Perhaps the ultimate low-risk flyer in franchise history.
Not long ago, the thought of Dallas Keuchel in a Diamondbacks uniform would have been highly implausible. This is the 2015 American League Cy Young winner after all, and a five-time All Start. From 2014-2020, Keuchel had 81 wins – 12th most in the majors – and an ERA+ of 125, in the top 20 among those with 500 IP over that time. He had signed a three-years, $55.5 milion contract with the Chicago White Sox in December 2019, and the first year and a half of it went more or less as expected. But, suddenly, the wheels fell off. Over his final 24 starts with the White Sox, Dallas had an ERA over seven, as his peripherals imploded. This year, he has a 7.88 ERA over eight starts, with as many walks as strikeouts (20 of each in 32.0 IP).
That led to him being released by Chicago, who remain on the hook for the balance of his salary this year, around twelve million dollars, as well as the $1.5 million due to Keuchel for the buy-out of next year’s option. That the Diamondbacks were the team to pick him up makes sense, for the deal will re-unite the pitcher with Brent Strom, who was his coach in Houston, where Dallas enjoyed his greatest success, including the 20-win season in 2015 when he won the Cy Young. This is a minor-league deal, so Keuchel will be paid only the pro-rated league minimum if he makes it back to the show, though it’s reported that he has an opt-out at some point, if he does not do so.
The D-backs have a slot open at this point, following the placement of Humberto Castellanos on the injured list, following a sharp drop in his effectiveness. Tyler Gilbert will be taking the spot to begin with, but it’s not difficult to imagine them giving Keuchel a shot, perhaps after Brent Strom has got in touch with his former player. Based on the sudden drop in form, it does feel as if there could be something mechanical involved e.g. a “tell” of some kind, causing him to tip pitchers to opposing hitters. Though whatever it is, was clearly deemed not fixable by the White Sox, who preferred to eat $13.5 million on his contract, so it may not be simple.
While the front four-fifths of the rotation has generally been solid, the three headed beast of Castellanos, Tyler Gilbert and Caleb Smith have combined to go 3-5 over their dozen starts, with a 6.20 ERA. So it wouldn’t take much improvement from Keuchel to be better than that. It will certainly be interesting to see if Strom can working his magic, and enhance his rep as a whisperer of pitchers.