Maybe the Braves and Dallas Keuchel were meant to be together all along; their union came after months of flirtation, and when a window opened, the Braves were getting their guy.
Keuchel, a Cy Young winner, officially signed with the Braves on Friday night. The Braves and agent Scott Boras struck a one-year, $13 million deal that allows Keuchel to rebuild his value on a contender while re-entering the free agent market this winter.
“Finally we got some momentum this week, and we were able to get it done,” general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. “Once we felt we had a shot at getting a deal done, we ultimately got aggressive to try to get it done. We’re just thrilled with the outcome.
“He makes everybody better. The innings, the competitiveness, the experience, the winning; it’ll be a good add for our club, not only on the field, but in the clubhouse, everything he brings. There’s not a lot of opportunities to get guys like this, so we’re really excited.”
Keuchel identified the Braves as a potential suitor entering free agency. He appreciated the way they’ve assembled their roster, loved the young talent and welcomed the chance to rejoin former teammates Brian McCann and Mike Foltynewicz.
It was a drawn-out process for Keuchel, who’s awaited his destination since November. At one point it seemed he could return to the Astros, though that never materialized. The Yankees were reportedly involved until the very end, but the motivated Braves won the bidding.
The market opened up during the MLB draft, when Keuchel was no longer attached to draft pick compensation. He felt that detail – a team forfeiting its draft pick to sign him because Houston gave him a qualifying offer – was reason for his delayed signing.
“I think something holding a lot of these competitive teams back was the draft-pick compensation,” he said. “Now, for one reason or another, every team has their issues with giving up a draft pick. The offseason seemed like a regular offseason with a lot of chatter, a lot of interest. Then later as it got on closer to spring training, there was a materialization of what’s fair and what wasn’t. It didn’t come to light, so I was (a free agent) until after the draft pick came off.”
The Braves won’t be able to extend the same qualifying offer to Keuchel because he’s already received it. Unless the Braves extend him beforehand, he’ll enter the marketplace unrestricted.
Those in the organization are ecstatic at the addition, which gives the Braves a postseason-proven veteran in their rotation. Anthopoulos said the team hasn’t figured out how it’ll line up its staff whenever Keuchel is promoted, but “those things have a way of working themselves out.”
In his seven-year career, Keuchel has accumulated a 3.66 ERA. He posted a 3.74 mark with 153 strikeouts in 34 starts last season, surpassing 200 innings for the second time in his career. His work-horse track record appealed to the Braves, who also see it as a means to help their bullpen.
“The Braves always had interest, and that piqued my interest as well,” Keuchel said. “The Braves were always in constant communication. Alex and his guys were great at dealing with this whole thing. They were one of the teams I pinpointed in free agency with how youthful and exciting their team could be. So I’m just glad something materialized really quick after the draft pick came off.”
The lefty will start for Single-A Rome on Monday after his scheduled start Saturday in Triple-A Gwinnett was rained out. Keuchel has a clause in his contract that requires him to be promoted by June 18, meaning he could just make two minor-league starts before making his Braves debut. He’s since noted that date is flexible.
Keuchel is built up to pitch at least five or six innings, by his own estimation. He worked diligently to stay in shape while waiting for a new destination. Most of that time was spent at Boras Agency’s facilities in Southern California.
“I was staying on my regular routine every fifth-day start,” Keuchel said. “I was built up to seven innings, 105 pitches. Now obviously, it’s now major-league talent, but it’s still pushing my body to get up, get taxed, build stamina up. When teams were calling and saying ‘Hey, how’s his shape?’ I was more ready than a regular spring training. I’d say (I faced) anywhere from college guys to Independent League guys (in the sim games), a couple pro guys, a couple Boras clients who came over. So you name it I was facing them, just trying to work on stuff and build stamina.”
Anthopoulos added, regarding the plan for Keuchel: “We’re all aligned on this. We want him to come up and help us, he wants to help us. So this is someone who so far has had an amazing career, Cy Young winner and so on. He knows himself and his body, and he’s going to be honest. I think like Dallas talked about, we don’t need to pinpoint an exact date. Just take it day-by-day at this point.”
For as much as Keuchel and Anthopoulos preached open-mindedness in when Keuchel debuts, that contract clause makes it evident his stay in Gwinnett will be brief. He could start as soon as the Braves’ home game against the Mets on June 18. That’s the middle contest of a three-game series before the team embarks on a 10-game road trip, which obviously could feature Keuchel’s first outing.
The Braves didn’t believe they’d end up landing Keuchel until a couple days ago. When they saw an opening, they pushed – they saw the rotation as priority No. 1, and adding a high-level player without sacrificing prospects was all-the-more appetizing.
Anthopoulos could still opt to address his rotation at the trade deadline, but certainly Keuchel – if he’s anywhere near what’s expected – eases the urgency.
“You don’t have to give up prospects,” Anthopoulos said. “It’s challenging to do those things in trade. In-season trades are hard enough, in-season trades for starters are really hard. It’s our good fortune that Dallas was available and he had interest in being here.”
So the unlikely pairing became reality: Keuchel, the proven pitcher with a winning pedigree, landed in Atlanta. His presence sends a clear sign to the clubhouse and opposition: The Braves are going for it. And they still have plenty of prospects to play with at the trade deadline, if they so choose.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.