DON'T PANIC

Paul Muth: Time to pump the brakes on the 'trade Keuchel' talk

Dallas Keuchel is struggling, but trading him makes no sense. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Last week during the Astros latest homestand a friend of mine asked if I wanted to go catch a weekday game either Tuesday or Wednesday. I said sure.

“Dallas Keuchel is pitching Tuesday, Lance McCullers Wednesday. Which one?” He asked.

“So my options are: watch Keuchel implode and go 3-8, or watch McCullers sling filth?”

“Wednesday it is.”

Ironically I ended up going to the Tuesday game with another friend. Before we had entered the ballpark Keuchel had already served up four runs.

This isn't the first time this season - or most of the second half of last season for that matter - that I've actively avoided Keuchel games. Much like his signature “Keuchel’s Korner,” fan support has gone the way of the buffalo this season for the Astros former ace.

And it's not without reason, mind you. To say he's been bad would be an understatement. Keuchel has gone from Opening Day starter to flat out liability dating back to last season. He currently sits at 3-8 on the season with a 4.45 ERA. Keuchel has never surrendered more than 20 home runs in a season, but at 69 games into 2018, he's already allowed 12.

Things don't look good for the Astros’ hurler at the moment. Factor in that he's in the last year of his contract (and that neither side seems interested in the other's idea of a fair offer), and suddenly you have a recipe for finding out who started watching Astros baseball on November 1, 2017.

“Trade Keuchel!”

“Get him out of here!”

In the words of that same friend that I never went and saw a game with last week:

“Easy, Farva.”

Let’s pump the brakes on all of this trade talk. Do I think he’s going to turn the season around and give us all a reason to don our fake beards and rekindle the fire that once was Keuchel’s Korner? No, not exactly. But there are still plenty of reasons to keep him on the staff.

First off, no one is going anywhere in mid June. The trade deadline isn’t until July 31, which suggests that Keuchel has at least six more starts to show us something that might assuage the angry mob. No team ever won the World Series in June, and we’re not even halfway through the season.

Even if they did start to shop Keuchel, what value would a team like the Astros who are in “win now” mode receive in return? Prospects? They have those in spades. What return would possibly yield any more production than what they are already getting? A 30 year-old low velocity pitcher who has lost his location and is in the final year of his contract isn’t going to cause the phone board to light up. So as it stands, even if they wanted to trade him, it wouldn’t be worth it more than likely.

The most critical reason for retaining Keuchel is this: He’s an innings sponge.

Astros fans seem to be a little too quick to forget just how decimated the starting rotation was due to injuries last season. With so many starters sidelined, the Astros were compelled to slide relief pitchers Mike Fiers and Brad Peacock into the starting rotation alongside a carousel of AAA pitchers. Keuchel, no matter how bad he may be or good he may get, represents 6-7 innings of baseball that Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, and Lance McCullers don’t have to pitch. It represents just a few more extra innings off for the bullpen as well. And while none of this matters in June, it will be easy to spot the exhausted pitchers in the postseason. Keuchel keeps them fresh.

On this date last year, Francis Martes (Franky Tuesday as my friends and I lovingly referred to him last year as) was starting baseball games for the eventual World Series champs. For perspective, Martes began this season on the Astros AAA affiliate, and shows no sign of being called up. Fast forward to last night and you have one of the Astros two potential Cy Young candidates, Gerrit Cole taking the mound with a now 8-1 record and a 2.40 ERA. Even if Keuchel is stinking it up every fifth day, who cares? The Astros have an embarrassment of riches at starting pitching, even in spite of Keuchel.

The bottom line is, it’s worth it to keep Keuchel. Who knows? Maybe Astros pitching coach Brent Strom wakes up from a fever dream with the solution to his maligned pitcher’s throwing woes. Maybe Keuchel injures himself (again), but this time it has a Henry Rowengartner, Rookie of the Year effect and he suddenly throws 100 mph fastballs. In that case we can all just sit under the shower of pitching glory wait for another World Series title. But even if it doesn’t they will be fine. The Astros have more pressing issues in their bullpen that need tending to before addressing an issue that will be a non-factor in the postseason. Most teams only run a 3-4 man rotation then, and you can safely assume that Keuchel would be the odd man out.

Everyone just take a deep breath and put the pitchforks down. They are going to be ok.

