Milwaukee’s most notable moves so far this winter have arguably been subtractions, with the club having moved on from both Jonathan Schoop and Domingo Santana recently. We know they’re still keeping an eye on the market for second baseman, but according to a recent report, Slingin’ David Stearns and company may also be keeping their eyes on a bigger prize in the starting rotation.
Per Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, the Brewers are one of a handful of teams that are showing interest in left-hander and former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel this offseason. Cafardo says that it is “surprising” that the southpaw is still available, though he does also note that his market may be developing slowly due in part to being represented by super agent Scott Boras. In addition to the Brewers, the Angels, Phillies, Rangers, and others are believed to be in pursuit.
The soon-to-be 31 year old Keuchel is certainly no stranger to Stearns, as Milwaukee’s GM watched the former seventh-round pick blossom into a frontline starter with Houston before leaving for the Cream City at the start the 2015-16 offseason. Keuchel won his Cy Young award during Stearns’ final season in Houston, going 20-8 across 33 starts while posting a 2.48 ERA and 216:51 K/BB ratio across 232.0 innings, good for a DRA- of 57 and 7.2 WARP.
That season was clearly Keuchel’s best as a big leaguer, in part because his ground ball heavy, pitch-to-contact oriented approach leaves him susceptible to some volatile ERA totals based on batted ball luck and how the defense behind him performs. But he does own a sturdy 3.66 mark in 1,189.1 innings at the big league level, and besides his Cy Young-winning seasons, DRA- has evaluated him as between 14% and 26% better than league average each year dating back to 2014. Keuchel has allowed hard contact at a rate lower than 30% in each of his MLB seasons, consistently ranking among league leaders. He relies heavily on a sinker that has held steady around 90 MPH every year of his career, and because of his ground-balling ways (58.8% career GB rate), he’s rarely plagued by the long ball (career 0.87 HR/9).
Kuechel worked 204.2 innings across 34 starts last season, authoring a 3.74 ERA and 6.73 K/9 versus 2.55 BB/9 during his final year in Houston. He was issued a Qualifying Offer by the Astros before hitting the free agent market, and MLB Trade Rumors predicted a four-year, $82 mil pact for Keuchel at the outset of the winter. His camp will be hoping to beat that projection, though, as he’s reportedly seeking something in the range of a five or six year contract.
It doesn’t seem likely that the Brewers would be interested in Keuchel at prices like that. But in today’s era where high velocity and strikeout totals are fetishized by front offices around the game, Keuchel’s pitching profile may be one that is undervalued on this year’s market. If suitors are scared off and Keuchel remains available for awhile, conditions could be prime for the Brewers - who perhaps are more willing to overlook a lack of velo and whiffs than any other organization in baseball - to swoop in and score themselves a relative bargain.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus