The Braves made a significant move to upgrade their rotation, signing free-agent lefty Dallas Keuchel to a one-year, $13 million deal Thursday night.
Keuchel, the 2015 American League Cy Young winner, brings World Series pedigree to an otherwise unseasoned Braves rotation. The 31-year-old’s free agency was a much-discussed topic across the baseball landscape, with agent Scott Boras holding out for the right terms.
Boras found that fit with the Braves, whose rotation has sputtered recently. Even with Mike Soroka and Max Fried blossoming, the starting staff is littered with questions. Mike Foltynewicz was behind schedule because of an injury in spring training. Julio Teheran has been largely reliable, but doesn’t go deep into games. Kevin Gausman looks nothing like the player the Braves acquired last season.
“Any team that gets a player of that stature is going to be fortunate,” said Braves manager Brian Snitker, who couldn’t speak in absolutes until the team announced the signing. “He’s equipped and he’s been through the wars, pitched in big games, won a Cy Young. Any team that gets him is going to be better for having him on their club.”
Keuchel theoretically brings the consistency and stability desperately needed for a franchise trying to defend its division title. He has a career 3.66 ERA across seven seasons with the Astros. The Tulsa native peaked in 2015, when he posted a 2.48 ERA and struck out 216 in 232 innings. He won the AL Cy Young and finished fifth in MVP voting.
Since his career-year, Keuchel has been a stable presence for one of the AL’s premier teams. He was an All-Star in 2017, when he earned a 2.90 ERA in 23 starts. Last season, Keuchel posted a 3.74 mark with a 153:58 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 204-2/3 innings (34 starts). It was the second time he exceeded 200 frames.
The addition also should aid the bullpen, which has logged 226-1/3 innings entering Friday. As a whole, Braves starters haven’t consistently pitched deeper in games, which is why the team prioritized starter over reliever despite cries to improve the bullpen. Keuchel’s work-horse track record is a welcome addition.
Among the aftermath intrigue will be how Keuchel affects the team’s deadline plans. Much will depend on how he, Foltynewicz and others are performing in July, but perhaps Keuchel’s presence allows the team to focus more on adding relief help. Trying to add a frontline starter remains a possibility, even with the signing.
In addition to the obvious on-field benefits, Keuchel is regarded as a positive clubhouse presence. He knows Brian McCann well from their days in Houston, and he was among Foltynewicz’s early mentors when he was in the Astros system.
Foltynewicz told the Houston Chronicle at last year’s All-Star game that Keuchel “took him under (his) wing.”
"Now, he took off and started winning Cy Youngs on me," Foltynewicz said. "It was awesome. Got to meet a lot of cool guys, learned a hell of a lot coming through that Houston organization and then for them to give me a chance to debut with them and have a memory for life is really good."
Keuchel likely will start at Triple-A Gwinnett on Saturday, beginning his trek back to the majors. Given he’s reportedly been throwing simulated games, but will require several minor-league outings, he could realistically join the Braves around the end of June.
For Keuchel, it’s an opportunity to rebuild his value and re-enter the market unrestricted following the season. The Braves cannot extend a qualifying offer, since Keuchel has already had one, which means it won’t cost a team a draft pick to sign him.
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