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Former Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel, twice an All-Star in seven seasons with the Houston Astros, agreed to a deal on Thursday with the Atlanta Braves, according to a report, ending his seven-month-long free agency. The deal is for one year and $13 million and pending a physical on Friday, according to a source. Keuchel is slated to pitch for Triple-A Gwinnett on Saturday night.
The Athletic first reported the deal.
A team that signed Keuchel prior to Monday’s MLB draft would have forfeited a higher draft pick, a condition applied last fall when Keuchel rejected the Astros’ qualifying offer. Keuchel’s camp – Scott Boras is his agent – believed Keuchel’s market was muted as a result, and Keuchel said last month he turned down several offers he considered beneath his value.
Along with the Braves, the New York Yankees, Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres, Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays appeared in recent days to have the strongest interest in Keuchel. At a time of record-setting home run totals, and there’d never been a month in which more home runs were hit than in May, Keuchel has allowed fewer than one home run per nine innings over his career and is considered one of the reliable groundball pitchers of his generation.
Keuchel will provide the Braves with another veteran arm in their starting rotation that’s been led so far by 21-year-old rookie Mike Soroka and his 1.41 ERA.
Keuchel spent much of the winter in Newport Beach, California, where he maintained a regular throwing program that included simulated games against local four-year and junior college teams. In early May, Keuchel insisted he was healthy and strong.
“I know when the time comes I will be ready,” he said then. “It’s just a matter of when the team is going to be ready.”
In a market starved for starting pitching, Keuchel stood in November with the likes of Patrick Corbin, Nathan Eovaldi, Astros teammate Charlie Morton and J.A. Happ as most capable of reinforcing rotations at or near the tops of divisions. The pitching market was further goosed by the availability of several other high-end starters, including Seattle’s James Paxton, traded to the New York Yankees in November, and Cleveland’s Corey Kluber, who remained in Cleveland.
Of the higher-end free agents, Keuchel, by several months, was the last to sign. Corbin received $140 million over six seasons from the Washington Nationals. Eovaldi returned to the Boston Red Sox for $67.5 million over four years. Happ signed with the Yankees for two years and $34 million and Morton with the Tampa Bay Rays for two years and $30 million. Yusei Kikuchi, like Keuchel a client of Boras, signed with the Seattle Mariners for four years and $56 million.
Keuchel, 31, threw 204 2/3 innings in 2018, the third time in his career he’d thrown at least 200. He was 12-11 with a 3.74 ERA for the Astros. In mid-November, he declined a qualifying offer – worth $17.9 million – from the Astros in order to test free agency.
A sinker-cutter-slider-changeup-type left-hander whose fastball strains to reach 90 mph, Keuchel broke through in 2014, when his ERA was 2.93 and he led the American League with five complete games. His 20 wins, 2.48 ERA and 216 strikeouts over 232 innings in 2015, when on three days’ rest he beat the New York Yankees in the wild-card game, won him the Cy Young Award.
His three seasons since have been a collection of good and not so good and mediocre. In 2016, pitching through shoulder soreness, Keuchel was 9-12 with a 4.55 ERA. His ERA returned to a presentable 2.90 in 2017, when the Astros won the World Series, but, because of a neck ailment, he made only 23 starts and threw 145 2/3 innings. He also pitched two months, including most of the postseason, with a sore foot. He was 2-2 with a 3.58 ERA in five starts that October, which ended with the Astros’ Game 7 win against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In his walk year, Keuchel made 34 starts. He also had his strikeouts-per-nine drop and his hits-per-nine rise. At his best, Keuchel relied on soft contact, particularly on ground balls – his sinker was among the best in the game – and in 2018 his ground ball rate was the lowest it had been in six years.
He has won four Gold Glove awards, including in 2018.
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