Despite having one of most active winters in baseball, the Yankees spent the entire offseason without appearing in any notable Dallas Keuchel rumors. The situation appears to have changed once the season started, however, as chatter connecting the two increases. In fact, Jon Heyman now pegs New York among the front-runners for landing the left-hander.
“I think the Yankees will be there for Keuchel,” Heyman said during a WFAN interview last week. “I think at this point there’s not a bad chance that the Yankees end up with Keuchel. Keuchel, from what I understand, would love to be in a big market, and the suitors for the most part to this point have not been of that ilk ... if I had to pick one team out of the 30 right now, I would go with the Yankees.”
Heyman expects things to heat up after the MLB Draft, when Keuchel will lose the compensatory pick attached to him. With that in mind, it makes sense to revisit the possibility of signing the southpaw. In fact, the more one thinks about it, the more it seems like a good move.
Why Keuchel fits the Yankees
Is it a stretch to say the Yankees need rotation help? It might be, considering the staff owns a 79 ERA- to date. They certainly could use the depth, though. Domingo German has an innings limit; Luis Severino remains sidelined through the All-Star break; James Paxton has a knee issue; and the team can’t rely on CC Sabathia to soak up innings. This, of course, assumes everyone pitches to their current level. The team will, at some point, need to reinforce the starting pitching.
Keuchel, 31, fits the bill of a starter capable of buttressing the staff. The workhorse logged 204.2 innings in 2018, pitching to a 3.74 ERA (3.69 FIP). His groundball rate declined noticeably, but even so it sat at 53.7%. He also did a fine job of keeping the ball in the park, managing a 0.79 HR/9. A southpaw who gets groundballs and limits homers? That sounds like a good target for the Yankees.
Signing Keuchel would also allow the Yankees to bypass the starting pitching trade market. Could the Bombers win a bidding war for Madison Bumgarner? If the Padres or Brewers enter the mix, then it’s doubtful. Brian Cashman could save his chips to address another area at the deadline, or perhaps put them on the table over the winter.
Why the Yankees make sense for Keuchel
For Keuchel, the Yankees could stand out as an appealing destination because he would get to play for a contender. Through all the injuries, the Bombers remain one of the top teams in the American League. According to FanGraphs’ MLB Playoff Odds, the Yankees have an 89.5% chance at playing October baseball, the second-best mark in the league. Having played for the Astros, one could assume Keuchel would appreciate joining another well-positioned team.
The Yankees could also meet one of Keuchel’s demands, and that is to be paid a fair value. “I told [Scott Boras] no on numerous deals because it’s about principle,” Keuchel explained to Yahoo Sports’ Tim Brown. “It’s about fair market value. And I wasn’t getting that.
Without question, the Bombers have the ability to flex their financial muscle and ink the left-hander to a contract. While the team didn’t go big-game hunting this winter, the Yankees did spend money. They even cleared the luxury tax threshold. Hal Steinbrenner has said on multiple occasions that he is open to raising the budget if the right situation presents itself. That could be the case for Keuchel.
What a fair contract might look like
It’s clear Keuchel and the Yankees make sense for one another. Now what about a contract? That’s the tough part, because realistically, one has to find a deal that is attractive for both parties.
Keuchel reportedly prefers a one-year deal, with the idea of showing off down the stretch before testing the market again this winter. The Yankees could, in theory, offer him the prorated version of the qualifying offer — about $11.19 million — and call it a day.
With competitive bidding, however, that probably doesn’t get the job done. The Yankees will have to up the ante, but I don’t see them paying a premium for only a half-season of work. Instead, they could make it a two-year deal, which has some merit.
For the Yankees, they get the southpaw to bolster the rotation this season, then replace the retiring CC Sabathia in 2020. For Keuchel, he could pitch this summer without the stress of free agency looming again. If he pitches well, he would enter the 2020-2021 free agency period looking for a J.A. Happ contract or better.
To be fair on his part, the Yankees could give Keuchel $12 million (a touch more than the prorated portion of the qualifying offer) in 2019, then $20 million in 2020. A two-year deal worth $32 million sounds like it could get the job done. It also wouldn’t be onerous for luxury tax purposes.
Per the Collective Bargaining Agreement:
Notwithstanding the foregoing, if a Multi-Year Contract is signed after Opening Day of the championship season, the: (i) Base Salary in the first Guaranteed Year for purposes of the AAV calculation shall be determined by multiplying that Base Salary by a fraction, the numerator of which shall be the number of championship season days that the Player was paid the Base Salary, and the denominator shall be the number of championship season days in that championship season; and (ii) the first Guaranteed Year shall not be considered a full Guaranteed Year for purposes of the AAV calculation, but shall be considered a partial year equal to the fraction described in subsection (i) above.
The tax hit would then count the prorated salary of year one, leaving the final payment at $16 million. That’s a reasonable sum for a pitcher of Keuchel’s caliber. Remember, Hiroki Kurdoda made that in his final season with the Yankees.
The question remains whether New York and Keuchel can come to terms on a contract. I suppose we’ll find out shortly after the draft. For now, though, it looks like an agreement makes a ton of sense for both sides.