Astros Avoid Arbitration With Five
Keuchel Reportedly Aboard for $13.2 Million

Last year for The Beard?
(c) Washington Post
Houston's 2018 payroll is taking shape as the Astros reached agreement with five of their eight arbitration-eligible players, including one of the major question marks. Dallas Keuchel has agreed to a one-year contract for a reported $13.2 million, a hefty pay raise from $9.15 million last year. The bearded southpaw tied for the team lead in victories despite significant time on the disabled list.

Keuchel is among several Astros players to be represented by tough-negotiating agent Scott Boras and will be the first of the Astros' home-grown stars to reach free agency so the way the front office treats Keuchel this coming season may be an indicator of how other Astros stars will be treated when they approach free agency.

A seventh-round draft pick of Ed Wade in the 2009 draft, the lefty was not ticketed for stardom the way some players are. He blossomed in 2015 with a 20-8 record and took home the AL Cy Young Award. After a discouraging 2016 campaign, Keuchel bounced back in 2017 with a 14-5 record and 2.90 ERA. He was named an All-Star but could not play in the All-Star classic due to injury. He has been lukewarm about whether he would stay an Astro after 2018, prompting some observers to think the 30-year-old may test the waters when free agency arrives.

Outfielder Jake Marisnick was the first to avoid arbitration, agreeing Thursday to a one-year contract worth $1.9 million. The reserve outfielder upped his game last year, blasting 16 homers in just 230 at bats before ending his season with a thumb injury. Marisnick will turn 27 when the season opens and may struggle for playing time again with other outfield options.

Catcher and Designated Hitter Evan Gattis was next to sign, agreeing to a reported $6.7 million, one-year contract. El Oso Blanco, who will turn 32 in August, is another player who sometimes had trouble cracking the lineup. He had just 300 at bats while smashing 12 homers. He, too, will be a free agent in 2019.

As of late Friday night, no numbers were available on the contract agreements between the Astros and staring pitchers Lance McCullers and Brad Peacock but they are in the fold.

Three players are left unsigned. Brian McTaggart of Astros.com has the exchanged figures between the team and the three. Closer Ken Giles ($4.6 million) and the club ($4.2 million) are just $400,000 apart. Starting pitcher Collin McHugh ($5 million) and the team ($4.55 million) are separated by $450,000.

World Series MVP George Springer ($10 million) may be the one case that goes before an arbiter. Houston is asking for an $8 million deal.

During the week, the Astros continued to be in the hunt for a third major starter for the rotation. Yu Darvish includes Houston as one of six destinations he is still pondering. The Astros were very close to striking a deal with Pittsburgh for righthander Gerrit Cole. Allegedly, outfielder Derek Fisher would have been part of the package but the Bucs were hoping to acquire a top prospect like Forrest Whitley or Kyle Tucker instead. Cole is going through the arbitration process with Pittsburgh.

A week of Astros Caravan stops included showing off the World Series trophy at the State Capitol in Austin and sharing the trophy at other Texas locations. The annual Fan Fest is also expected to happen on Saturday.

- Bob Hulsey