There are two big name free agents that are still available, Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel. They are both pitchers that could probably help almost any team in the Major Leagues. Given their contract demands and the current state of the pitching staff there is probably not a need for the Dodgers to engage with those pitchers but they have been known to surprise us (see late entry into Bryce Harper sweepstakes). As of March 8, 2019 the Dodgers are only about $6M under the luxury tax threshold so any contracts with Kimbrel or Keuchel would be a luxury tax issue.
Craig Kimbrel will be entering his age 31 season in 2019. Some say that he had an off season in 2018 but sign me up for giving up just 31 hits in 62.1 innings with 96 strikeouts. He did have some struggles in the playoffs but, after fixing his tipping of pitches before the World Series (bite me Eric Gagne) he was fine. PECOTA projects 52 innings with an ERA of 3.15 and 75 Ks which is still very good. He will be a huge part of someone’s bullpen in 2019, and, with starting pitchers pitching less innings, excellent bullpen pieces are more valuable than ever.
How Kimbrel Fits
The Dodgers’ bullpen has some strong pieces including Kenley Jansen, newly signed Joe Kelly, Pedro Baez, Tony Cingrani and Caleb Ferguson. Yimi Garcia has had a strong spring and might have a good chance of making the team. However, the bullpen needs to be eight strong and the less weak spots the better. I contend that a deeper bullpen in either 2017 or 2018 and the Dodgers would have at least one World Series title. Jansen is also coming back from health issues and is not a sure thing so Kimbrel would be an excellent component to an already pretty good bullpen. Something to note is that Jansen can opt out of his contract after 2019.
Boom, roasted. – Mary Hart to Craig Kimbrel pic.twitter.com/kwokvyBb8v
— MLB (@MLB) October 27, 2018
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2019 will be Dallas Keuchel’s age 31 season as he comes off a year in which he threw 204.2 innings for the Astros. His numbers aren’t dazzling as he gave up 211 hits, walked 58 and struck out 153. According to FanGraphs he was 22nd in pitching value, with a 3.6 Wins Above Replacement (WAR). He has had some success in the post-season with an overall ERA of 3.31 in 51.2 innings. Some of his overall numbers are a bit inflated as he has pitched his home games in a total joke of a ballpark in Houston and is known for keeping the ball on the ground. For pitchers with a 100 or more innings pitched in 2018 he was sixth in ground ball percentage at 53.7%.
#MLB Free Agent Dallas Keuchel Pitch Quality History
4.66 QOPA (2012) (Top 44% MLB)
4.82 QOPA (2013) (Top 31% MLB)
4.77 QOPA (2014) (Top 32% MLB)
4.87 QOPA (2015) (Top 27% MLB)
4.81 QOPA (2016) (Top 31% MLB)
4.76 QOPA (2017) (Top 22% MLB)
4.82 QOPA (2018 ) (Top 18% MLB) pic.twitter.com/9w6VsxjgGx
— MLB Quality of Pitch (@qopbaseball) March 8, 2019
How Keuchel Fits
As of now, even with Clayton Kershaw having shoulder issues and Walker Buehler being held back, the Dodgers starting rotation still has a lot of candidates. If the season started today the rotation is probably Rich Hill, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Kenta Maeda, Ross Stripling and Julio Urías/Dennis Santana with Buehler replacing them soon. What Keuchel would bring is some durability, a strong number 3-type starter (he would not fit that high on the Dodgers), post-season success and depth that could free up a starter to trade. He averages 6 innings per start and can go deep into games, which eases the burden on the bullpen. Both Ryu and Hill are free agents after 2019.
If the Dodgers were to sign either of these pitchers they’d lose their third round pick in the June 2019 draft. They already lost their second round pick for signing A.J. Pollock so losing another pick impacts their draft quite a bit in 2019. The cost in salary for either of these pitchers will blow them way past the luxury tax but they were willing to do it for Bryce Harper. For either of these pitchers I’d guess a 1 year/$25-30M or 2/$50-55M might do it. One warning is that Keuchel is represented by Scott Boras.
One big red flag for both of these pitchers is that the season is less than three weeks away and rushing pitchers to be ready for the season too quickly has a bad history. My bet, if the Dodgers are interested in either one, would be Kimbrel as they tried something similar after 2015 when they tried to trade for Aroldis Chapman. My other bet is that Kenley Jansen wants a World Series ring more than anything else regarding his career and would not have an issue splitting closing duties with Kimbrel.
I’d prefer Kimbrel but either one of them adds more depth to an already deep team. Just a note, I was anti-Keuchel until recently when I started digging to his numbers, but I’d welcome him now. As we’ve seen in the past, you can never have enough pitching so I hope the Dodgers will look into signing one of these proven pitchers.