Bryce Harper is headed to the Phillies. We can all finally breathe again.
Harper may have joined Manny Machado in the $300 Million Club, but two of the most prominent free agents of the season are still without jobs as the calendar flips to March. Opening Day is in less than four weeks and neither pitcher knows where they’ll be on March 28 – or if they’ll even be signed by then.
A source said both pitchers continue to seek multiyear deals, though that could change depending on how long this drags out. Where might Keuchel and Kimbrel wind up? With Harper’s Bazaar finally closed, let’s examine some of the options:
The 2015 American League Cy Young Award winner, Keuchel expected to land a hefty contract this winter. After all, despite the slow-moving market, top free-agent pitchers are still getting paid.
Patrick Corbin set the market when he signed a six-year, $140 million deal with the Nationals, the biggest pitching deal of the offseason and third-largest overall behind Harper and Machado. Nathan Eovaldi (4 years/$68 million) and Yusei Kikuchi (4 years/$56 million) followed Corbin, accounting for the fourth- and fifth-biggest deals of the winter.
But the market for Keuchel, who went 12-11 with a 3.74 ERA for Houston last season, has been seemingly silent, with nary a buzz coming from any direction. The Phillies were said to be interested, but now that they have agreed to a deal with Harper, it seems doubtful that they would ink Keuchel to a deal, too.
Almost every team could use another starter, though only a small percentage of them appear willing to spend the type of money Scott Boras has been seeking for his client. Which teams might emerge as frontrunners to land the lefty?
San Diego made a big splash with its signing of Machado, and although there was some crazy talk about the Padres making a run at Harper as well, the more likely target may have been Keuchel. The Padres have some high-end pitching prospects, but MacKenzie Gore (The overall No. 15 prospect in MLB, according to MLB Pipeline) hasn’t pitched above Class A, and Chris Paddack (No. 34 overall) has pitched only seven games at Double-A. Keuchel could give the Padres a veteran presence in the rotation while these youngsters continue to progress through the system.
Mike Foltynewicz (elbow) and Kevin Gausman (shoulder) are both dealing with minor arm issues, prompting an executive from another club to speculate that perhaps the Braves will feel the need to add an established starter. Throw in the fact that the division-rival Phillies capped an impressive offseason by landing Harper, and it’s possible that Atlanta could feel the pressure to make an addition if the price is right.
Keuchel declined Houston’s $17.9 million qualifying offer, choosing instead to test the open market. The Astros signed Wade Miley to take his spot, though it’s possible the Astros could bring Keuchel back, albeit on what would probably be a short-term deal. The more plausible scenario would see Keuchel waiting for an injury to strike the rotation of a team with hopes of contending, though a return to the Astros will remain a remote possibility until he signs elsewhere.
One of the best closers in the Majors for the past eight seasons, Kimbrel was considered to be the crown jewel of relievers on this year’s free-agent market. But early reports that he was seeking a deal in the six-year, $100 million range seemed to spook potential suitors, who had no interest in handing out the biggest contract ever given to a closer.
The Red Sox, who opted not to sign any of the other free-agent relievers, have seemingly moved on and plan to go into the season with the current group in their bullpen. Without Boston as a fallback, Kimbrel has been a man without a market, waiting for a team to emerge from the silence.
Bullpens are more important than ever, but teams appear hesitant to dole out big money for a ninth-inning arm, especially after Kimbrel had some struggles during Boston’s World Series run last fall. Here’s a look at teams that could decide to bolster their bullpen with the seven-time All-Star:
As detailed above, the Braves could feel the heat following Philadelphia’s deal with Harper. Atlanta currently has Arodys Vizcaino penciled into the closer’s role with A.J. Minter as Plan B, so Kimbrel -- who came up with the Braves and pitched for them from 2010-14 -- would be an upgrade for the defending NL East champions. The financial flexibility is there for the Braves to spend on Kimbrel.
Having dropped $330 million to land Harper, the Phillies can sit back and feel good about an offseason that also saw them add J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura and David Robertson. But what if Philadelphia added Kimbrel to join Robertson and Seranthony Dominguez to form a three-headed monster in the back end of the bullpen? There would certainly be nothing stupid about that.
If Kimbrel becomes open to the idea of a one-year deal, the Twins would be an interesting option. Minnesota is hopeful for a bounceback season after a disappointing 2018 campaign, and although the Twins have already spent money to lock up Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco, they could make a short-term investment in Kimbrel to help them go after the Indians in the American League Central.