Could The White Sox Be Interested In Pittsburgh Pirates Reliever Keone Kela?

With the White Sox Now looking for bullpen upgrades, could Pittsburgh Pirates’ right hander Keone Kela be on their radar?

In a recent Tweet by Bob Nightengale he mentioned that the Chicago White Sox will now shift their focus to add more relief pitching which could lead to trade talks with the Pittsburgh Pirates. This is what Nightengale posted:

“The #WhiteSox, making dramatic improvements after spending $195.5 million in free agency this winter, will now focus on improving the bullpen. They’re not actively involved in the free-agent derby for OFs Yasiel Puig or Nick Castellanos, saying they’re committed to Nomar Mazara”

The White Sox bullpen was a mixed bag in 2019. They ranked almost directly in the middle of the pack in bullpen ERA at 4.31 (14th in the MLB), but were ranked 28th in strikeouts (541), and 21st in walks (271).

Next season, right hander Alex Colome will return as their closer. He posted a solid 2.80 ERA, and 1.066 WHIP in 61 innings. But on the other hand, he only struck out a career low 8.1 batters per 9, while giving up a home run every 9 innings, making his FIP 4.08.

Colome really struggled to induce weak contact with his astoundingly low 8.8 soft contact percentage. Aarom Bummer also posted strong stats with a 2.13 ERA, 3.41 FIP, and 0.99 WHIP in 67.2 innings. He, unlike Colome, kept the ball on the ground (0.5 HR/9, 72.1% groundball rate), and was a master of weak contact (22.9% soft contact rate). However, outside of Bummer and Colome, most of their other relief pitchers were sub par at best.

The Pirates do have one of the more interesting names on the relief pitcher market – Keone Kela. Kela may have pitched in an injury limited 29.2 innings, but he pitched well when he did take the mound. Kela produced a 2.12 ERA, 3.52 FIP, and 1.1011 WHIP. He struck out 10 batters per 9, and walked just 3.3 per 9. He also recorded an extremely strong 5.8 hits/9. Despite missing a good chunk of 2019, he was still able to get his fastball into the high-90’s, with it averaging out at 96.6 MPH (just .3 MPH less than his average). After Kela returned from his injury, he pitched 18 innings, giving up just eight hits, a single earned run, no home runs, and four extra base hits.

Kela is entering the last year of his contract, and will be a free agent after 2020. So, his value, even with good performances out of the pen, will be limited. However, with a deep farm system, I feel the Pirates and White Sox could work something out.

While it would not be the most ideal scenario, the Sox and Bucs could do a one-for-one swap of players on the last year of their contract. Catcher James McCann had a solid 2019 season (.789 OPS, 109 OPS+, 3.8 bWAR), but is a free agent after 2020, like Kela. I have previously written about Adam Frazier could fit on the White Sox roster, so maybe a Frazier and Kela trade could work out as well. However, I feel they’ll go down the more conventional route if they are interested in the hard throwing right hander.

Next: Free Agent Target: Homer Bailey

I could see the Bucs asking for catcher, and the 9th ranked prospect in the Sox’ system, Zack Collins, or a few of their mid-tier pitching prospects such as Konner Pilkington, Jimmy Lambert, Tyler Johnson, Codi Heuer, with someone like former top prospect Carson Fulmer thrown in as well.

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