Is Dallas Keuchel in a New York state of mind?
The 30-year-old left-hander, who mowed down the Yankees during the 2015 AL Wild Card game and owns a career 2.22 ERA against them in seven seasons with the Houston Astros, is one of several starting pitchers available on the free agent market this offseason. And in a recent interview with Fox Business Network, Keuchel appeared quite open to the possibility of wearing pinstripes in 2019.
“I think everybody’s in play right now,” Keuchel said. “The lure of [New York] city would be really cool. I like pitching in Yankee Stadium.”
Keuchel, a former Cy Young award winner and two-time All-Star, made a career-high 34 starts with Houston in 2018, finishing 12-11 with a 3.74 ERA, 3.69 FIP, 108 ERA-plus, and 153 strikeouts in 204.2 total innings. Two seasons ago, he went 14-5 with a 2.90 ERA in 23 starts.
Although Keuchel’s hard-hit rate jumped up this past year (2017: 24.7-percent; 2018: 28.1-percent) and his strikeout (17.5-percent) and ground ball (53.7-percent) rates were career-lows in a full season, his attraction to Yankee Stadium is backed by the numbers. Keuchel’s career 2.45 regular season ERA (33 innings) in the Bronx is the best mark in any ballpark he’s appeared in more than once. Of course, this figure doesn’t include Keuchel’s outing against the Yankees during Game 5 of the 2017 ALCS, in which he allowed four runs in 4.2 innings of work en route to a 5-0 loss.
Nevertheless, Keuchel admitted that the Yankees have his attention. And if need be, he wouldn’t hesitate to part ways with his signature facial hair.
“For the right opportunity, I would happily shave this beard off, for sure,” Keuchel said. “It’s all about winning. It’s all about winning, and I’ve made that very clear from Day One of my career starting to this position right now…”
Keuchel, who will turn 31 on New Year’s Day, received the $17.9 million qualifying offer from Houston, and he has until November 13 to make a decision. If he declines the offer and elects to test free agency, the team who signs him would have to forfeit a draft pick. In the Yankees’ case, Keuchel would cost the franchise its second-highest draft pick and $500,000 in international bonus pool money.
“I’ve been having free agent meetings, as many as I possibly can, and I’ve been knocking off a lot of club discussions,” Yankees’ general manager Brian Cashman recently told NJ.com. “So, yeah, there’s a lot of players that are available. I think teams are more open-minded than ever. Just at least explore anything and everything. Tedious, but exciting…
“I just think we’re trying to make smart, efficient decisions in our player acquisition, whether it’s through the draft or the international amateur side, trade acquisitions, free agent signs or waiver claims. I just feel like we try to make sound, smart decisions and we take very careful steps.”
This winter’s crop of free agent starters has sufficient depth compared to prior years — reliable veterans like Patrick Corbin, J.A. Happ, and Charlie Morton headline the market — but there is no bona fide, clear-cut ace available.
Major League Baseball’s annual winter meetings will take place in Las Vegas from December 10-14.