Dallas Keuchel isn’t White Sox’s biggest problem, but he’s an emblematic one

Over the course of the rebuild, the White Sox zagged in ways rebuilding teams had usually zigged.

We’ve talked about their unprecedented contract extensions to players who hadn’t yet made their MLB debuts, and it’s strange that they remain unprecedented two years later. A copycat league hasn’t joined the White Sox in committing $50 million to players before their first MLB at-bat like the Sox did for Luis Robert, or even $43 million like they did for Eloy Jiménez. Perhaps it speaks to José Abreu’s unique pull, but it could just as well show that there’s a level where teams would rather wait for the performance to justify it.

We’ve also debated Rick Hahn’s definition of “the money will be spent” on multiple occasions. Most clubs that wiped their payrolls so clean they could eat off them used the room to splurge on at least one nine-figure contract. The White Sox’s definition of a landmark winter involved Yasmani Grandal for $73 million, and Dallas Keuchel for $54 million. Both represented assertive moves that addressed roster issues, sure, but either contract could have been accommodated in so many other winters, especially ones where the White Sox didn’t try.

These two developments are related. The Sox couldn’t or wouldn’t talk themselves into spending like a big-boy team in part because they codified the arbitration scales for their key young players well before it was necessary. Every team accounts for projected salaries, but the White Sox were on the hook for them, and in a way that inflated their luxury tax number well above their actual payroll.

Effectively, the White Sox doubled down on the talent they already had. It’s the kind of strategy that works well when Jiménez is racking up Silver Sluggers and Yoán Moncada has a recurring membership to the 5 WAR Club. When Jiménez is annually absent (but don’t dare call him injury-prone) and Moncada trends more toward ordinary, the Sox risk ending up on the losing end of a bidding war against themselves.

The six-to-seven years of team control is supposed to promote brutal payroll efficiency at the expense of the player, with the high-priced free agents balancing the scales years down the line. What this White Sox team looks like in its present form is the result of corner-cutting on both ends.


Try as he might to deny it, Keuchel is an example of that classic free-agent inefficiency. He was more than worth his contract on the front half of it, and now his salary figure is something to deal away, endure or swallow on the back half.

The problem is that Keuchel only commanded three guaranteed years, so that back half arrived in the middle of last season. The same can be said for Grandal, who’s in the third year of a four-year deal and starting it with a .505 OPS. It’d certainly be more surprising if Grandal’s decline suddenly arrived given how he finished the previous season, but not out of line for a 33-year-old catcher with repaired knees.

The deals everybody had in mind when it came to “the money will be spent” have a longer sustain pedal. Manny Machado and Bryce Harper are four years into their decade-plus commitments and are playing like MVPs, and had the Sox signed Zack Wheeler as they (legitimately) tried to, they’d have zero regrets as his five-year commitment approaches the halfway point.

Instead, they took their creative accounting practices and used them to redefine “top of market,” whether by spending in lower-ceiling categories (catchers older than 30, closers) or lowering the bar (equating Keuchel with Wheeler and Gerrit Cole). This doesn’t mean the deals weren’t worth doing, but the nature of their commitments bought them less time.

Back when the White Sox signed Keuchel in 2019, many naturally linked the deal to the Cubs’ signing of Jon Lester five years earlier. It wasn’t outlandish — both were left-handed and short of overpowering, both had accomplished plenty at the individual and team levels, and the arrivals of both to Chicago signaled greater ambitions for their respective teams.

Then again, Lester signed for six years and $155 million, or $100 million more than was guaranteed to Keuchel, and the proportionality held up. Lester contributed to the Cubs at a high level for 4½ seasons before the decline arrived, which was enough to cover their World Series title and multiple subsequent attempts at recapturing that glory. Keuchel’s best lasted only 1½, and now he’s desperate to hang on while the White Sox’s own attempts at peaking are struggling to get off the ground.


Keuchel is desperately trying not to sound desperate. After his latest dud on Thursday, he’s saddled with career worsts in ERA (7.88), FIP (6.20), ground-ball rate (50.8), home run rate (1.7/9 IP), walk rate (12.2 percent), strikeout rate (also 12.2 percent) and WHIP (2.16), to name too many. He’d be on pace for a -4 bWAR season if he were to see this through for an entire season, but there are laws against that sort of thing.

There’s little Keuchel can say that will satisfy short of “I suck,” but as I’ve said before, you probably can’t admit your stuff isn’t working when you throw 87, lest you validate what everything else in the world suggest.

