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Buy Low: Keone Kela?

Taking a look at the controversial Kela and if he’d be a good buy-low candidate

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

You may have heard,the Pittsburgh Pirates are allegedly open to trading Keone Kela. A sub-.500 team being open to trading a reliever who hasn’t really contributed much this season is generally not surprising. But in this scenario, there is more to it than meets the eye. Kela, who was put on the 60 day IL back on May 6th for right elbow inflammation, was only activated from the IL on 7/23/19. He was then suspended for an unstated “violation of Uniform Player’s Contract” (link if you’d like to read it) - and the Pirates have been very tight lipped as to the circumstances.

Tim Brown reported it was due to an altercation with Hector Morales, and if you’re wondering what a Director of Cultural Initiatives and Peak Performance Coach does - here is the description Hector has on his Linkedin Page:

“Oversees and coordinates the development, education, transition, integration, and performance of all International Players in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. Works with a team of professionals to develop curriculum for language acquisition and development, PRO development workshops, and coordinates with the Mental Conditioning team to make all mental skills training culturally relevant for international players. Contributes to the development of championship coaching and team cohesion programs.”

This is not the first time that Kela’s personality has caused him trouble, with the Rangers demoting him due to issues previously. It was noted that he did not put effort into the final spring training game of the year, and when veterans showed their dismay, he “blew up” at them.

So why look at a player with these types of personality challenges? Well, the Astros are rumored to look to take advantage of situations like these to buy low, even to the point of contention in the Front Office. So I figured it was worth taking a look at Kela as a potential trade candidate even if the alleged personality may not be the bright and sunny demeanor we’d hope for.

MLB: ALDS-Texas Rangers at Toronto Blue Jays Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Who is Keone Kela?

Keone, 26, is a 6’1 215 lb right handed reliever, who grew up in Carson, California. Originally drafted by the Mariners in the 29th round of the 2011 draft, Kela held out and attended Everett Community college as a center fielder. In 2012, the Rangers selected him in the 12th round - 396th overall. Here was John Sickel’s take on him in his 2015 Prospect Book:

“The Rangers drafted Kela in the 12th round in 2012, from Everett Community College in Washington. He threw in the low-90s when drafted but has since boosted that, working at 96-99 now and hitting 100 on occasion. He’s got a pretty good curveball too and his excellent K/IP ratio testifies to the quality of his stuff; he isn’t tricking people, they just can’t hit him. Kela needs to get the walks down but any team would be pleased to find a 100 MPH fastball in the 12th round. He could get a bullpen trial soon. Grade C+.”

MLB Performance

Kela broke into the MLB in 2015 and made a name for himself with a 2.39 ERA across 60.1 IP at 23 years old. Since then a myriad of injuries and personality issues have somewhat derailed his performance to a 3.48 ERA (3.49 xFIP / 3.11 SIERA) across almost 200 IP in his career.

Kela has consistently brought a strong K/9 to the table (11.03 for his career), with a less noteworthy BB/9 (3.09).

From an arsenal perspective, Kela basically relies on 2 pitches (although he has thrown 1-2.5% change-ups over the past 5 years). Kela wields a high 90’s fastball (averaging between 95.8 - 96.3 mph throughout his career) with a devastating curveball (which has never had a xwOBA over .235 before this year)

Kela has a high upside with elite closer level performance on his resume.

What would it take?

This area is always as much art as science, but Kela’s case is particularly difficult as the injuries and personality challenges are much harder to quantify. Last year, Kela was traded for Taylor Hearn (45 FV - injury riddled lottery ticket with potential) and Sherten Apostel (40 FV - volatile prospect with upside), who were the Pirates’ #7 and #16 prospects in their system, a trade that seemed to be in the Pirates favor.

With a year less of control, another injury, and his continued challenges with teams from a personality perspective, the cost for the acquisition should be next to nothing.


It’s interesting. The Astros like to pull every lever in order to gain an advantage, even to the degree that it was allegedly a point of contention with some of the recent front office departures. Kela fits that mold. He’s a player with high upside, someone who could provide an immense amount of value on the field for a minimal cost. That screams a Luhnow-style move.

Team chemistry is difficult to measure on the other hand. And the team had some bumps but seems to have welcomed Osuna at least publicly at this point. Chirinos was noted as one of the players who had heated discussions with Kela when the Rangers suspended him, so it’d be interesting to see how all of this plays out.

I think from a pure baseball perspective, he’s an easy buy low candidate. We shall see how it all evolves.


Would you want the Astros to trade for Keone Kela?

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