6:01pm: Rosenthal now tweets that while the Rangers have done background work on that quartet of players, they’re actually not a part of the current discussions surrounding Kela.
July 26, 5:29pm: The Rangers are considering right-handed starter Tyler Eppler, outfielder Jordan Luplow, shortstop Kevin Newman and right-handed reliever Dovydas Neverauskas in their talks with the Pirates, reports Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (via Twitter). Those are just some of the names being discussed, it seems, and it’s not clear exactly which combination(s) of those players is on the table.
July 25: As they look to extend an excellent pre-deadline run of success, the Pirates may now be looking into making some roster improvements. According to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, the Bucs have “legitimate interest” in Rangers closer Keone Kela.
Whether or not Kela ends up on the Pittsburgh roster, the news marks a notable potential shift in that club’s approach. It had long seemed that the Pirates were trending toward at least a light sell-off of some veterans. But now, with less than a week left until the trade deadline, the team has flown back to within six games of the division pace and three out of Wild Card position.
Of course, even if the Pirates decide to push for contention, that does not necessarily mean they will hit the trade market at full throttle. There’s not much reason to expect that the light-spending organization will part with significant young talent to add rental pieces, for example.
Kela, though, would potentially be a reasonable target who’d add value now and into the future. The Pirates already have a quality closer under control for years to come in Felipe Vazquez, and have received excellent production from several members of their relief unit, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t stand to improve.
It’s fair to note, too, that the Pirates have in the past pursued somewhat non-linear approaches to the deadline. There’s time still for shifts in the standings to change their approach. And the club may also be weighing some roster re-positioning that’s not targeted solely at getting better right away. To offer one wholly speculative concept, the Bucs could hypothetically consider trying to achieve value on a pitcher like Kela while also selling Vazquez, if a contender (the Red Sox come to mind) is willing to offer a whopping package for the electric left-hander.
Whatever the case, Kela’s remaining contract rights make for an interesting asset on this summer’s trade market. The Rangers are surely focused first on moving more expensive or less controllable players, to the extent possible. But now may also be a good time to cash in a pitcher who has had plenty of ups but also some downs (arm health and some off-field issues) in recent seasons. And the Pirates could perhaps be amenable to sending some controllable starting pitching depth in a trade, which is just what the Rangers appear to be seeking.
Since he broke into the big leagues, the 25-year-old Kela has mostly been a high-quality hurler. He owns a 3.42 ERA over 168 2/3 career innings, with 11.0 K/9 against 3.4 BB/9, and the bottom-line results would look much better were it not for a forgettable 2016 campaign. Though he blew his first save of the current season just last night, Kela has locked down 23 victories for the Rangers this year.
Cost is always a factor, of course, and Kela is earning a budget-friendly $1.2MM this year. He entered the current season with exactly three years of MLB service, so he comes with two more years of arbitration control after the present season. While the save tallies will boost his earnings, Kela figures to remain rather affordable until he reaches the open market.