Still, White Sox fans have a whole lot of experience watching guys whose stuff stopped working, so Kid Keuchy can’t kid kidders.

“I’ve got to do my job. That’s first and foremost,” Keuchel said. “If I don’t do my job then I’m the first to admit, you’ve got other options. I’ve afforded myself some leeway and I’m in no way, shape or form out of this thing. It’s been a little bit of a rollercoaster the first month and change and the second half of last year outside of a couple injuries.

“If people want to write me off, that’s OK. I’ve been written off before and I’m a competitor and I’m an athlete and we’ll turn the tide. It’s not the first time this has happened. It can turn right back into our favor.” […]

“One thing or another, it’s going to get there,” Keuchel said. “As much as it hurts tonight and last start, it’ll get there. We’ll be talking differently soon.”

Keuchel might be technically correct with that last sentence, because a DFA would change the conversation.

There is a danger in making things too much about Keuchel, because he’s the team’s fifth starter by performance, and most teams’ fifth starters are swapped out over the course of the season for equally dodgy options. The offense is the more pressing issue, with a lineup that struggles to field more than three productive hitters at any one time, and a manager who loves to sink time into utility players who get in the way. (We’ll also see what the roster looks like when the team travels to Toronto next week, because perhaps the Sox will have to reach to fill out the roster around unvaccinated players.)

Keuchel is just the softest target, both for his performance, and the way his quotes soft-pedal the reality inflicted upon the fan base on an everyday basis. The White Sox should be stronger than their .500 record and -42 run differential suggests, but now that we’ve advanced into the season’s second quarter, it’d be the slightest bit comforting if the decision-makers started demanding better.

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Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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Malgar 12

Is there a remotely realistic scenario where Keuchel comes close to being worth the remaining dollars on his contract? If not, then he should be DFA’d. The contract for 22 is a sunk cost, they’ll pay it whether or not he continues to give the Sox shitty performance. So, they can pay him and get 150 innings of really bad pitching, or they can pay him and replace him with someone better (including at this point, given how bad Keuchel’s been, VV). Either way he’s going to get paid. Why should the Sox subject themselves to additional suffering when he’s going to get paid either way? Presumably, they want to win and Keuchel doesn’t give them the best chance to do that of their available options.

Moreover, if they don’t cut bait, they run the risk of paying him again next year when he’ll be even worse. That makes the decision — assuming the answer to my first question is in the affirmative — obvious. If Rick Hahn can’t see that he’s not capable of being a successful MLB GM.

soxfan

When Keuchel’s bad he’s real bad, but he’s pitched averagely (50ish game score) in 4 of 7 starts and the Sox have won 3 of his 7 starts. Until Cueto joined the team and Lynn gets healthy, he was absolutely necessary. We’re reaching the inflection point of when that will no longer be, but I don’t begrudge the team holding on to him this long and possibly until they know Lynn won’t relapse.

He won’t vest, so it’s just a matter of load management and seeing whether or not he can hold down some lesser offenses. 3 of his 4 bad games were against the top 3 offenses in the league. Long story/short, I don’t think he’s out of leash yet.

GrinnellSteve

If he were to make (miraculously) 24 more starts, he’d have to average 5-1/3 per start to trigger the option. He’s averaging 4 right now. It’s theoretically possible, but not likely.

I wonder if there’s any chance his stuff would play up in 1 or 2 inning bursts, allowing him to be adequate. Swap his role with VV until Lynn comes back. I’d quickly pivot to that and see if there’s any utility in that role. If there isn’t, then cut him.

GrabSomeBench

Yep. It’s time for a come to Jesus meeting with Dallas. He has to know he isn’t going to make the innings for MO guaranteed money. He has to rebuild his value by either accepting a detour to AAA to work on his stuff or out of the bullpen.
Would it make sense to go to our favorite trading partner, the Cubs, and trade Keuchel for Heyward, Nicky Madrigal and 11mil to pay 1/2 of Heyward’s contract for 23?
Heyward gives you better defense in RF. Madrigal fills the hole at second created by Hahn’s original trade. Cubs get salary relief for next year. If Keuchel finds his magic, the Cubs can dump him to a contender. If Heyward can rediscover his swing, he’s average. If not, he’s still as good or better than Sheets.

NDSox12

Why in the world would the Cubs include Madrigal in such a trade?

GrabSomeBench

because Heyward sucks?

Trooper Galactus

Right now, so does Madrigal.

a-t

Madrigal is young and cheap. They can eat Heyward’s contract.

