The Colorado Rockies look like a team that can win right now. The first reason is their starting rotation, a group that is talented and young. Since the 2018 season ended, the bullpen and the offense looked like the obvious potential weaknesses that would keep the Rockies from reaching their potential.
So it was that we looked for the team to upgrade the bullpen and the offense before the 2019 season started. The Rockies correctly identified the volitility of their past big spending ways in the bullpen and looked to internal options for improvements.
On offense they added Daniel Murphy and cleared the way for young hitters like David Dahl, Ryan McMahon and Garrett Hampson. It looked like a good plan, albeit an underwhelming one, and a plan that assumed the starting rotation was good to go. And of course it all looked better when the team successful signed Nolan Arenado to a long-term deal.
That plan definitely made sense if the Rockies would have to spend big to improve their rotation. But what if there was a very good starting pitcher who was elite not that long ago, just out there available in free agency, left holding the “system is broken” flag with Craig Kimbrel and maybe open to a less-than-huge-money deal? That’s Dallas Keuchel. I think the Rockies should try to sign him. Here are some reasons why.
He’s an upgrade
The Rockies have a deep and talented rotation. But would you rather have Keuchel or Tyler Anderson? Keuchel or Chad Bettis? That’s an oversimplified way of looking at it, of course, but it’s still a relevant question.
The answer is Keuchel, and that’s not just a knee-jerk reaction to a couple rocky outings from Anderson and Bettis to open this season. Bettis mostly struggled after the first month of 2018, posting a 5.01 ERA (94 ERA+) in 27 games (20 starts). That was good for a 1.1 rWAR season, and Bettis did turn in key performances from the bullpen late in the season. Still, it’s obvious Keuchel would provide an upgrade over him.
The story with Anderson is more complicated. His overall numbers from 2018, a 103 ERA+ and 3.0 rWAR, might make you feel just fine. But that second half of the season was rough. Anderson went 1-6 with a 6.06 ERA, allowing 14 home runs in 12 games. He still might find whatever it is he’s looking for, but there’s enough there to at least raise your eyebrows, and I think Keuchel is more predictably good.
Keuchel came back to earth last season but was still very good, posting a 12-11 record with a 3.74 ERA (108 ERA+). That was good for 2.6 rWAR. He is also a natural fit for Coors Field with a 53.7% groundball rate in 2018 that was down significantly from his jaw-dropping 66.8 GB% in 2017.
Speaking of complicated: I’m not including Jon Gray because I just don’t think he should be included with Anderson and Bettis, but I’ll at least say Keuchel would help offset the uncertainty with Gray if he continues to be inconsistent.
But here’s an important point: Bettis and Anderson are both solid. They would both still be important. This would just change their roles and give the Rockies more depth and flexibility. The same would go for how signing Keuchel would affect Antonio Senzatela when he returns. That murkiness that comes with having “too many options” is what it would look like to make the team’s strength even stronger.
We can’t assume good health and good fortune
I don’t want to be a buzzkill. I certainly don’t want to be reminded of this article if something bad does actually happen. But we should know better with young pitchers than to just assume Kyle Freeland and German Márquez will be effective and healthy. It’s much more fun to view Keuchel as a great boost to the no. 3 spot in the rotation, but we should at least acknowledge how it would potentially help if the Rockies needed to fill a hole at no. 1 or no. 2.
There aren’t a lot of guys with the talent and track record to be a reasonable replacement in those cases. Keuchel is one of those guys, and he’s just out there, available to sign.
The Rockies are already league leaders in the beard department thanks to Charlie Blackmon and D.J. Johnson. Nolan Arenado’s beard, doing its Jon Snow thing, is a solid role player. However, Daniel Murphy really brought the team’s overall score down with that scraggly situation. Keuchel would bring the Rockies beard game back up to elite.
The Rockies can keep being a cool team
Major League Baseball might be in the middle of a crisis. Keuchel might be another example of that crisis, a very good starting pitcher without a team one week into the regular season. The Rockies have spent money as other teams have refused to do so. They’ve done so in free agency and to extend their own players.
That’s not to say the Rockies are in the clear on the current state of things, but relatively speaking, they are one of the cool teams. They could keep that up by paying Keuchel.
Having said that, part of the reason they should consider this in the first place is that they wouldn’t have to pay market value. MLB Trade Rumors projected Keuchel to get four years and $82 million this offseason. He seems unlikely to get that at this point, save for a situation where a team has an injury and gets desperate.
A one-year deal would be a no-brainer for the Rockies and for any team frankly. Does that mean Keuchel would at least need multiple years? That would still be within reach for the Rockies as long as it’s under that projected number. Keuchel is 31, so it would even potentially give the Rockies an upgrade beyond this year.
★ ★ ★
What do you think? It’s tough to make sense of all of this, both because it’s so early in the season and because teams are being so weird. All of these points could be argued the other way — except for the one about his beard. That point is correct and beyond dispute.