Finally, after seven months of free agency, Dallas Keuchel is a member of the Braves, who awarded him a $13-million contract Friday for the remainder of this season.
Despite so much time away, Keuchel is expected to make only two minor-league starts, beginning Saturday at Triple-A Gwinnett. Is it a good deal for Keuchel? Hardly. He’s already missed more than two months, and is now earning only slightly more than the pro-rated sum of the $17.9-million qualifying offer he turned down from the Astros in November.
And the Braves? The next four months (maybe five) will deliver the verdict on that. The most attractive thing about Keuchel is that he costs only money -- rather than prospects in a trade -- and he’ll be worth the price tag if he’s anywhere close to his Cy Young self of 2015.
During that three-year period since 2015, Keuchel, 31, is seven wins over .500 (35-28) with a 3.77 ERA, averaging 28 starts and 173 innings. He also has a 1.250 WHIP and 2.76 K/BB rate. From a Yankees’ perspective, Keuchel had been a successful pitcher in the Bronx, with a 2.54 ERA and 1.000 WHIP in five Stadium starts. He didn’t surrender a home run in 33 innings with a 4.38 K/BB rate.
But that debate is finished. The Yankees didn’t come in with the high bid for Keuchel and they don’t seem too broken up about. That’s because there will be rotation upgrades available between now and the July 31 trade deadline, and Brian Cashman has plenty of prospect capital to swap, if he chooses do so.
It’s still early June, and things can certainly change, depending on the playoff fortunes of some clubs. But here’s a short list of some bold-faced names to consider for teams seeking another starter for the second half.
MADISON BUMGARNER, Giants (3-5, 4.05 ERA, 1.200 WHIP, 8.9 K/9)
With an aggressive rookie GM at the helm -- the former Dodgers exec Farhan Zaidi -- and the Giants clearly going nowhere, it would be negligent on his part to not explore a trade for Bumgarner, who is a free agent at the end of this season. While it’s not easy for the new guy in town to dump a franchise legend like Bumgarner, the Giants are 158-218 (.420) since he beat Noah Syndergaard in that 2016 wild-card duel. Bumgarner didn’t look like the same pitcher in this week’s rematch at Citi Field, but he still posted a quality start, and won despite teeing up a pair of home runs. That left his ERA at 4.05, so any suitors may have to take a leap of faith in thinking he could be the MadBum of old down the stretch.
MARCUS STROMAN, Blue Jays (3-8, 3.31 ERA, 1.322 WHIP, 6.9 K/9)
Who wouldn’t want Stroman? Well, aside from the Blue Jays, who apparently view him as more a means to further their rebuilding process instead of signing him to a long-term deal. As for potential trade partners, the Yankees seem to be a great fit. Stroman loves the spotlight, and going to the Bronx would also be a homecoming of sorts for the former Patchogue-Medford star. He’s not a rental either, as Stroman doesn’t reach free agency until after the 2020 season. As for trading him to an AL East rival, the Blue Jays had no issue dealing J.A. Happ to the Yankees last season, and Stroman could be done in the Bronx before Toronto is ready to be a power again in the division anyway.
MAX SCHERZER, Nationals (3-5, 3.06 ERA, 1.125 WHIP, 12.3 K/9)
A year after moving on from Bryce Harper, trading Scherzer would represent a big identity change for the Nats, as well an admittance that it’s time to change direction in D.C. by sacrificing their ace to reload. Are they ready to do that? On their current pace -- seven games under .500, eight games out -- it’s worth serious consideration. On the flip side, Scherzer is a big financial commitment, due roughly $90 million from now through 2021. Maybe a team could get the Nats to chip in by upping the prospect haul, and the three-time Cy Young winner works for not only immediate contenders, but clubs also looking ahead to load up for next season. Scherzer’s getting up there at age 34, and has averaged 219 innings the past six seasons, but he doesn’t seem to be slowing down, either.
MIKE MINOR, Rangers (5-4, 2.55 ERA, 1.217 WHIP, 9.6 K/9)
The Astros are running away with the AL West, but if the season ended today, the surprising Rangers would face the Rays in the wild-card game, so this is not a team looking to deal pieces just yet. They’re also moving into a new ballpark, Globe Life Field, next season, so do they want the momentum of a playoff chase -- or a package of new, young prospects to take with them across the street? In the middle of all this, Minor is pitching like an ace, and on the cheap, too. The 31-year-old lefty is earning $9.5 million this year and next, so the Rangers could always look to extend him as well.
NOAH SYNDERGAARD, Mets (3-4, 4.83 ERA, 1.268 WHIP, 8.9 K/9)
The Mets already entertained the thought of trading Syndergaard over the winter, as part of a potential three-way deal with the Yankees and Marlins for J.T. Realmuto, so it’s not like they couldn’t go there again if this season continues to head south for them. Syndergaard isn’t a rental -- he doesn’t hit free agency until after the 2021 season. But based on his season so far, the Mets would be selling low, and they’d also be waving the white flag by dealing someone who is supposed to be the No. 2 of their underachieving rotation.
ZACK WHEELER, Mets (5-3, 4.61 ERA, 1.226 WHIP, 10 K/9)
We’re looking at what’s likely to be the final four months of Wheeler’s Flushing career, one that began as the return for Carlos Beltran in 2011, as he’s headed for free agency after this season. And at this rate, the Mets need those numbers to improve considerably in order to move him. One reason for optimism? Wheeler showed himself to be a second-half star a year ago, going 9-1 with a 1.68 ERA and 0.813 WHIP over his final 11 starts. If he straightens himself in the weeks leading up to the deadline, Wheeler could be a windfall for the Mets.