Free agent pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel have had to endure two of the longest waits in free agent history, but the end appears to be in sight.
According to a report from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Josh Tolentino, the All-Star pitchers expect to sign after midnight on June 2. As arbitrary as that time sounds, waiting until that time allows the teams to eschew draft-pick compensation since the MLB draft begins the following day.
With a new de facto start to their free agency, a bidding war of sorts is expected to begin with several contenders needing a starter (or two). Keuchel, in particular, is expected to draw heavy interest from AL East team — even the thrifty Tampa Bay Rays.
How bad would the draft pick loss be?
Teams could have signed Keuchel or Kimbrel at any point, especially after suffering injuries to pitchers during the season. However, the potential loss of a draft pick and international bonus money — since the pitchers were given qualifying offers — was too much when they could just wait a few more weeks.
Rules related to draft picks are complicated, as the size of the contract and size of the team’s payroll matter. Even though teams no longer run the risk of losing their top draft pick, the punishment is still significant enough to give teams pause.
FanGraphs’ Craig Edwards calculated the cost for each team by including the value of the prospect at the draft pick they would lose — which is far more than the slot value teams have to pay the prospect — and the results are staggering.
Any team that signs Keuchel or Kimbrel would essentially be paying at least a $2.5 million penalty with the median team forfeiting $5.2 million in value. No team would stand to lose more than the New York Yankees, whose loss of the No. 38 pick would contribute to $10.6 million in lost value.
With the pitchers likely to sign short-term deals, effectively paying $30 million for Keuchel was clearly deemed unacceptable.
Can the Rays really keep up with the Yankees?
The Rays are certainly not a team that would be expected to outspend anyone, let alone the Yankees, but they did show they were willing to pay in certain circumstances.
Tampa Bay’s lack of starting pitching forced them to try out the opener last season, and they started to address that over the offseason when they signed Charlie Morton to a two-year, $30 million contract. That still leaves them with the league’s smallest payroll by nearly $10 million at $63.3 million, so hypothetically there could be more money to spend.
The Yankees would be an excellent fit for Keuchel, save for him having to shave his iconic beard. No team has had worse injury luck than the Bronx Bombers, who currently have James Paxton and CC Sabathia on the 10-day injured list as well as Luis Severino and Jonathan Loáisiga on the 60-day IL.
Still, the Yankees have made a point of trying to stay under the luxury tax, and at $227.6 million, they have less that $19 million in breathing room even before considering other potential midseason pickups. Unless the Yankees revert to their big-spending days under George Steinbrenner, other contending teams — even the Rays — will soon have a shot to add much-needed pitching.
It may not feel like it yet for Keuchel and Kimbrel, but nearly every contender could use an extra arm. From the Washington Nationals to the Minnesota Twins to the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs, there’s going to be plenty of suitors in just over a week.
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