Dallas Keuchel and the 2019 Atlanta Braves seemed like they would be good dancin’ partners early in free agency. The team was looking for a of quality starter to help a potential playoff team, while also not committing loads of money to someone who would overshadow the farm depth in future seasons. The player wanted to get paid, but also probably wanted to play for a contender and try to (re)build value for future contracts. Once the prospect of losing a draft pick had passed and Kevin Gausman figuratively dove off a cliff, the Braves jumped in and gave Dallas $13 million for roughly 2/3 of a season and a chance to start two playoff games.
Was He Worth It? -Regular Season Edition
Absolutely. We will get to the playoff starts in a moment, but Dallas’s raw regular season numbers were solid.
The numbers aren’t exactly sparkling, but they don’t make you sick either. Given that most teams estimate 1 WAR to be about 8 million dollars, Dallas outperformed his contract by an okay margin. He also was a massive upgrade in the rotation over the tragedy that Gausman was, who had a -0.9 WAR with the Braves this year.
Given that he brought a veteran presence, the ability to go deep into games, and the knack to wiggle out of trouble, I would think that the Braves don’t end up winning the division nearly as handily (or at all) if Dallas hadn’t been around. He was 100% worth every penny the team paid. For a fan base that had been clamoring for the team to spend, they waited until they had the right guy and pounced. Kudos to Anthopolous for pulling the trigger.
Was He Worth It? -Post Season Edition
In short, probably? I’m not sure how to relate the starts he made compared to how I feel. Once the two Mikes – that is Mike Foltynewicz and Mike Soroka – pitched in Games 2 and 3, it made starting Dallas in Game 1 feel weird. But then Folty disintegrated in Game 5, so who knows. The team took the calculated risk of having the veteran who had done it before try and do it again, and it probably cost them a chance to win a postseason series.
Dallas did have some warning signs throughout the regular season that should have given the team pause. He allowed 16 homeruns in the regular season, which isn’t awful, but if you translate those to a full season, would have been comfortably a career high. That obviously bit him hard in October, giving up 3 long balls in the pivotal game 4. There is a strong chance that if Keuchel keeps the ball in the yard that day, the Braves win the series. I think the Braves would have been totally fine with Dallas starting 1 game in the NLDS. Keuchel definitely did not cost them the series all on his own, but he also didn’t help them win it. I think he was still the pitcher the Braves felt comfortable with given his post season experience, but I don’t know that the team would feel real great about trotting him out there again next year for two playoff games.
Will Dallas Return?
Almost certainly not, but I wouldn’t say definitely not. I would set the odds at somewhere around 2:9 that he pitches for a different team. There are a few factors going against Dallas that I think will play a role in him finding a job elsewhere.
1) He is probably (still) looking for his last multi-year contract. He didn’t get it last season, but I would guess that he will take a little less money for more years. Someone will probably give it to him, and I doubt the Braves would be willing to do much more than a contract this year with an option next year.
2) On top of the contract length, he probably is above the payroll the Braves will have for starters. The team has other holes to fill that will be expensive (3B, corner outfield, catcher to name a few), and will probably save the money for those spots.
3) The young bucks are going to need a chance to pitch in the bigs before too long. There are 3 sure things coming back in rotation, and the other two spots are going to be wide open. I think the team will probably let Julio Teheran go, and maybe find a trade or different signing to fill his spot. I can’t imagine the team will block the rest of its pitchers with Keuchel in this situation.
The main way I could see Dallas returning is if he still doesn’t get many fish to bite on the open market. In that case the Braves may decide that Dallas is better than any trade candidate or other free agent that they can afford. If that is the way it happens, it would probably be a late offseason deal, after both sides had tested the waters thoroughly. If this is the end of Dallas’ run with Atlanta, we should wish him well. He was equal parts exactly what we needed and what we could afford, something that we as fans shouldn’t take for granted. He did solid work and his icky Game 4 shouldn’t really be how he was remembered. Instead, I will chose to remember the good outings and his immense contributions to the Braves GIF game. If you missed any of those during the season, Google it and you won’t be disappointed.