the free agent market remains unsigned.
Mariners fans are no doubt familiar with longtime Astros starter Dallas Keuchel. An interesting debate has taken place the past few days about whether the Mariners should be interested in the 31-year-old former Cy Young Winner.
The points in favor are pretty self-explanatory. Keuchel is still a solid #3 starter. He will likely come in at a massive discount considering his previous demands. He could be trade bait for a team and might make this roster a fringe contender.
On the surface, those are all valid reasons. In reality, they don’t matter in the least. Dallas Keuchel makes no sense for the Mariners and I’ll tell you why. Let’s start with the argument that Keuchel is a #3 starter. I think, at this stage of his career, it is still fair to characterize Keuchel as a 3. However, if he is, then so too is Marco Gonzales, Mike Leake, and Yusei Kikuchi. Heck, in 2018 Wade LeBlanc was only worth 0.3 bWAR less than Keuchel and for $10-$12 million less.
The Mariners starting rotation is already solid. So while Keuchel is probably still an upgrade over LeBlanc and Felix Hernandez, it isn’t significant.
Second, the potential for a discount. And look, buy low on a player is hardly ever a bad idea. There is typically little to no risk involved. But despite their rebuild, the 2019 Mariners Opening Day payroll is still just $4 million or so less than 2018.
Besides the money aspect, handing Keuchel a 4-year, $70 million doesn’t help the rebuild. Keuchel has been in a decline the past few seasons. It is reasonable to expect that the best years of the remainder of his career are the 2019 and 2020 season. Guess who doesn’t fancy themselves contenders in ’19 and ’20? The Mariners
Paying Keuchel $15+ million a year in 2021 and 2022 could prevent them from adding actual impact. Not to mention, potentially block a rotation spot from one younger, cheaper, and likely better options like Justus Sheffield, Justin Dunn, or Logan Gilbert.
Third, be careful to assume that Keuchel can “easily be traded” before 2021. If he was a pitcher that had a ton of value on the market, wouldn’t he have signed with a club by now? Is Keuchel really going to get you more than Mike Leake? Probably not.
Finally, the idea that adding Keuchel makes the Mariners a contender in 2019. While I do believe this roster can surprise people and hang around a playoff race longer than many assume, adding another mid-rotation piece doesn’t get the Mariners much.
Even the most optimistic projection has the team as about a .500 club. Replacing Felix Hernandez with Keuchel may add 2 wins to your total. Is 83-85 wins worth $65-80 million when it still leaves you on the outside looking in? No.
In all likelihood, adding Keuchel to the mix makes a 78 win team an 81 win team while tying up money going forward and potentially blocking better arms in your system. Keuchel is the type of piece that contender should pursue to take them from 87 wins to 90. But going from 78 to 81 wins does nothing for you.
So yes, adding Dallas Keuchel would be fun. However, it could do more harm than good in 2020, 2021, and beyond. The Mariners want to be competitive by 2021 and any move made to hurt that goal is not a good one.