 

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Watson's accusers appeared on Real Sports on Tuesday night. Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images.

HBO Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel’s heavily promoted and much anticipated examination of Deshaun Watson’s legal mess involving alleged sexual misconduct shed little new light and merely presented a summary of well worn he said/she (x22) said accusations and denials.

The episode debuted Tuesday night on the premium cable service and will be repeated dozens of times throughout the week on HBO’s platforms. Check your local listings for times and channel.

The segment was hosted by Soledad O’Brien who presented compelling face-to-face interviews with two of the quarterback’s accusers: massage therapists Ashley Solis and Kyla Hayes. Their stories were detailed and graphic. Both cried during the interviews.

Solis: “As I’m working, he deliberately grabs himself and put his penis on my hand. I pulled my hand away instantly and I started crying. I told that I’m done. I don’t want to do this anymore.”

Solis said she felt threatened when Watson, before leaving the session, allegedly told her: “I know you have a career to protect, and I know that you don’t want anyone messing with it, just like I don’t want anyone messing with mine.”

Solis added, “That’s when I got really scared because that sounded like a threat to me.”

Hayes: “He wanted me to kind of make a V motion in his pelvic area. I just kept massaging and did what he asked, until his penis kept touching me repeatedly as I did it.”

Hayes said that Watson had an orgasm, which she said was “mortifying, embarrassing and disgusting.”

O’Brien asked Hayes why she continued to have contact via email with Watson after their encounter.

Hayes: "I wasn't sure what he was capable of. He could've physically assaulted me. He could've bashed my business, so I had to protect myself and my business the best way I saw fit. Did I ever see him again after that? No. Did I give him the runaround? Yes."

O’Brien pointed out that two separate grand juries in Texas heard criminal accusations against Watson and neither found enough evidence to indict him.

Solis and Hayes, and 20 other massage therapists have filed civil suits against Watson. The cases aren’t expected to reach a courtroom until next March. Both sides could reach a settlement before then which would effectively shut down any legal action against Watson. However, both sides say they aren’t interested in any pretrial settlements. That’s what they say now, anyway.

After being banished to the sidelines for the 2021 season by the Houston Texans, Watson signed a historic, 5-year fully guaranteed $230 million contract with the Cleveland Browns.

Hayes said she feels Watson “is being rewarded for bad behavior." Solis said, "It's just like a big screw you. That's what it feels like. That we (the Browns) don't care. He can run and throw, and that's what we care about.”

Watson currently is participating in preseason workouts with the Browns and, at the moment, is cleared to play the upcoming NFL season.

That is unless the NFL suspends Watson for some, most or all of the 2022 season. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has said the league is nearing completion of its independent investigation into Watson’s case and will reach a decision “shortly,” probably this summer. The NFL and NFL Players Association mutually agreed to have former U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson decide whether or not Watson violated the league’s Personal Conduct Policy and what discipline should be handed down if he did.

The Browns are scheduled to play the Texans on Dec. 4 at NRG Stadium in Houston.

O’Brien said, while producing the Real Sports piece, she tried to interview Watson, his attorneys and the Cleveland Browns for their side of the story. All declined.

During a press conference in March to announce his joining the Browns, Watson denied any inappropriate behavior with the massage therapists.

Watson: “I never assaulted any woman. I’ve never disrespected any woman. I was raised to be genuine and respect everyone around me. I’ve never done the thing that these people are alleging. My mom and my aunties didn’t raise me that way.”

Leah Graham, a member of Watson’s legal team, sat for an interview after O’Brien’s segment was complete.

Graham: "It's 22 women. It's one lawyer. There's only one lawyer who was willing to take these cases. And as we know from Ashley Solis’ deposition, Mr. (Houston attorney Tony) Buzbee was not the first, probably not the second or third lawyer she went to, but he was the only one to take her case. Why? Not because it had merit, but because he would use these cases to increase his social media following and quite frankly to get on shows like this one.”

My reaction after watching the Real Sports segment? We weren’t in the room when the massage therapists worked on Watson. We weren’t in the grand jury room when evidence against Watson was presented. We don’t know what happened. We don’t know what will happen if these cases go to trial.

Until then all we have is one big, lurid, embarrassing mess. In American courtrooms, defendants are presumed innocent. That’s often the opposite in the court of public opinion. We’ll just have to wait while the wheels of justice grind painfully slow.

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