The White Sox have announced that the veteran left-hander Dallas Keuchel has been designated for assignment. Infielder Danny Mendick was recalled from Triple-A in the corresponding move.
The move permanently ends Keuchel’s stint on the south side after 51 games and 257 1/3 innings since the start of the 2020 season. It doesn’t seem likely that another team would claim Keuchel without a waiver, as such a move would put this new team on the hook for the approximately $14.1 million that Keuchel is still owed for the remainder of the 2022 season. If Keuchel accepted the waivers and was subsequently released, the White Sox would pay the remainder of that salary, and a new team signing Keuchel could only owe the left-hander prorated MLB minimum wage.
Keuchel signed a three-year, $55.5 million free agent contract with Chicago during the 2019-20 offseason, one of many notable moves this winter to signal that the Sox were now aiming to win after a rebuilding phase. Early feedback on the signing has been great, as Keuchel posted a 1.99 ERA over 63 1/3 innings during the shortened 2020 season and finished fifth in voting for the AL Cy Young Award.
Only a few flashes of that good form carried over into 2021, however, as Keuchel finished with a largely inconsistent 5.28 ERA over 162 innings with Chicago last year. The decline has continued through Keuchel’s first eight starts of 2022, as he has a 7.88 ERA and as many walks (20) as strikeouts in 32 innings.
Never a great batting pitcher, even during his early years with the Astros, there were many questions about how Keuchel’s low-velocity, ground-heavy approach would hold up as he aged. Between those concerns and a qualifying offer, Keuchel’s previous free agent offer in the 2018-19 offseason meant the southpaw had to wait until June (after the draft) to sign a one-year contract at the pro rata with the Braves. Keuchel pitched well enough in his 112 2/3 innings with Atlanta to then earn a longer-term commitment from the Sox this offseason, with Keuchel no longer eligible for the QO.
The hitters have a .364 BABIP against Keuchel this year, so there’s some bad luck in his recent results. However, the hitters are also making serious contact (according to barrels and Keuchel barrel rate metrics) against the southpaw’s offers, and his sudden lack of control isn’t helping his run prevention efforts either. Keuchel’s grounding rate of 50.8% is also the lowest of his career, although it is still above the league-wide average.
Even with those struggles, it stands to reason that Keuchel’s record will earn him the attention of one of the many teams looking for rotation help. A solid defensive team would suit a groundball pitcher like Keuchel especially well — speculatively speaking, a Cardinals team that lost steven matz, Jordan Hicksand Jack Flaherty on the injured list may have an interest in the services of Keuchel.
The White Sox have been no strangers to pitching injuries themselves this season, and their rotational image has not been helped by Keuchel’s lack of success, even though he has remained healthy. With Keuchel now in DFA limbo, the Sox have Lucas Giolito, Dylan Quit, Michael Kopechand veteran Johnny Cueto rotate, and Lance Lynn begins a rehab mission in his recovery from knee surgery. Vince Velazquez could continue to make starts until Lynn is ready, but with the upcoming holidays on May 30, June 6 and June 16, the Sox will have some flexibility in determining their next pitching roster.
All in all, it would certainly appear that the launch of the pitch will be a target area for Chicago as the trade deadline nears. Giolito, Kopech and Cease have all been very good, Cueto is yet to allow a run of more than 12 innings of work, and the White Sox are certainly hoping Lynn can return to her usual form once her rehab mission is complete. However, depth is definitely always a concern, as Kopech’s innings will be handled and the Sox can’t quite know what to expect from Cueto over the course of a full season.
In addition to Keuchel being played in 2020, the signing must still be seen as a dud for GM Rick Hahn’s front office. Keuchel owed $18 million in salary this season, as well as a $1.5 million buyout of a $20 million club option for the 2023 season. That option was to vest if Keuchel threw at least 160 innings this season, but that threshold no longer seems a possibility, even though it never seemed particularly likely that the White Sox would let that option vest.
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