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Should the Padres sign Dallas Keuchel?


MLB: Game Two-Houston Astros at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

It sounds like free agent pitcher Dallas Keuchel is getting antsy...

This makes sense! Keuchel turned down the Qualifying Offer from the Astros (aiming for a long-term contract) and now wants to make sure that he doesn’t end up losing money by doing so.

Is Dallas Keuchel worth $18 million?

I’m going to focus on the short-term deal here for two reasons. One, the Padres have a number of stud pitchers rocketing through their minor league system and don’t need to clog up the rotation with guys over 30. Two, the short term deal is a much smaller risk and fits in nicely with a team that will be paying minimum salaries to several of their key contributors this season.

Keuchel’s strength on the mound is control (averaging well above 2.5 strikeouts for every walk issued) and he has a good enough track record of durability that you could easily expect 150+ innings from him in a normal season.

Dig into his stats, like FanGraphs did here, and you’ll walk away thinking that Keuchel is worth either a 1-year, $20M deal or a 4-year, $84M deal. So, yeah, the 2015 Cy Young Award winner is worth the money that he’s asking for and paying the price for hitting the free agent market in an offseason when most teams have put their wallets away.

The cost of leadership

Off the mound, Keuchel has a reputation as a locker room leader. Note this story from when Justin Verlander was deciding if he wanted to leave the Detroit Tigers:

Verlander’s conversation with Avila was brief. The gist: There was a deal in place, and the pitcher had to decide if he would accept. Once back at his apartment, Verlander began making calls, many of them back and forth with his agent, Mark Pieper.

”Given that period of time, I just wanted to get as much information as I could, whatever it was,” Verlander recounted in an interview with the Chronicle. “ ’What are we talking about in two years? What are we talking about right now? What’s the locker room like? What are these guys like? What’s the town like? … There was just a hurricane there. Obviously, they’re in bad shape as a city. What’s that like? Can I live somewhere?’ Stuff I hadn’t even thought of. I was just trying to weigh all of that.”

Within this short window of time, Verlander received a call from Astros ace Dallas Keuchel, who had heard the trade rumblings while back at his apartment in Houston. The Astros had landed in Houston earlier that evening after playing the last of their three “home” games against the Texas Rangers in St. Petersburg, Fla. It was their first night home since Harvey hit.

” ’Hey, I’m not trying to take too much of your time up. You won’t regret your decision to come here,’ ” Keuchel recalled this week of his message to Verlander. “ ’Obviously, your window for winning in Detroit is damn near closed, and ours is wide open.’

”I figured the only thing left in his legacy is to win a World Series because he’s pretty much done everything else. I was hoping that would resonate in his mind rather quickly, and I think it did.”

Now, if the Padres were to sign Keuchel, he would immediately become the veteran ace of the staff and could easily slide into a locker room leadership/mentorship role with a rotation that already includes three left-handed control pitchers in Joey Lucchesi, Eric Lauer, and Nick Margevicius.

Where’s the risk?

I imagine part of the reason talks between the Padres and Keuchel haven’t heated up yet is because nobody is quite sure if the Padres have the kind of team that will be contending for a playoff spot in September. If they are, a 1-year Keuchel signing makes all the sense in the world. If they are not, it could be seen at $18M+ spent blocking the path of a younger pitcher.

However, I think there’s tons of value in signing Keuchel. He addresses San Diego’s biggest weakness (starting rotation), adds a veteran ace to the staff, and would almost certainly give the team yet another bump in ticket sales and TV ratings. Additionally, if things were to fall apart with the roster before July 31st, the Padres would be able to trade Keuchel and get back some sort of prospect in return.

The only real potential downside is that the Padres sign Keuchel and he’s not good, which seems unlikely given his track record and the track record of pitching coach Darren Balsley, or he’s not healthy. He seemed to pitch fine last season after overcoming a pinched nerve in his neck in 2017, but this is one more reason why you’d probably want to sign him to a short-term contract.

Would the Padres do it?

For all the excitement over signings of Wil Myers, Eric Hosmer, and Manny Machado, the San Diego Padres still rank 24th in MLB team payroll. (At the moment, they go up to 13th next year when Myers’ contract kicks in.)

Adding even $20M to their payroll this year only moves them up to 20th in MLB team payroll.

This seems like a pretty simply math equation for Ron Fowler and Peter Seidler: Is Dallas Keuchel potentially worth $20M? Whether that’s in ad sales or ticket sales or merchandise or even prospects in a trade, would he bring back enough value to make it worth it? And, if not, are you will to risk it for the chance to make a run at the playoffs for the first time since buying the team?

When the Padres flirted with Bryce Harper this offseason after signing Manny Machado, it showed they had the money to make a move like this. The only question is if they’re willing to risk it, based off what they’ve seen on the field, and if Keuchel is still waiting on a short-term deal that he’s willing to take when the Padres make their decision.