There's no doubt the Astros will tender a contract to Keuchel while continuing to explore the possibility to tying him up long term and buying out his arbitration years. But how about infielder Luis Valbuena, slugger Chris Carter, catcher Jason Castro and designated hitter Evan Gattis? They're due huge raises in arbitration, and at least one is likely not to be tendered.
Houston's remaining arbitration-eligible players are backup catcher Hank Conger, infielder Marwin Gonzalez and relief pitcher Josh Fields.
"We're not constrained by a budget," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "I think we're going to look at what makes sense for the club. We've got players in Triple-A a lot of our fans want to see up here. We've got other considerations potentially through the trade market and free agency, and we just need to consider arbitration players in the context of whether they're the best fit for our team, but it doesn't come down to whether or not we can afford them. We can afford to keep them all if we wanted to."
Carter, who hit .199 last season with 24 homers and 64 RBIs following a September surge, made $4,175,000 and is the mostly likely of the bunch to be non-tendered. The Astros will have No. 5 prospect A.J. Reed in spring camp competing at first, and Valbuena could play the position as well. Jed Lowrie could be another option at first.
Keuchel, coming off a 20-8 season in which he won his second consecutive Rawlings Gold Glove Award in addition to the team's third Cy Young Award, made only $524,500 last season and faces a huge payday in 2016. MLBTraderumors estimates he could get $6.4 million in arbitration.
"I've put in my three years," he said. "I've put in my due. It's just the nature of the game. I'm not too high, not too low. I'm just even-keeled because as I continue playing baseball we know we have a chance to win, and that's all I can ask for."
When asked following the season about possibly signing Keuchel to a long-term deal, Luhnow said the team has some prioritizing to do. And it begins with the arbitration decisions.
"It has to be a deal that works for both sides," he said. "Trust me when I say we're going to work hard on all of [the arbitration cases]. How many get done? I don't know. We like our players, and we want to keep as many as we possibly can. We spent a lot of organizational energy finding, drafting, developing, getting these players here, and they're having success, so we'd like them to stick around."