How will Kimbrel and Keuchel impact their new teams?
Rod Nunez, FinalScore Contributor
June 7, 2019
On draft day, draft picks were no longer attached to free agents Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel, prompting an open battle for their services among MLB teams.
On Wednesday, Craig Kimbrel agreed to a 3-year, $43M deal with the bullpen-needy Cubs and Dallas Keuchel went on to sign a 1-year, $13M deal with the Atlanta Braves on Thursday.
Last off-season, the Cubs were limited financially, resulting in a barrage of small moves to bolster their bullpen, which led the team to add veterans Brad Brach, Xavier Cedeno and others. These moves didn't go as planned since Brach has struggled to a 5.11 ERA and 8 BB/9. His Fielding Independent Pitching rating (FIP) of 4.25 says he's been a little unlucky, but still not good enough to rely on him as a late inning reliever. Pedro Strop and Brandon Morrow have struggled with their health, leaving Steve Cishek (3.12 ERA 3.35 FIP) as their most reliable option to close out games.
The Cubs decided to go with an old-school finesse/ground ball type of bullpen that pitches to contact, placing the Cubs 3rd worst in blown saves (12) and SV% (52%). Kimbrel, one of the elite closers in the game, would add a different power style, capable of missing bats (career 14.7 SO/9 and 16.6% swinging strike ratio).
The Cubs put Ben Zobrist on the Restricted List, due to personal reasons without pay. This allowed them to save some money in order to sign Kimbrel to a deal that will pay him $10M in 2019 and $16M in each of the 2020 and 2021 seasons, with a $1M buyout. The Rays were reported as being the runner up for his services after offering a similar deal worth $39M, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.
Braves to sign Dallas Keuchel
The other high profile free agent out there was Dallas Keuchel, a former Cy Young winner, 2x All-Star and 4x Gold Glove winner. Keuchel and his agent, Scott Boras, were rumored to be looking for at least a 5-year contract entering free agency, but ended up settling for a 1- year deal in order to re-enter free agency this coming offseason. The Braves beat out the Yankees, who were once rumored to be in the lead to land him and were offering Keuchel a prorated salary of $11M.
The Braves have had to deal with an array of health and performance issues from Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb, which prompted the Braves to demote the latter to AAA. Kevin Gausman hasn't fared much better with an ERA over 6, though his 4.03 FIP indicates that he is due for a bounce back. So adding a crafty veteran like Keuchel could be exactly what the doctor ordered for the Braves.
If Foltynewicz can bounce back to where he was last year, the Braves would end up having a formidable rotation of Dallas Keuchel, Julio Teheran, Max Fried, Mike Soroka and Mike Foltynewicz. With Kevin Gausman serving as a strong depth option.
Even though Keuchel is not the Cy Young caliber pitcher he once was, he can still provide value as a middle of the rotation veteran, who attacks hitters with a sinker, change up, cutter and slider that he uses to pound the bottom of the strike zone and induce ground balls at a ridiculous 58.8% rate throughout his career.
Scott Boras said Keuchel would be ready to pitch for his new team within 7 to 10 days of signing, as he has been throwing in simulated games for 95 to 105 pitches. And in fact, he is already scheduled to start for the Braves Triple-A affiliate, Gwinnett, this Saturday.
It is also worth noting, that the precedent set for players that wait until the expiration of the draft picks attached to them do not favor Kimbrel or Keuchel. Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew both waited and struggled in 2014, as well as Greg Holland last season.
One thing is certain, the mid season additions of Kimbrel and Keuchel should make MLB a whole lot more interesting within the next couple of months.
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