The man in the picture at the top of this column is Dallas Keuchel. He’s a really good pitcher, and since you’re reading this article, you probably already know that.
You probably also know that Dallas Keuchel is a free agent right now, left unsigned by the shifting ground of baseball’s new economic environment.
DO NOT SIGN THIS MAN.
Now, it’s tempting to want to sign Dallas Keuchel. The Angels’ starting rotation is a shambles, what with Trevor Cahill and Matt Harvey having combined for over 100 innings of terrible baseball (a 7.19 ERA and 27 homers in 101.3 innings, to be exact). Between those two guys and the jettisoned experiment that was Chris Stratton, the Angels have had to stare down the barrel of early deficits time and time and time again, all season long.
Because of this, it’s understandable that fans would want the Angels to sign Dallas Keuchel, who was spotted with agent Scott Boras taking in a game in Anaheim last week. Keuchel’s a stud, and the Angels need an arm. It’s a match made in free agent heaven, right?
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Heck no, it’s not. For people still gung-ho about signing free agent pitchers, the cautionary tales about signing them are right in front of our noses, in the bodies of Trevor Cahill and Matt Harvey. If that message isn’t getting through, then take a gander over at the bullpen, where Cody Allen has been an unmitigated disaster.
For an even better example, take a look at Zack Cozart, who is in the second of a 3-year comment to being terrible. Remember when Angel fans were so excited about signing Zack F. Cozart? Nobody’s happy about that anymore.
Cozart is a more instructive example because that multi-year commitment means that a mistake will linger like a ghost, or an unwanted relative after the holidays. Keuchel went into the off-season seeking a six- or-seven-year contract totally upwards of $200 million dollars. Now, with the season moving towards the halfway point, Keuchel’s reportedly become open to one-year contracts, and contenders like the Yankees and Twins will be lining up to bid on him. The Angels aren’t in contender position at this point, so the only way to land him would be to offer the multi-year contract he wants, which would lock them in to another big long-term contract.
Fans may want Keuchel now, but GM Billy Eppler has marked a hard line on long-term commitments this past winter. Harvey, Cahill, Allen, Jonathan Lucroy, Justin Bour, and Brian Goodwin were all signed on single-seasons contracts. “Payroll flexibility” was the key phrase all winter long, and that mantra has not changed. The franchise is already looking at a payroll of over $116 million for next season — including $12.67 million for Cozart, and we haven’t even mentioned Albert Pujols‘ contract yet! — so the idea of locking up another $15 to $20 million a year for another half-decade doesn’t seem a likely sign.
More importantly, however, is the understanding that the Angels simply were not planning on contending this season. Nobody — no team in major American professional sports — builds their foundations on a bunch of one-year contracts because veterans of quality won’t sign them. Veterans of questionable quality will, and as Cahill, Harvey, and Allen have shown, you generally get what you pay for.
The most important reason not to sign Dallas Keuchel, though, is because the Angels don’t need him right now. The players that they need, they already have. Griffin Canning has been extremely impressive in his first six big league starts, and nobody’s really noticed that Felix Pena is having the best season by an Angels “starter” this season. (“Starter” is in quotes, as Pena has been following one-inning openers, but whatever.) Tyler Skaggs is back and Andrew Heaney is as well. Shohei Ohtani is — fingers crossed — going to be a rotation regular next season. At some point, the franchise has to make the arms they already have at the major league level work, and supplement them with the the minor league system.
Free agents over the age of 30, older guys who can be expected to decline, are final pieces, not building blocks. The Angels need to first figure out who their quality building blocks are and develop the young ones they already have — Canning, Ohtani, Heaney, Skaggs, David Fletcher, Ty Buttrey — before thinking about using more money to fill the gaps. Non-contenders reaching out for old guys is a desperate reach to cling to a fantasy. The reality is that the Angels aren’t a quality $20 million dollar player away, but about four quality players away.
Develop some big leaguers. Don’t sign Dallas Keuchel.