Rangers’ signing of Dallas Keuchel isn’t sexy, but it’s not terribly risky either

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SEATTLE — It’s hard to guess what help the Texas Rangers will offer Dallas Keuchel that the Chicago White Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks couldn’t, but they’ll try. The team announced Monday night that it had signed Keuchel to a minor league contract.

There’s definitely always a bit of intrigue when a Cy Young Award winner is available, and Keuchel ticks that box. He won the award in 2015 as the anchor of the Astros’ rotation, going 20-8 with a 2.48 ERA, striking out 216 and walking 51 in 232 innings. For context, however, the winner of NL Cy Young that year was Jake Arrieta, who has also been a free agent since last September. A look at Keuchel’s most recent numbers makes the excitement fade a bit: between the White Sox and Diamondbacks this season, he’s 2-7 with an 8.53 ERA, with 38 strikeouts and 27 walks in 50 2/3 innings.

While the signing doesn’t warrant much in the way of immediate optimism, it does present some intriguing subplots as Rangers near the trade deadline. The most obvious question: does the addition of a veteran left-handed starter portend the imminent departure of a veteran left-handed starter, namely Martín Pérez?

Not so fast. A team source has indicated that while Rangers are certainly listening to inquiries about Pérez, there is more motivation to keep him than to trade him. Yes, there is the sentimental value of a player returning to his original team and ultimately making his first all-star team at age 31. Although the team have yet to offer Pérez a contract extension, general manager Chris Young said earlier this month that the Rangers would be “open” to the idea.

But it’s not just the feel-good story of Pérez’s return. He was also one of only two very reliable members of the rotation, along with Jon Gray. Dane Dunning, Glenn Otto and Taylor Hearn showed flashes of success, but they all – to varying degrees – struggled to get deep into games at times. Meanwhile, the bullpen, so dominant in June, gave way under the weight of the July calendar page.

Simply put, Rangers need innings from their starters. If they were a game or two away from a wildcard position, they would need those innings to be of the high quality variety. But the team came into play Monday night with a 43-51 record, seven games shy of third wildcard, with four other teams between them and the third-place Mariners.

Meanwhile, the guys Rangers hoped would be options for mid-season rotation depth were largely unable to force the team’s hand to promote them. AJ Alexy finished June with a 7.03 ERA and has since been moved to relief. Cole Winn is 6-1, sure, but he’s also trailing a 5.93 ERA with 63 strikeouts and 48 walks in 71 1/3 innings at Round Rock. Also, he is 22 years old. Neither age nor performance suggests an imminent call-up. Kolby Allard, Kohei Arihara, Jake Latz, Tyson Miller? None were particularly dominant.

The only exception might be Cole Ragans, who started the season at Double-A Frisco. Since a promotion in mid-June, he’s gone 2-2 with a 3.62 ERA, striking out 42 and walking just nine batters. But manager Chris Woodward has indicated in the past that the team needs more than a few starts before any consideration is given to a major league call-up. Ragans has started seven games, and while there’s no magic number of starts that will beep his minor league oven and let the team know he’s ready, each start brings him one step closer.

In the meantime, with the White Sox paying the bulk of Keuchel’s $18 million contract, there’s no harm in paying Keuchel a minor league salary to see if there’s any magic left in his arm. If so, Rangers could use the immediate help in the rotation as Ragans continues to develop into a big league pitcher, along with Jack Leiter and others.

If Keuchel can’t help, it won’t cost Rangers much: For players with his resume, the salary tends to be between $20,000 and $30,000 a month. There are about two and a half months left in the minor league season. If Keuchel makes it to the majors, he’d ostensibly get a pro-rated portion of the $700,000 major league minimum wage (unless his contract says otherwise, but for a guy on his third-of-the-year organization, that’s unlikely).

That’s not exactly what fans had in mind during the offseason when there were rumors of interest in a three-time Cy Young Award winner for the 2022 season. And who’s to say what the front office has in mind? head over the next few weeks? But for now, he’s a low-risk signing who could fill an immediate need at Arlington. In that sense, it’s less about how Rangers can help Keuchel and more about the hope that he still has some help left for them.

(Photo: Paul Rutherford/USA Today)

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