FEB. 18: The Padres have announced the signing of Kela to a one-year deal. MLB Network’s Jon Heyman tweets that he’ll be guaranteed $1.2MM with another $2.3MM available via incentives.
To make room for Kela on their 40-man roster, they placed righty Trey Wingenter on the 60-day injured list. Wingenter underwent Tommy John surgery last July, so he’s unlikely to pitch much — if at all — in 2021.
FEB. 15: The Padres have signed right-hander Keone Kela, per Jon Heyman of the MLB Network (via Twitter). The deal is pending a physical. Perhaps accidentally, Kela broke the news himself in an updated bio on his Instagram page last night, though his bio was soon deleted.
Kela is the latest acquisition in a very busy offseason for the Padres, particularly on the pitching side. The addition of Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, and Joe Musgrove to the rotation has pushed some of the younger arms who might have been in contention for starting jobs down into the mix for bullpen time, and San Diego has further augmented its pen by signing Mark Melancon. Kela now joins Melancon and Emilio Pagan as pitchers with past closing experience, should the team prefer to mix and match save opportunities based on situations rather than fully entrust the ninth inning to Drew Pomeranz.
Of course, Kela is far from a lock for such a key role himself considering that he barely pitched in 2020. Between a positive COVID-19 test and then an injured-list stint due to forearm tightness, Kela appeared in only three games for the Pirates last season. This lack of playing time might well have kept him in a Pirates uniform, as he would surely have been a prime trade candidate for the Bucs so close to his entrance into the free agent market.
The 27-year-old Kela has been a source of controversy during his time in Pittsburgh, primarily during a 2019 season that saw him suspended twice. One was a 10-game, league-mandated punishment for throwing at Derek Dietrich and sparking a huge brawl between the Pirates and Reds, and the other was a team-mandated two-game absence for an altercation with a member of the coaching staff.
A change of scenery certainly seemed necessary, and Kela will now join a familiar face in Padres general manager A.J. Preller. The Rangers made Kela a 12th-round pick in the 2012 draft when Preller was still working in the Texas front office, and Kela joins Darvish and Jurickson Profar as prominent ex-Rangers who have made their way to San Diego during Preller’s tenure as GM.
It was in Arlington that Kela emerged as a hard-throwing future closing candidate, finally taking over the ninth inning for Texas during the 2018 season, and the Pirates were planning to use him as a closer prior to the 2020 season. Over six seasons and 216 2/3 innings with the Rangers and Pirates, Kela has a 3.24 ERA and a very strong 30.1% strikeout rate, though he has had some issues with walks (9.4% walk rate) and his spin rates range from average (his fastball) to mediocre (his curve).