Corey Knebel is out for the rest of the season with Tommy John surgery, Jeremy Jeffress is still working his way back from shoulder weakness, and the Milwaukee Brewers are reportedly on the hunt for bullpen help. While some in the local media keep on insisting that the Brewers simply cannot afford to make another major addition after stretching payroll to record levels with the Grandal and Moustakas signings, the national media continues to connect the team to the top free agents still remaining on the market.
Yesterday it was continued contact with Craig Kimbrel’s camp reported by Jon Paul Morosi. Today, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic puts the Brewers among a group of three teams, along with the Padres and Mets, that are circling back on discussions with starter Dallas Keuchel:
The Padres are engaged in continuing dialogue with Keuchel’s camp, made a serious push to trade for Indians right-hander Trevor Bauer as the season was opening and also have spoken with the Blue Jays about righty Marcus Stroman, major-league sources say. ...
The Mets and Brewers are among the other clubs that have checked in on Keuchel, though the Brewers remain more interested in the other top remaining free agent, reliever Craig Kimbrel, sources say.
Ken goes to to discuss Milwaukee’s continuing quest to sign Kimbrel and mentions some six teams that are competing for his services, suggesting that club officials are “pessimistic” about a deal getting done with the future Hall of Fame closer.
Should Kimbrel wind up landing elsewhere, or even just continue to wait until after the amateur draft in June to sign, pivoting to Keuchel could be another way for David Stearns to upgrade his bullpen mix. Signing Keuchel and plugging him into the starting rotation could theoretically free up one of Milwaukee’s dynamic trio of young starters — Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, and Freddy Peralta — to be moved back into a relief role. Burnes and Woodruff specifically thrived last season in high-leverage situations down the stretch and into the playoffs.
Keuchel, of course, has been one of the better left-handed starters in baseball since his breakout campaign in 2014. He’s authored a 3.28 ERA in 145 starts and 950.1 innings over the past five seasons, including winning the Cy Young Award with the Astros in 2015 while posting a 2.48 ERA and 1.017 WHIP in 232.0 innings. While many of today’s top hurlers rely on overwhelming velocity to strike out hitters in bunches, Keuchel’s game is built upon suppressing hard contact and inducing ground balls with his 90 MPH sinker. Last season in Houston, Keuchel worked to a 3.74 ERA in 204.0 innings with 153 strikeouts against 58 walks. Deserved Run Average saw him as 14% more effective than the league-average pitchers in 2018, and he posted DRA- marks between 57 and 78 in each of the four seasons before that.
Keuchel did not pitch at all during Spring Training, of course, but has stayed in game shape by building up his stamina to the point where he’s now throwing 95-pitch simulated games every five days. That means that when he does ultimately sign somewhere, he shouldn’t need much of a tuneup in the minor leagues before jumping into a big league starting rotation. Like Kimbrel, the veteran southpaw does come with draft pick compensation attached, though it’s worth noting that for the Brewers that would only mean giving up their fourth round pick.
According to a fan who ran into the owner at Miller Park, Mark Attanasio says his team is trying “sure trying” to get Kimbrel. If Mark is willing to dig some more money out of the couch cushions for Kimbrel, why wouldn’t he be okay with spending that coin on Keuchel instead if the right opportunity arises?
I’m at the Brewers Cardinals game and I see Mark Attanasio. I asked him if we’re getting Kimbrel. His response... “we’re sure trying!” #ThisIsMyCrew @MLBNetwork @Plesac19 @bucksbrett pic.twitter.com/XNxfqBWjlQ— Austin Courchaine (@courchaine00) March 30, 2019
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Baseball Prospectus