Keuchel will be paid the $13 million over the remainder of the season, making it the equivalent of a $20 million deal. He turned down a $17.9 million qualifying offer from the Houston Astros at the end of the 2018 season and had reportedly been demanding a lucrative multi-year deal all offseason.
The former Cy Young winner was stuck with draft compensation as a result. This vanished on Sunday night as the MLB Draft took began on Monday. The bidding for Keuchel, per O’Brien, picked up soon after the draft pick compensation disappeared, just as it did with fellow unsigned pitcher Craig Kimbrel, who is now a member of the Chicago Cubs.
The stalemate in free agency for Keuchel, like Kimbrel, was a case of misevaluation. Keuchel wanted paying like an ace, but he’s no longer the elite pitcher he was in 2015. His ERA was up at 3.74 last season, and his FIP has been in the high threes since winning the Cy Young. For a Braves rotation that has struggled, though, this is an improvement, and in a tight division race, that’s all that matters.
Kevin Gausman was very good in 2018 after arriving from the Orioles. He has struggled in 2019, owning a 6.15 ERA. Mike Foltynewicz finished 8th in National League Cy Young voting last season. His ERA is 5.89, which is still lower than his 6.62 FIP.
The Braves’ starters rank 17th in ERA despite a 45% quality start rate, one of the better marks in the league. Julio Teheran, Mike Soroka and Max Fried have all pitched well, but Foltynewicz and Gausman have lost them too many games and Atlanta will be keen to get Keuchel in the rotation ASAP.
His agent, Scott Boras, said he has thrown plenty of simulated games of 100 pitches and should be ready soon. Atlanta will send Keuchel to AAA and will likely be back starting Major League games soon.
Considering the extraordinary pitching depth Atlanta have in their farm, a one-year deal makes plenty of sense. Keuchel brings experience and an upgrade to the rotation, but without the risk of having to deal with further decline and blocking young arms like Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright.
This is an ideal situation for Atlanta, who maintain future financial flexibility while improving their chances in 2019. Keuchel is gambling on having a good few months, as he hopes to rebuild his value before hitting free agency again.
The overriding question from this deal is: Why was no other team willing to better this deal?