Sticking on theme with the majority of our trade deadline targets, this one also focuses on a relief pitcher. As Allan said in his Marlins’ relievers piece, the Dodgers have a number of pitchers, both starters and relievers, slated to return from injury in the near future. Adding more arms to the rotation could move pitchers into the bullpen, so they won’t struggle to fill out the pen for the rest of the season. However, Kenley Jansen is the only truly trustworthy arm in the bullpen (and he hasn’t even been all that trustworthy this season), so another shutdown arm out of the bullpen could be a necessity come October, so it makes sense for the Dodgers to be looking into some talented setup men.
Previous entries in the series:
Allan already wrote about one Ranger reliever that should be on the Dodgers’ radar. Leclerc and Kela have formed a formidable 1-2 punch for the Rangers, which currently sit nine games behind the Angels for fourth place in the AL West. The Rangers don’t have a strong farm or a great young core at the Major League level, have struggled to develop starting pitching and play in the same division as the Houston Astros, so there’s not a lot going right for them right now. However between Kela and Leclerc, they have two team-controlled, young talented relief pitchers, a currency that could beef up their farm system really quickly.
Allan covered Leclerc, so this will focus on Kela. The 25-year-old righty is in the middle of his fourth Major League season, and his previous three have been a little imbalanced. As a rookie in 2015, Kela came on the scene strong with a 2.39 ERA/2.64 FIP and 68 strikeouts to 18 walks in 60 1/3 major league innings. 2016 was rough for Kela, as he got off to a poor start before being sidelined for nearly three months with bone spurs in his elbow. When he returned in July, Kela appeared in 28 games and didn’t surrender a run in 21 of them. However in the seven games that he did allow runs in, Kela allowed 18 runs and finished the season with a 6.09 ERA and 45 strikeouts to 17 walks in only 34 innings. In 2017, Kela started the season in the minors. This wasn’t due to health, but the Rangers punished him for an incident during a “B” game in Spring Training. To make matters worse, Kela had two DL stints for shoulder injuries, the first of which kept him out for three weeks and the second sidelined him for over a month. When he did pitch, Kela looked more like his rookie self, posting a 2.79 ERA and 51 strikeouts to 17 walks in 38 2/3 innings.
Kela has been solid in the closer role for the Rangers this season. In 35 2/3 innings, Kela owns a 3.28 ERA/2.85 FIP and has struck out 43 batters while walking 12. Kela suffered his first blown save of the season on Tuesday after being asked to record five outs in a three-run game against the A’s. Kela allowed a two-run single (both runs inherited_ before recording the final two outs of the eighth inning and allowed a game-tying home run in the ninth inning. Kela hasn’t been dominant this season, but he’s posted scoreless innings in 29 of his 37 appearances. He’s had two really rough outings, allowing four runs in an inning against Cleveland on May 1st and allowing three runs while recording only one out against the Mariners on April 20th. Kela has also had a bit of a rough time with inherited runners. In the aforementioned game against the A’s, Kela allowed two of three inherited runners to score. He allowed two of three inherited runners to score against the Twins on June 24 (but he got the save, though).
Kela isn’t really trying to fool anyone with his pitch selection. So far this season, he’s thrown two changeups and two sinkers according to Baseball Savant. He’s thrown his fastball 388 times (64 percent) and his power curve 214 times (35.3 percent). Kela might have some added adrenaline in the closer role, as his fastball’s average velocity is a tick higher this season (96.8 MPH) compared to his previous three seasons (96.3 in 2017 and 2016, 96.2 in 2015). His curveball averages 83 mph and is definitely his dominant pitch. Batters have a .183 average against his curve and of the eight hits against it this season, Kela has only allowed one double, one triple and one home run.
Depending on whether the Nationals decide to sell at the deadline, Kela could be one of the better relievers moved in the next week. The talent is obvious, but teams (especially the Dodgers) will also be highly interested in the other factors. Kela won’t turn 26 until next April and will be under team control until the 2021 season. Baseball Reference says he’s making $1.2 million this season, so he’ll be an inexpensive add for some team at the deadline.
While Kela will be inexpensive financially, he probably won’t be from a prospect standpoint.
Among names #Rangers are considering from #Pirates in Keone Kela discussions, per sources: RHP Tyler Eppler, OF Jordan Luplow, SS Kevin Newman, RHP Dovydas Neverauskas. All are at Triple A. Newman is team’s No. 8 prospect, per @MLBPipeline, Luplow No. 22.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 26, 2018
This tweet obviously isn’t about the Dodgers, does add a little insight. Rosenthal also followed up that tweet with another, stating that these players are not currently being discussed but the Rangers are just doing some background work on them. After already trading Cole Hamels to the Cubs, the Rangers are primed to sell. Along with this Rosenthal tweet, I also have Allan’s proposal from his Leclerc piece to use as a guide. Leclerc is younger and probably better than Kela with more team control, but people will value the closer role and the #savez. In Allan’s piece, he proposed Edwin Rios, DJ Peters and Corey Copping for Leclerc.
To Texas: 1b/3B Edwin Rios, OF DJ Peters, and LHP Leo Crawford
To Los Angeles: RHP Keone Kela
This contains the same two headliners as Allan’s proposed piece. I do think this would be a package that intrigues the Rangers, giving them the 10th and 11th ranked prospects in Dustin’s mid-season Top 30. Rios gives the Rangers another bat-first, power heavy player that isn’t great in the field. He doesn’t have the raw power that Joey Gallo does (not many do), but he’s a far superior contact hitter and likely won’t have the strikeout issues that plagues Gallo. Last year, the Rangers acquired Willie Calhoun from the Dodgers. He’s struggled to find his footing at the Major League level. The Rangers might balk at Rios being another DH-type, but he could play first or even third in a pinch. Peters’ power would play extremely well in Texas, and Crawford could be a decent lefty relief prospect.
The Rangers have a glaring need in their rotation, and White could be a great get for them. He’s having a rough season in Double A-Tulsa with a 5.37 ERA in 65 1/3 innings. His plummeting strikeout numbers are the most concerning, but White still has some of the highest upside in the organization. He rose extremely quickly last season (not unlike Dustin May has this season), and while he’s far from a sure thing he would be one of the better pitching prospects in the Rangers’ system. Robinson gives the Rangers a solid utility prospect with some speed (56 steals since 2016), and Sopko could be a solid back-end starter in the future.
If White doesn’t have the highest upside in the minors, then Alvarez might be that guy. He can’t quite seem to find it as a starter, but Alvarez could develop into a great late-inning guy. His control issues still persist, as he’s walked more batters (25) than he’s thrown innings (20) at Double A-Tulsa. He’s not far removed from being considered untouchable, but Alvarez’s time with the Dodgers might be coming to an end sooner rather than later. He’ll be Rule-5 eligible after this season, and it wouldn’t be completely shocking to see a team try to roster him just to steal him from the Dodgers. That also makes him more expendable than he has been in the past. Sheffield also has a ton of talent, but got off to a really bad start before being shut down with a forearm strain in May. The Rangers would be betting on talent over results here. Peter would give them a utility option.
None of these options will cripple the farm, but the Dodgers would have to give up some talent in order to acquire Kela. He’d immediately be the Dodgers’ best option in the eighth inning and give them the type of velocity that typically plays up in October. We’ve written about a few relievers so far and probably will write about a few more before Tuesday’s trade deadline, so hopefully the Dodgers end up with at least one of these guys.