The Chicago White Sox and their fans have high hopes for the upcoming season. After compiling a 93-69 record and winning the American League Central by 13 games, the high hopes are more than justified. With a balanced lineup that includes up-and-coming superstars, as well as seasoned veterans, the Sox should be among the AL leaders in runs scored. If they can fill the needs they appear to have at second base and right field, they will be a solid team. So, the attention turns to the pitching staff; particularly the starting rotation.
Barring incredibly unforeseen happenings, Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito, and Dylan Cease will anchor the Sox rotation. Former top prospect Michael Kopech is expected to finally join the rotation as well. If these four pitch up to their capabilities, the Sox should be in good shape to defend their division title, and, hopefully, advance through the playoffs. However, they will need at least one more starter to complete the rotation. There are several candidates for the fifth spot, and one of them certainly has to be veteran left-hander Dallas Keuchel. Yet, after his struggles in 2021, let’s take a look at what the realistic expectations for Dallas Keuchel may be.
Dallas Keuchel: Where Does He Fit In?
Dallas Keuchel had a mediocre season in 2021, to put it mildly. In fact, his WAR for the season was an even 0.0. He compiled an earned run average of 5.28, a career high. He also had a WHIP of 1.531, the highest in eight years. He posted an ERA+ of 82, and also had the lowest K/BB ratio (1.61) since his rookie season (.97). Those are not the kind of numbers that would necessarily predict great things in 2022 for a pitcher who just turned 34 years old. These type of numbers would suggest that Keuchel will enter spring training with something to prove.
With numbers like these, one might assume that Keuchel would be unlikely to emerge from spring training with a spot in the rotation. There is another number to consider though; he is slated to earn $18 million in 2022, which carried two significant implications: the Sox will not cut him and eat his salary; and, he would be rather difficult to trade with said contract. An additional complication is that if Keuchel were to pitch at least 160 innings in 2022, his option for 2023 would kick in at a cool $20 million. That would seem highly unlikely at this point.
White Sox Possibilities for Keuchel
With that in mind, here are three possible scenarios for Keuchel in 2022. There may be more, but let’s consider these three as perhaps the most likely. The first scenario looks something like this: Keuchel shows enough in Arizona to earn a spot in the rotation as the fifth starter. The fact that the top four starters are all right-handed dictates that the Sox use at least one lefty. At this point, Keuchel is the main (perhaps only) lefty starter that could start at the major league level. In this scenario, Keuchel would have to prove that he is capable to keep his spot in the rotation. Left-handed or no, baseball is a results-driven business.
The second scenario is that Keuchel fails to impress Sox manager Tony LaRussa and pitching coach Ethan Katz. As the Sox have no appetite for eating his salary, Keuchel is relegated to the bullpen for mop-up and middle reliever duties. His stuff does not lend itself to pitching being a late innings performer. So, he would be essentially stuck in the long relief spot. Of course, the possibility does exist that he could develop better command while in the pen, and be available to start should the need arise. After all, no team will get through a season using only five starters. So, Keuchel may find himself in the role as a spot starter, as well.
The third scenario that we find possible, although unlikely, is a trade involving Keuchel. The chances of this happening seem rare, given that his trade value is not all that high. If he pitches well enough to raise his value, the Sox would be wise to keep him. If he pitched poor;y, he will have no trade value. So, the only way we see Keuchel being traded is as part of a package including other marquee players, such as Craig Kimbrel. Such a trade would be complicated, though, as Kimbrel carries a price tag of $16 million for 2022. Both pitchers are ticketed for free agency after the 2022 season, so moving Keuchel would be a challenge for the Sox.
The Bottom Line: Uncertainty
While the three scenarios we laid out above seem to be the most likely, maybe there is something we missed. With the White Sox, anything is possible, so we don’t recommend betting the house on any of the above. Besides, delays in the start of spring training may jumble every team’s rotations, at least in the early part of the season. Maybe we will see six-man rotations, or pitchers going four or five innings after an abbreviated spring. At this point, it is impossible to know what the rotation will look like, or how Keuchel fits into the Sox plans.
Taking all of this into consideration, a realistic expectation for Dallas Keuchel would seem to be as the fifth starter coming out of spring training. We just can’t picture him sitting in the bullpen with his $18 million contract, pitching in meaningless situations. Of course, once the season starts, the salary should not be the top consideration. If he could throw five innings of decent (two or three earned runs) baseball once a week or so, that would be a major boost to the White Sox.
Dallas Keuchel doesn’t need to be lights-out, which is a good thing, because it probably isn’t going to happen. Yet, if he can be an adequate fifth starter, the Sox would no doubt be happy, just before they say goodbye to him after the 2022 season. That is a fair and realistic expectation, and one that fans would be well-advised to accept as the best case scenario.
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