For the Braves to stay a step ahead of their division rivals, Atlanta can make a splash by jumping back into the free agent pool.
Bryce Harper and the Phillies have made the NL East even tougher with their recent pact, and if the Braves are serious about repeating as division champs, they need to jump back into free agency and sign Dallas Keuchel.
According to MLBTR, the Phillies are still looking to spend and are interested in Keuchel on a short-term deal, so Atlanta needs to beat Philadelphia to the punch. While the Braves looked to have a wealth of pitching heading into 2019, reports out of camp are a little concerning. Mike Foltynewicz has an elbow issue. Kevin Gausman, Luiz Gohara and top prospect Mike Soroka are all batting shoulder soreness. A once overflowing rotation is suddenly looking like less of a strength.
MLBTR predicted the 31-year-old Keuchel to land a four-year, $82 million deal this offseason. While the Phillies are looking short-term on Keuchel (and on closer Craig Kimbrel, as well), the Braves may be able to sway the lefty by offering a longer deal than their division rival.
Reports are that Atlanta isn’t concerned enough with the injuries to ramp up pursuit of Keuchel, and maybe rightly so, but should they risk leaving themselves short on pitching? Foltynewicz is currently slated as their number one starter while Gausman is likely going to be second or third in the rotation. If either of them (or, god forbid, both) go down at some point, is Atlanta ready to roll with a rotation fronted by Sean Newcomb or Julio Teheran?
Even if Atlanta made a preemptive move and both Folty and Gausman turn out to be fine, signing Keuchel only makes their rotation that much better and allows them to handle young talent like Soroka and Gohara with kid gloves. Atlanta needs to get it right with the handling of these two, and adding a veteran pitcher means they shouldn’t feel pressure to rush either of them this year. It’s a move that also allows them to push another young gun, Touki Toussaint, to the bullpen as he continues to dial in his command.
Comparing 2018 statistics, Keuchel would easily be the second best pitcher on this team behind a healthy Foltynewicz. Remember, though, that Folty doesn’t have the track record of success that Keuchel has. While his ERA was nearly a full run better than Keuchel’s last year, their xFIP were almost identical—with Folty’s at 3.77 versus a 3.84 for Keuchel.
Additionally, Keuchel sported a better walk rate, fewer home runs per nine, and a higher ground ball percentage than Folty in 2018. Another plus is that Keuchel would be jumping from the AL to the NL, which is never a bad things for pitchers.
The point is that they could get their true number one by signing Kuechel, especially with any regression from Foltynewicz. Keuchel also brings a lot of pennant chase and playoff experience to the Braves and could potentially have the effect on this team that James Shields once had on a blossoming young team in Kansas City.
The move also makes plenty of sense financially. According to Spotrac, Atlanta is nearly $83 million below the competitive threshold. Not only that, but they saw their revenue jump a whopping 9% (to over $400 million!) last season due to their new ballpark and improved squad, so they can easily afford to pay Keuchel this year and beyond, especially considering the $23 million they paid Josh Donaldson comes off the books heading into 2020.
If Philadelphia is willing to give a one or two year contract to Keuchel, the Braves should be quick to offer three years and try to seal the deal. Even without any catastrophic injuries, the move could keep them ahead of a vastly improved division.
Bob Ellis is a lifelong Royals fan. He has written in the past for Kings of Kauffman and Statliners. Follow him on Twitter @BobEllisKC