A second season of free agent speculation is upon us, but it’s probably not going to be prolonged.
Starter Dallas Keuchel and closer Craig Kimbrel are hot commodities among contenders now that the draft is here.
That’s because the Astros with Keuchel and the Red Sox with Kimbrel offered each of them a one-year, $17.9 million qualifying offer last winter.
Each player rejected the offer and because of that, given the rules established in the labor agreement, any team that signed either of the pitchers before the amateur draft was subject to losing a draft pick.
But now that the draft is here, signing Kimbrel or Keuchel isn’t going to cost a draft pick as of 12:01 a.m. Monday.
Kimbrel’s contract demand of $100 million was too much for teams over the winter, even though he’s a seven-time All-Star with 333 saves in his career.
Teams were concerned about the money and that he struggled in a tough postseason for the World Series champion Red Sox.
Keuchel, a former AL Cy Young Award winner, wanted a contract similar to the $140 million the Nationals gave Patrick Corbin, but he didn’t get it.
Who knows when each will be ready to pitch? Who knows what the contract will be?
Here’s a rundown on what contending teams could end up with either of them:
* The Yankees’ most reliable starter is Masahiro Tanaka, but the rotation has questions. Luis Severino (rotation cuff inflammation) is out until July, but even when he comes back, who knows? CC Sabathia and James Paxton each have a wobbly knee. J.A. Happ has a 4.83 ERA and Domingo Germán will have innings limits issues, given that he threw a career-high 85 2/3 last year. He has 64 this season.
* The Braves could use both Keuchel and Kimbrel. Their bullpen is thin and their closer, Luke Jackson, has no experience. The rotation is led by Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz and Kevin Gausman, but how many innings can super kids Max Fried (139 innings minors and majors combined last year) and Mike Soroka (58 2/3 combined) be allowed to go?
* The Twins, leaders in the American League Central, are expected to be an aggressive buyer as the trade deadline approaches. Jake Odorizzi, José Berríos and Kyle Gibson lead the rotation, but they need an experienced postseason pitcher. They could get in on Keuchel, but trading for Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner might be a better deal for them. And with a big lead, time is on the Twins’ side. The Twins have five different pitchers with saves this season, led by Blake Parker and lefty Taylor Rogers. If the Twins signed Kimbrel, Parker and Rogers could move to setup roles.
* The Cubs rotation is fine, but their bullpen is thin. Steve Cishek is the closer and they have also former Oriole Brad Brach, who is struggling with walks, former National Brandon Kintzler and Carl Edwards Jr. The Cubs are banking on a quick return from Pedro Strop (hamstring), but does that make their bullpen strong enough to go deep when October arrives?
* The Rays, a 90-win team that started the opener rage, are reportedly in the mix for Kuechel. Imagine a Rays rotation of Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow (when he comes off the injured list), Charlie Morton and Keuchel?
* The Brewers are getting a lights-out season from Zach Davies (2.19 ERA), but can that last all season. Two of their starters - Jhoulys Chacin and Gio Gonzalez - are on the injured list. Jimmy Nelson, who hasn’t pitched since 2017, is coming back from a shoulder injury Wednesday. And the Brewers have also used young guys Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta in starting roles.
* The ever-aggressive Phillies used the opener strategy Saturday night in Los Angeles, so maybe they are thinking about Keuchel. And their bullpen has been hit hard by injuries (David Robertson), so there’s no doubt Kimbrel would fit well there.
* The surging Rockies’ bullpen is fine, but if Kyle Freeland, one of their aces from a year ago, can’t fix his problems - he’s in the minors - the Rockies might be calling Keuchel.