While a great amount of fuss has been made—rightly so—of the fact that we are now a mere fourteen days away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training and Bryce Harper and Manny Machado remain unsigned, Dallas Keuchel, who is also still available, has flown under the radar. Going into the season, he was ranked as the fourth-best free agent available both by MLB Trade Rumors and FanGraphs, behind only Harper, Machado, and Patrick Corbin. Corbin got his payday relatively early—a six-year, $140 million contract from the Nationals signed in early December, which even slightly exceeded projections. This catapulted the Nationals’ top three starting pitchers into the conversation for the best trio in the league—a conversation the Mets are also very much a part of as well, even as things stand.
Keuchel remains available for the taking, and the if the Mets were to seize the opportunity, their rotation would instantly become downright fearsome and clearly one of the best in baseball, at least on paper. Corbin may be two years younger than Keuchel and put up the flashier numbers in 2018—numbers that would put one in the conversation for the Cy Young Award many other years where Jacob deGrom did not transform into something superhuman—but Keuchel has the stronger track record. He is not the Cy Young Award winner he was in 2015, but the lefty is a solid pitcher that avoids the home run ball by generating weak contact with a consistently high ground ball rate. He tossed over 200 innings in 2018, as well, something that would have incredible value to a rotation with a somewhat robust injury history.
Both MLB Trade Rumors and FanGraphs predicted a contract somewhere in the four-year, $80 million range for Keuchel—similar AAV to Corbin but fewer years. But since the Nationals opted for Corbin and the Yankees reunited with lefty J.A. Happ, two of Keuchel’s principal potential suitors may now be off the table. The rumor mill has been exceptionally quiet on Keuchel all offseason long, but we have heard a few nuggets of information. In December, Keuchel was reportedly still seeking a five-year deal, but teams were balking at the price. The team that has been connected with him most closely has been the Astros, seeking a potential reunion with the free agent, who turned down their qualifying offer. Earlier in winter it seemed that the Astros were content to wait out the market on Keuchel, and that seems to have worked out for them thus far. But if his market remains frozen, there is a chance his price could drop somewhat, especially with the lack of activity on Harper or Machado continuing to hold things up for other high-end free agents.
Of course, it is extremely unlikely that Keuchel’s price would drop into a range palatable to the Mets, who appear finished when it comes to major free-agent acquisitions. Not only that, the Mets have Jason Vargas currently occupying their fifth rotation spot and making a not-insignificant amount of money in 2019. Just because the Mets are unlikely to sign Keuchel doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be the right thing for them to do.
Starting pitching is the area where the depth remains the thinnest on the Mets’ roster. Adding a very solid top-to-mid-rotation starter like Keuchel, pushing Vargas to the bullpen in a long relief role would not only mean that Vargas could assume the mantle of fifth starter should injury befall any member of the rotation—rather than removing Seth Lugo from his valued bullpen role—it would also mean one fewer of last year’s iffy relief options on the big league roster to start the year.
Brodie Van Wagenen has been creative with his offseason moves, and the vision to be a contender in the immediate future is apparent. While the move seems exceedingly unlikely, having just one more trick up his sleeve would be an exciting finish to the offseason. Signing Dallas Keuchel would represent a final piece of the puzzle and make the Mets an instant contender.