The Pittsburgh Pirates could have one of the most sought after relief pitchers this upcoming deadline in Keone Kela. This is why they should wait until that deadline to trade him.
The Pittsburgh Pirates could arguably have one of the best relief pitchers on the trade market. Right-hander Keone Kela, who is on the last year of his deal, could soon-to-be a highly sought after commodity. Especially if he can stay healthy.
Last season, Kela put up decent numbers for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Although he pitched in just 29 and a third innings after missing a fair chunk of the first half of the season because of injuries, Kela put up a 2.12 ERA, 3.52 FIP, and 1.011 WHIP. Kela pitched most of the season post-All-Star break. In his final 18 innings of 2019, he gave up just 8 hits, 7 walks, one earned run, and struck out 22 batters. 2019 also marked the 5th season in a row where Kela posted a K/9 of at least 10 (10.0). He also had a strong HR/9 of .9 (MLB average of 1.4).
Overall in the past 3 seasons, Kela has put up extremely strong numbers. In his past 120.1 innings, he has a 2.84 ERA, 3.20 FIP, and 1.014 WHIP. In comparison, elite-level arms such as Aroldis Chapman who posted a 2.61 ERA, 2.31 FIP, and 1.097 WHIP and Brad Hand who put up a 2.67 ERA, 3.03 FIP, and 1.078 WHIP, have comparable numbers to Kela since 2017.
Kela might be on the last year of his deal, basically making him a rental. Usually, rentals don’t carry much value, but the value of relief pitchers has risen dramatically the past handful of seasons. For example, the aforementioned Aroldis Chapman was on the last year of his deal when he was sent to the Yankees. At the deadline, the Yankees dealt him to the Cubs for Gleyber Torres, Billy Mckinney, and Adam Warren. Torres ended 2016 as the 17th best prospect in the MLB.
During the same deadline, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded all-star closer Mark Melancon to the Washington Nationals for Felipe Rivero (Vasquez), and Taylor Hearn and although the deal has turned sour for the Bucs, the Pirates entered the 2019 MLB All-Star break looking like they made one of the best deals for a relief pitcher in recent history. Hearn was sent to the Rangers for Kela during the 2018 deadline after having a strong season in Double-A Altoona. So even though there were two elite closers on the market, neither’s return was majorly impacted by one another.
Another example I can think of is the trade that gave the Oakland A’s one of the best pitching prospects in the MLB. At the 2017 deadline, the Nationals acquired left-handed closer Sean Doolittle, and veteran right-hander Ryan Madson for Blake Treinen, Jesus Luzardo, and Sheldon Neuse. While Treinen is no longer with the A’s, his 2018 season will go down in history as one of the best single seasons by a relief pitcher in the 2000s.
Luzardo projects to be one of the better pitchers in the A’s rotation. The 22-year-old lefty is currently ranked as the 18th best prospect in the MLB and pitched extremely good in his 12 inning debut in 2019 (2 ER, 1 HR, 3 BB/16 K). Even Neuse is a top-ranking organizational prospect at the 8th spot on the A’s top prospect list. While Doolittle and Madson had a couple of seasons left on their contract, the point remains that the Nationals became extremely desperate for top-level relief pitching, and gave up players that are now considered long-term, and impactful pieces for another team.
What I’m trying to say here is that high-talent relief pitchers go for a lot these days, especially at the deadline. Personally, I think even more so now without the September waiver deadline. Kela has proven he can handle a backend role time and time again. While the market for starting pitching usually has a couple of options, high-end relief pitching does not.
Last trade deadline, the Pittsburgh Pirates owned one of the few relief pitchers who had consistently put up great numbers in the past few seasons (that being Vazquez). If Kela can stay healthy, which has been inconsistent the past 3 seasons, I think the Pirates could reel in a top prospect in the top 50-100 range for the right-hander.