Also, Heyward is toast-toast, below replacement level toast. His K rate is spiking, a key sign of permanent age-related decline beyond even what he has been. It’s ridiculous to want to take on more salary for ‘23 for a crappy player. This is a lose-lose trade.

Trooper Galactus

Why would they eat dead salary to get back a player who is of dubious value at this point? IDGAF about young and cheap, I want any age but actually producing.

a-t

Sorry, I was unclear. By “they can eat” I meant the Cubs, not the Sox

HallofFrank

Where would Madrigal play? Charlotte already has a 2B.

soxfan

What’s the most aggressive we could reasonably expect the organization to be right now? Grandal and Garcia aren’t going anywhere, so unless we enter the multiverse the most churn that’ll happen is:

  • Cut Keuchel
  • Cut Velasquez or move him to the pen
  • Cut Harrison
  • Cut McGuire
  • Demote Sheets

Then to replace those guys:

  • Lynn gets healthy
  • Velasquez becomes a pen arm (or is replaced by a Davis Martin or someone as a swing man – basically fungible IMO)
  • Sanchez gets promoted
  • Perez gets promoted
  • Remillard gets promoted (just picked the highest AAA OPS against righties)

Other than Lynn over Keuchel, do any of those other moves excite anyone? We could trade for a 2B or play real OFs more often (if all of Pollock, Robert, Jimenez and Engel can stay healthy that is), but the key to success is going to be the players playing up to their potential. I don’t really see a lot of good options that Hahn has available to him going forward. (That’s not to excuse him for not doing enough in the past.)

GrinnellSteve

Harrison is the long guy now.

billm2214

Maybe cut LaRussa.

GrinnellSteve

I wonder if the failure to launch for a number of players is tied to the absence of routine and rhythm. Maybe Moncada needs 10 games in a row, batting in the 2 hole or the 5 hole. Tony keeps moving people up and down, sitting them in favor of lesser players.

Whether a set lineup for a stretch would help or not, your suggestion is a great one. Cut him.

funkerdan

I don’t think he’s used a single lineup twice.. correct me if I’m wrong and I missed one.

mrridgman

I think that shows how clever he is.

metasox

A veteran lefty fo the bullpen would be an obvious choice. I would say a better lefty bat than Sheets would be useful but once Jimenez returns it isn’t clear how many spots will be available.

Trooper Galactus

Trade the farm for Juan Soto and Josh Bell and take back the salaries of Patrick Corbin and/or Stephen Strasburg to convince Washington to go for it.

HallofFrank

Yessss. How about Eloy (or Vaughn?), Montgomery, Colás, Thompson, Crochet, and Sheets for Soto, Bell, and Corbin?

jhomeslice

Eloy, Vaughn, and Crochet for Soto might be a pretty decent starting point, and could be a great trade for the Nats in 2024/25. Maybe would have to include Montgomery. But that is enough value that it might get some consideration.

I would not even think about including Kopech.

Last edited 1 month ago by jhomeslice
Trooper Galactus

I think the Nats are looking at a longer rebuild if they’re trading Soto and will be more interested in players whose service time hasn’t started, never mind it doesn’t do the White Sox much good to gut their current roster to that degree even if it helps acquire Soto.

a-t

Soto is just so so so good. I don’t know that the Eloy/Vaughn/Crochet trio plus whatever five Sox prospects the Nats want is enough honestly.

Trooper Galactus

The entire deal would be predicated on the Nats being motivated to get out from under the Corbin or Strasburg contract.

Trooper Galactus

Yeah, in a heartbeat, but that requires three things:

1) The Nationals are enticed by those players to a degree that they will take it over offers from other teams

2) They are desperate to shed some of their future salary commitments to a point where they will accept a lesser prospect return than they might otherwise get

3) Teams with better prospects to offer (re: FUCKING EVERYBODY) are not willing to take dead salary back in a deal

HallofFrank

My read on the Nata rebuild is that they’re looking for a bit of a quicker turnaround. I seem to have a Rizzo quote rattling around in my memory somewhere that they are targeting ‘24-‘25 ish. If that’s the case, the Vaughn/Crochet/Kopech might be more appealing than 18 year old projects.

But, yeah, this is obviously a pipe dream. I suspect in the unlikely event that the Nats are even willing to move him, another team can beat the Sox offer. Like you said, it really depends on what the Nats are looking for, though.

Trooper Galactus

If they were looking for a quick turnaround, I don’t see why they’d trade Soto. So long as they have big money on the books that’s not producing, never mind the gobs of deferred money they gave to get their trophy, I think they’re looking at a bit longer a rebuild.

