If you can't beat him, see if he'll join you? Is that the stance the Yankees might undertake with free agent left-handed starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel?
Here are the pros and cons of the Yanks signing Keuchel, what he might cost, and what the team should ultimately do…
What makes Keuchel a better fit than others?
First off, Keuchel is viewed as a winner. That may seem like a cliché or a throwaway line, but take a look at his career arc and it's clear that he has the makeup of a pitcher clubs want in their rotation.
Keuchel is 67-45 with a 3.28 ERA (121 ERA+) and a 1.18 WHIP since 2014. During that span, Keuchel has made 145 starts (average of 29 per season) and tossed 950 1/3 innings (average of 190 innings). While the fluctuation over the period has dropped as low as 23 starts and reached as high as 34 (in 2018), he has made at least 29 starts in three of the seasons.
Keuchel's track record is just as good in the postseason. He helped lead the Astros to the 2017 World Series, and owns a 3.36 ERA in 51 1/3 playoff innings.
Finally, Keuchel is an extreme ground ball pitcher (58.8 percent career rate) and does not allow a lot of home runs (less than one per nine innings). The combination makes him a solid fit in Yankee Stadium, where the left-hander has met success.
What makes Keuchel a lesser fit than others?
Keuchel is hitting free agency when his deal would begin at his age-31 season. As such, it will be difficult to convince teams that it would be safe to offer a contract that exceeded four years.
The question with Keuchel is whether he has already peaked. We looked at the last five seasons as a defense for why Keuchel fits the Yankees, but slim it down to the last three seasons and the concern of inconsistency and potential for breakdown is evident.
Keuchel generated a 3.77 ERA (3.78 FIP) over the last three years (518 1/3 innings). His ground ball rate (54 percent) was still high compared to the league in 2018, but much lower than his top seasons. Also, Keuchel's strikeout rate decreased to 6.7 strikeouts per nine innings in 2018.
With his recent production wavering, it might leave the Yankees wondering what to expect.
The Yankees are in need of a top-of-the-rotation starter, and the club has to ask if Keuchel is a slam dunk option for the anticipated cost.
What is the expected contract value for Keuchel?
Contract estimations for Keuchel have ranged from four years, $79 million ($19.75 million average annual value) to five years, $105 million ($21 million AAV). Again, with Keuchel beginning his deal at 31 years old, it would seem that bidding would have to get very heated for the term to reach five seasons.
The Yankees would be measuring a deal for Keuchel at the same time as they review the credentials for another left-handed free agent starter, Patrick Corbin. Corbin will pitch the 2019 season at 29 years old, so there is a certain edge for Corbin in that respect.
When discussing Keuchel as a potential Yankee, it feels to me that any real movement would only come about if the organization feels that a deal with Corbin is not going to happen, or a trade for Mariners lefty James Paxton was off the table.
The Yankees are trying to shy away from expensive contracts that take players into their decline seasons. In general, contracts of any length for declining players for the Yankees appear to be reserved for long-tenured players like Brett Gardner or CC Sabathia, both of whom have credible value as clubhouse presences.
Keuchel might already be in the midst of his decline stage, which makes a contract potentially worth $100 million-plus a large risk.
Personally, I believe signing Keuchel would resemble a desperation move because the true targets went elsewhere. For the money/term involved, I would recommend the Yankees stay away from Keuchel, unless Corbin and Paxton are off the table. If the Yankees felt they had to sign Keuchel, I would push for a deal no longer than three seasons (still quite risky, in my view).
The Yankees need an ace (or minimally a very strong No. 2 starter) and that mantle is no longer attainable - at least not in a long term sense - for Keuchel. As such, the Yankees should prioritize Corbin or Paxton, who have stronger upside and easier contracts to navigate in terms of commitment risk.