Dallas Keuchel isn't going to be a free agent for another thee years. After this season, he still has two years of arbitration ahead of him. Our resident ace has just turned twenty-eight years old. Keuchel has just won a Cy Young award, and is, therefore, the best pitcher in the American League right now. So, out of curiosity for our Houston hero, what would a contract extension for Keuchel look like?
An extension for Keuchel, right now, is far from a priority for either party. The left-handed ace is set to make just over $7 million this season, and that should steadily rise in arbitration over the two seasons that follow. The Houston Astros have him under contract for three more seasons, most likely at prices that are below the market average, especially for such a talented pitcher. There's no rush, whatsoever, for an extension to be worked out.
At the same time, an extension could have benefits for both sides. Keuchel could sell away his remaining years of arbitration and his first few or free agency to pursue a team-friendly extension. The Astros could pay a little more over the next four seasons to buy out his first few years of free agency. An extension would, therefore, likely be in the region of seven years.
Assuming Keuchel and the Astros would agree on a deal that would buy out Keuchel's remaining arbitration years and four years of free agency (meaning Keuchel hits the market at the age of thirty-four) how much would this cost the Astros? To get the ball rolling, courtesy of Spotrac, look at the following pitchers who they have flagged up as comparable given their age, numbers, and contractual status.
Taking the average of the above deals, Keuchel would in line to receive something in the region of $130 million over the course of six years. Which, in fairness, isn't a bad at all for either party. Somewhere in the middle of a team friendly deal, and the average market price for a player of Keuchel's quality. Next, let's have a look at how the past few Cy Young winners are getting paid.
|David Price||Seven years, $217 million|
|Max Scherzer||Seven years, $210 million|
|Corey Kluber||Five years, $38.5 million|
Excluding the anomaly -- Corey Kluber's ludicrously team friendly deal -- it seems that, if you are an American League Cy Young winner, you should be aiming for seven years, and something a little over the $200 million mark. It is widely assumed that, currently, you should be expected to pay around $8 million per win above replacement in the free agent market. Assuming a 5% inflation on the price of a win, and assuming Keuchel will lose half a win of value after each season (coming into his age thirty season), how much can we expect Keuchel to be worth?
|Season||Proj. WAR||$/War||Exp. Value|
Using the above table as an extremely rough guide, we can expect Keuchel to be worth around $217.3 million over the next seven years (I'm using seven years as my benchmark throughout). Keuchel is likely to be extremely valuable over the next seven years. The Astros will, therefore, have to compensate him handsomely for his efforts.
It's no surprise Keuchel may demand such a large contract. He's been one of the best pitchers in the game over the last two seasons. The bearded ace has spearheaded the Houston Astros' ascent back into relevancy and competitive baseball, after many years of pain, suffering and awful baseball.
Over the last two seasons, Keuchel's ERA of 2.69 ranks as the fifth lowest in all of baseball. He comes in at seventh in xFIP, tenth in WAR, first (and by a large margin) in GB%, and twentieth in BB%. Simply put, Keuchel has been lights out. Coming back to meeting in the middle, finding a common ground between Keuchel's interests and Houston's interests: how much should the Astros be willing to pay Keuchel?
Assuming that Keuchel will, in fact, be worth around the $226.6 million I've loosely forecasted, I'm going to put forward the following contract: seven years, $160 million. The Astros, likely, get a deal below the going rate for aces. Keuchel, in exchange for his first three years of free agency, still gets rewarded rather handsomely. It's certainly an interesting proposition.
Perhaps, both parties may be unhappy with seven years. For the Astros, it's a long commitment. For Keuchel, he may want to hit free agency a little earlier. Maybe six years, and $130 million? (Favouring the Astros). Or, five years and $100 million? (Easily favouring Keuchel). Point being, there are lots of possible outcomes if discussions did come to fruition. In light of a recent article from Eno Sarris, a shorter deal may well favour the Astros.
His findings, in short, are that ground ball pitchers, typically, age badly. There are only two pitchers, who had a ground ball rate at 50% or higher, and are aged thirty or over, who are set to pitch next year. Keuchel is dangerously close to reaching that same age plateau. Bill James originally set forth the theory, and Keuchel is likely to test it to the extreme. Do the Astros really want to the test the theory with a monster extension already in the books? Perhaps not.
There is, however, an entirely different alternative. It certainly doesn't conform to the majority of the fans' expectations: letting Keuchel walk when he hits free agency. Keuchel may well be worth something in the region of $150 million during his remaining years of arbitration; the Astros, evidently, will be paying him much less. Keuchel will hit free agency at the age of 31, most likely just past his prime -- around about the same time as he should be expected to start to decline.
Simply allowing him to walk gives the Astros four more years of quality pitching from Keuchel, at an absolute steal of a price. Then, they avoid his years of decline. It's a decision that makes a lot of business/baseball sense. But, it ignores the sentimental value of a player like Keuchel. He is the face of the franchise, and, as I mentioned before, has led the Astros' charge back into relevancy.
Sometimes, you have to ignore what makes business sense. Especially considering the Astros have plenty of payroll flexibility right now. A big Keuchel extension would probably, from a monetary stance, actually make sense. But, above that, it makes sense for the franchise. Keuchel is a Houston Astro, and I'd imagine it would make most of you sick to see him pitch in a different uniform. He's the rare kind of player who merits a level of disregard for the business behind baseball. Keuchel needs to remain an Astro, even if that's for another seven years, at $160 million.
Ball's in your court, Houston. Name your price.