HallofFrank

Not necessarily. They may look to start contending in, say, 2024. That’d be the last year Soto is under contract, and they might think one (relatively expensive) year of Soto in the first year of the contending window isn’t as valuable as a hoard of young talent for the whole window.

Trooper Galactus

Maybe, but if that’s the case, they’d only have three seasons each of Eloy, Vaughn, and Crochet to compete. Kopech would only have two seasons of control remaining by then.

soxygen

I’m old enough to remember when the front office said that they were not going to pay Springer “center field money” to be a corner outfielder. So we paid closer money to Kimbrel and traded him for a DH/LF with the idea that he would play RF, but then because he doesn’t have the arm for RF we’ve just been playing him in LF. WTFever, Rick.

Last edited 1 month ago by soxygen
funkerdan

Does anyone know who isn’t vaccinated on the team or will Toronto be a complete surprise as to who is available? Unfortunately the games fall a few weeks earlier than I am available to take the short trip up there.

As Cirensica

I have not idea, and this information is probably not widely available.

what

The white sox were one of three teams who required all players to be vaccinated (including the minors). They wouldn’t even release players who refused to get vaccinated (I believe two minor leaguers retired because of it). It was one of the reasons people were worried about a potential deal with Conforto because he was unwilling to vaccinate.

metasox

After the success of the Sale deal, the subsequent deals were mostly praised. It is interesting to now consider the wisdom of constructing a core by rolling the dice with commitments to unproven players

Trooper Galactus

This team spent $36 million adding new players this offseason and most of them have produced significant negative value. The problem was not being hamstrung by existing salaries.

chipporter

well played

metasox

This doesn’t make sense. You need to look at the cost of the long-term contracts today, the cost in the future and any ways all of that money could have been allocated differently. Like, do you want Moncada at 25 million in the future or would you like the flexibility to spend that money some other way?

Last edited 1 month ago by metasox
mrridgman

I think the issue is more the completion of the rebuild than the retention of the core. The core was obtained fairly efficiently through the Big Three trades (primarily), the Cuban connection and the draft. When that was done and extensions granted, we had holes to fill: left handed hitting, a competent outfielder, backup catcher and a replacement for Rodon. I would have been fine with bringing up Sanchez or Romy to play 2b if the rest had been done.

Instead, we spent a boatload on relievers (a TLR favorite area) whose performance has been middling, when history has shown that a decent bullpen can be built on the cheap; TWO mediocre(-) 2b; a backup catcher who, at least for the moment, can’t hit; no competent OFer; no LF hitter; and VV/now Cueto to sub for Rodon. I don’t know who made/influenced these decisions: Jerry, Hahn, Kenny and/or TLR. In any event, they f%#@*d up the finishing work.

roke1960

In the 2nd half of the season, the Sox play 6 games against “good” teams outside of their division. That would include the 4 AL East teams, Angels. Astros, Dodgers, Giants, Padres, Brewers. The Twins play 32 against those teams. If the Sox can send Giolito, Cease, Kopech, Lynn and Cueto out for those games, they should clean up on the Rangers, Orioles, A’s, Tigers and Royals. While the Twins shaky starting staff will be facing strong offenses in almost half their remaining games. Just stay close by July 4th and then take off from there.

HallofFrank

Yes. It’s so annoying watching the Sox grind out this horrible stretch against good teams, and it seems like every time I check the Twins score they are playing some scrub team. Then I remind myself: the 2nd half will come.

chipporter

And that gets us swept out of the playoffs, no net gain.

GrabSomeBench

and then the Sox will get their butts kicked in the playoffs, if they get in

Qubort

There’s been so many obvious options at second and right field over the last few off seasons making this even more infuriating. I’d much rather pay for someone and have them not live up to expectations than not even trying. I’ll never grasp a 3 year deal for a bench utility player.

Trooper Galactus

It’s not so bad, they’re just getting obliterated one out of every five games!

