At his best during his time with the Chicago White Sox, Dallas Keuchel pitched like a Cy Young Award candidate.
But the left-hander couldn’t find consistency during the latter part of last season and the beginning of 2022, and the Sox on Saturday designated him for assignment.
Keuchel had a 2-5 record and a 7.88 ERA with 20 strikeouts in eight starts this season.
“Given the back of the baseball card, so to speak, we wanted to give him the opportunity this season to show that he was able to get himself back on track,” Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. “There was not a magic number of starts, necessarily, that would have been required before we made that decision, and in fact, though we had been talking about this internally for a period of time, his starts against New York at our place (on May 14) and Boston at Fenway (on May 8) were impressive enough to continue to give him the ball.
“Obviously, the trend from the last couple (of starts), especially (Thursday) night, was enough for us to say it was time to try something else in that spot.”
The left-hander, who won the American League Cy Young Award in 2015 with the Houston Astros, was a major addition, agreeing to a three-year, $55.5 million deal on Dec. 30, 2019. The contract included a team option for 2023.
Keuchel, 34, went 17-16 with a 4.79 ERA in 51 appearances (49 starts) for the Sox.
“He’s got a lot to be proud of,” Sox manager Tony La Russa said. “There wasn’t one time he pitched since I’ve been here he didn’t compete, which is the ultimate measure. I understand he feels like he could have done better, he should have done better. But I don’t think anybody in this uniform wouldn’t trade their career going forward the next 10 or 12 years for what he’s done.
“I do think he’s healthier this year than he was last year. He’s got games left, pitching left, if there’s a team interested in him.”
He finished fifth in the AL Cy Young voting in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, going 6-2 with a 1.99 ERA in 11 starts.
Keuchel was 9-9 with a 5.28 ERA in 32 outings (30 starts) last season. Keuchel, who won an AL Gold Glove Award in 2021, went 6-1 with a 3.78 ERA in his first 14 starts and was 3-8 with a 6.70 ERA in his last 18 outings. He was placed on the taxi squad for the American League Division Series against the Astros.
During spring training, Keuchel said the end of 2021 left a “sour taste” and he started throwing earlier in the offseason than usual to prepare in hopes of a rebound season.
He earned his 100th career victory April 13 against the Seattle Mariners. He allowed 10 runs, seven earned, on 10 hits with one walk in one-plus innings his next outing April 20 at Cleveland. He exited after facing 11 batters in the second. The Sox made four errors in the 11-1 loss in the first game of a doubleheader.
Keuchel allowed at least six runs in three of his eight starts this season.
“We certainly got what we expected in 2020 and in the first half or so in ‘21,” Hahn said. “He was basically what we expected when we signed him, and unfortunately the latter half of his White Sox career didn’t pan out the way we had hoped. With any free-agent signing, there’s a certain level of expectation, but there’s also reasonable projections involved on our end at least in terms of potential decline. In this case, I’d say the decline occurred a little more precipitously at the end than we anticipated.”
Keuchel this month had strong outings at Boston (two runs in six innings May 8) and against the New York Yankees (five shutout innings May 14) before struggling against the Yankees on May 21 at Yankee Stadium (six runs in four innings) and Thursday against the Red Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field (six runs in two innings).
“This club, for the first time in franchise history, made the postseason in back-to-back seasons in ‘20 and ‘21, and that very likely doesn’t happen without Dallas’ contributions over those two seasons,” Hahn said. “Obviously, in 2020, he was in the top five for Cy Young. Last year, especially in the first half, he had some important victories for us. I recall (ones) against Toronto and Tampa (June 10 and 15) at our place. So he certainly delivered for the first half or so of this contract what we were looking for.
“The stretch of this season, outside of some impressive performances against Boston and New York, as well as many of the starts in the second half of last year, showed that he wasn’t quite up to the task of what we needed from him this year. So while we certainly wish him well at his next stop. I just want to make sure that his contributions aren’t lost here as people focus on him being removed from the club.”
In Saturday’s corresponding move, the Sox recalled infielder Danny Mendick from Triple-A Charlotte.
Separately, outfielder Eloy Jiménez began a rehab assignment Saturday with Charlotte in Durham, N.C. Jiménez suffered an injury on April 23 that required surgery to repair a torn hamstring tendon behind his right knee.
“Certainly wouldn’t expect him back next week,” Hahn said. “Let’s see how the week goes with Charlotte, and we’ll reassess. I wouldn’t plan to see him on this (upcoming) road trip (at Toronto and Tampa Bay).”