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The Cubs have a vacancy in their rotation. Enter free-agent starter Dallas Keuchel?

MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported Wednesday the Cubs are “said to be in on Keuchel,” along with the Padres, Cardinals, Angels and White Sox. Feinsand’s report follows that of WSCR’s Bruce Levine, who said on December 9 the Cubs have interest in Keuchel.

Since 2014, Keuchel holds a 3.33 ERA, 3.58 FIP, and 1.198 WHIP and has made at least 26 starts in four of those seasons. The lone exceptions are 2017 (23 starts) and 2019 (19), when he didn't sign until June. He’d give the Cubs another reliable, durable veteran arm — behind Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester, and José Quintana — to help offset the loss of Cole Hamels.

Signing Keuchel to a multi-year deal would also give the Cubs' rotation more certainty moving forward. Quintana is a free agent after 2020 and Lester could join him if his option doesn’t vest (Lester must pitch 200 innings in 2020 to guarantee his deal for 2021).

However, adding Keuchel will take some maneuvering by the Cubs' front office. According to Spotrac, the Cubs (as currently constructed) are projected to exceed MLB’s $208 million luxury tax threshold for 2020 by about $6.5 million. 

The Cubs were one of three MLB teams to receive their 2019 luxury tax bill on Wednesday. As a big-market team, the $7.6 million penalty isn’t devastating by any means, but the Cubs are motivated to get under the 2020 threshold. Doing so will prevent them from becoming repeat offenders and suffering more penalties next offseason.

 

Shedding about $6.5 million would get the Cubs under the threshold, but they’ll need to clear more payroll to make any moves. The Cubs also have other areas of the roster to address (i.e. bullpen, center field), so they won't use all of their payroll space on a single need.

Keuchel will be more affordable than Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, but unless the Cubs clear significant money, it’ll be a challenge to bring the 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner to the North Side.

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