As much as I like run differential, the #WhiteSox are 2-7 in blowouts and that’s where -38 comes from. I still don’t think they’re this bad.

h/t to for the research https://t.co/myXcayvxgW

— James Fox (@JamesFox917) May 27, 2022

Last edited 1 month ago by Trooper Galactus
pedemangonz

Two appropriate words for the DK situation: Jake Arrieta. They both are/were at the end of their careers and Chicago teams keep hoping that they will suddenly become the pitcher they were 5 years ago. What I don’t get is why TLR keeps putting him out there against teams that are really strong from the right side. The temporary fix is easy. Rolando Lopez has been a much better starter than reliever. The Sox hit the jackpot with Cueto. The rotation is really strong with LG, DC, MK and Cueto. So don’t let the crotchety old guy keep putting DK out there and be behind 6 or 7 runs after two innings. Its insanity: doing the same thing over and over with the same result and thinking that the next time the result will be different

jhomeslice

Until Lynn gets back, at which time their 5 man rotation would include him and Cueto, why not try Lopez rather than throwing Keuchel or VV out there? It shouldn’t be more than 2 or 3 turns, but Lopez has been decent in the pen and throwing harder than he ever has.

Lopez seems like he’s made strides, like he has a bit of new life in him. I’ve been down on him for a long time but he has shown pretty decent stuff enough of the time that I think he can stick as a long reliever or spot starter. He has definitely proved me and other naysayers wrong.

a-t

On quality I don’t disagree, Reynaldo has looked quite useable (tho not stunning! as a reliever since Katz arrived, but he’s just not stretched out right now. He can’t step in and give the length necessary to be a real starter. If he started you’d still need to eat innings with DK/VV. Which isn’t a dreadful idea; have the fifth spot be DK/VV starting based on matchup, but with Reynaldo and the other of the bum pair ready to try and Frankenstein an acceptable 7 innings together.

mikeyb

Reynaldo finally looks decent. Let’s keep in the role that is working for him, rather than trying to change things up. Lynn is coming soon. Let’s not break Reynaldo for a short-term experiment.

Greg Nix

That they can have several of the most electric players in MLB and still be this un-fun really says something about the organization.

Joliet Orange Sox

They were fun in 2020. I’m trying to think if anything significant has changed.

Trooper Galactus

Two of the players they signed in 2020 were outstanding that year.

a-t

They were also quite fun in 2021 up until the Astros series debacle, let’s not lie to ourselves here. They aren’t fun now because they aren’t winning. Tony is certainly a part of these struggles, but right now 4/9 slots in the lineup— 2B, C, LF, 3B— that are black holes any way you cut it. Abreu has gotten it back together with his hot streak and now has an acceptable 118 wRC+, and of course other guys can do so as well, but there’s no way to make a good lineup when 2/3 of the position players are playing like bums regardless of whether they “should” be.

HallofFrank

Yeah, this is right on. TLR deserves some blame, but not nearly as much as Sox fans want to give him.

a-t

I would badly like to see him replaced, but I don’t think he’s to blame for dudes forgetting how to hit or Dallas being cooked. The guy that Hahn all but publicly said he wanted (not unreasonably so) before TLR was forced upon him is currently presiding over a massive tire fire in Detroit. Managers have much less of an impact in baseball than head coaches in other sports do.

chipporter

Managers have much less of an impact in baseball than head coaches in other sports do.

That’s far too broad a brush. The most applicable of that statement regards in game decisions. The least applicable is team and game prep. Lineups probably make MLB slightly more important than other sports because there is more matching up.

In the blame game for The Russa, simply look at the declines of players YoY and you can see the effects of poor management. Declines in offensive production and fielding are measurable. Intangibles or those left to interpretation, are situational choices, i.e. are your RH batters swinging at inside pitches off the plate with a runner on 3rd and less than 2 outs? All teams do not prepare equally or with the same drills, education and expectations.

These are directly related to run production and run prevention, which is W’s and L’s and in these categories an MLB manager is as influential in his sport as HC’s of other sports.

jhomeslice

I am shocked this team is less fun under TLR. The man exudes joy and enthusiasm.

dwjm3

We got to just hope for the best until ownership changes.

GoGoSoxFan

That hasn’t worked for thirty years, but dreams die hard.

Julius

Outstanding article. One thing also, if for no other reason, Keuchel needs to go because he has clashed with Giolito from day one and Gio’s not going anywhere. This team only needs one primadona!!

denman

I agree. I have only my vague, outsider’s intuition to go on, but I’ve wondered since last season if Katz just isn’t the right pitching coach for a guy with Keuchel’s skill set. Katz seems to be all about velocity and generating whiffs. It may be telling that not only Keuchel but Bummer, and Evan Marshall (guys who depend on generating soft contact) have all had struggles after Katz replaced Cooper. If Keuchel clashed with Giolito “from day one” then Dallas must have felt out in the cold when Giolito’s man replaced Coop.

Last edited 1 month ago by denman