ATLANTA -- Though they had discussed a plan to sign both Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel, the Braves entered this week assuming they would not sign either of the free-agent pitchers. But when the financial landscape changed Wednesday, Atlanta began aggressively working toward completing a deal that would allow Keuchel
ATLANTA -- Though they had discussed a plan to sign both Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel, the Braves entered this week assuming they would not sign either of the free-agent pitchers. But when the financial landscape changed Wednesday, Atlanta began aggressively working toward completing a deal that would allow Keuchel a chance to upgrade its rotation.
After Keuchel passed a physical performed in Atlanta on Friday, the Braves officially announced the completion of a one-year contract with the former American League Cy Young Award winner. The southpaw will make $13 million while spending what will amount to approximately three months in Atlanta’s starting rotation.
“We’re always looking to improve the team,” Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. “It was a rare opportunity to add an impact starter in the middle of a year without having to give up prospects. It’s challenging to do that with a trade. It was our good fortune Dallas was available and he had interest in being here."
Thoughts of signing Kimbrel evaporated Wednesday -- when the former Atlanta closer reached an agreement with the Cubs around the same time Kevin Gausman was preparing to make what would be a second consecutive ugly start -- and officially ended Friday, when the Cubs announced the three-year deal.
The fact the Braves reached an agreement with Keuchel approximately 12 hours after Gausman saw his ERA balloon to 6.15 was coincidental. Atlanta began working toward completing the deal Wednesday afternoon, when it was learned the 31-year-old southpaw’s asking price had unexpectedly and suddenly dropped into the club's comfort zone.
Like Kimbrel, Keuchel’s eight-month experience as a free agent was influenced by the fact that because he declined a $17.9 million qualifying offer from his former club, the team that signed him would have lost a Draft pick and the accompanying bonus pool slot dollars had he been signed before Monday, when the MLB Draft began.
Keuchel admits the agonizing wait led him to ignore baseball during the early part of the season. He obviously kept tabs on former teammates, including Atlanta catcher Brian McCann, who had spent the past two seasons in Houston. But the veteran hurler said it was also easy to be intrigued by this year’s Braves.
“With some of their youth, some of their talent and some of their excitement, it’s real easy to follow them,” Keuchel said. “As hard as it was for me to start watching baseball again after going through Spring Training and a little bit of a lull at the start of the season, I picked it right back up because of how exciting this team is.”
Keuchel has spent the past couple months training and building his stamina while pitching simulated games in California. Though he hasn’t faced Major League hitters, he has worked to simulate the equivalent of what would be a seven-inning, 105-pitch outing.
Before being activated, Keuchel is expected to make two Minor League starts, the first of which is scheduled for Saturday as long as weather permits Triple-A Gwinnett to play against Durham. If rain forces the schedule to be pushed back a day or two, the Braves believe they can audible and still place him on their Major League roster by June 18.
“There is no concrete timetable,” Keuchel said. “It’s more of a touch-and-go basis. But knowing how I operate, I wouldn’t think it would be long at all.”
As Keuchel prepares to prove he’s worth the $13 million the Braves have committed to him for what will be slightly more than half a season, he certainly has the potential to enrich a rotation that currently counts 21-year-old Mike Soroka as its only frontline starter.
Keuchel has posted a 3.77 ERA over the three seasons that have passed since he won the American League’s Cy Young Award. As he produced a 3.74 ERA over 34 starts for the Astros last year, he surrendered a .263 batting average and .704 OPS.
Along with having the chance to reunite with McCann and rekindle the mentorship he provided when Mike Foltynewicz was coming up through Houston’s system, Keuchel will now connect with what was one of his first memories of being at a big league game.
One of Keuchel’s childhood friends was former Atlanta catcher Charlie O’Brien’s son. Keuchel vividly remembers traveling to Atlanta for a game in 1995 and having the opportunity to spend some time collecting autographs and interacting with some of the Braves who would win the World Series just a few months later.
“Just to be able to live out [a portion of a season] with the Braves is something that interested me,” Keuchel said. “I feel like it was meant to be, even if it didn’t happen until June 5, 6 or 7.”
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.