The bullpen of the New York Yankees is not as imposing as in years past. The team has lost many late-inning arms in recent years who helped make the bullpen such a dominant force. As it stands, there are only three high-leverage relievers whom the Yankees trust right now. They are Chad Green, Zack Britton, and Aroldis Chapman. There are only so many innings these three pitchers can cover. What they need are more arms who not only have high-leverage experience, but also possess the upside to make a real difference. However, they need to someone who will be affordable as well. That’s where Keone Kela enters the picture.
Kela is entering his age-28 season. He spent the previous six years of his career with the Texas Rangers and Pittsburgh Pirates. Take a look at Kela’s Baseball Savant page and it is clear he has the stuff to be a difference maker in any bullpen. Since debuting in 2015, Kela’s fastball velocity has ranked in the 90th percentile or better every season. Furthermore, his curveball is a pitch that does not have elite spin yet produces elite results. The curveball is definitely his best pitch as it is the pitch with the highest whiff rate and put-away rate during his big league career. Kela also sparsely throws a changeup. Overall, his career as a whole has yielded a very-good 3.24 ERA, 3.30 FIP, 11 K/9, 30.1 SO%, and 139 ERA+.
Since 2017, Kela has pitched to a 2.87 ERA, 3.28 FIP, 1.03 WHIP, 161 ERA+, and 11.3 K/9. In 2018, he saved a combined 24 games for the Rangers and Pirates. Throughout his career, he has mostly pitched during innings seven through nine, with batters producing a .202 BA and .630 OPS in those innings. In late and close situations, batters have hit .215 with a .661 OPS against Kela over his career. What this shows is that Kela has excelled thus far with his experience in high-leverage situations. Whether it is closing out a game or shutting down the 6th or 7th inning, Kela is someone the Yankees would trust in those types of scenarios.
The Yankees have several young pitchers with high upsides but they are individuals who lack any sort of track record. This includes Nick Nelson, Jonathan Loaisiga, Michael King, and Ben Heller to name a few. Kela is a reliever who possess high quality stuff that would make an immediate difference in the bullpen. His age suggests that he is just entering his prime and will likely not experience any age-related decline.
Keone Kela Would Likely Come at an Affordable Rate
Signing Keone Kela to a major league deal would put the team in a situation similar to that of Jameson Taillon and Corey Kluber. Kela has an injury-filled track record, having racked up only 31.2 innings since the start of 2019. In fact, he only has two seasons in which he has thrown more than 50 innings. Injury concerns are the reason why Kela would come at an affordable rate, despite his age. The injury that limited him to only two innings in 2020 was right forearm inflammation, which is never a good thing. If Kela can prove he is healthy and ready to go for the 2021 season, it would make sense for a lot of teams to bid for his services.
A one-year deal in the range of $2-3 million with incentives seems like a fair deal for Kela and the Yankees. New York is very mindful of the $210 million luxury tax this winter as they look to reset it for next season so they do not enter the next tier of the luxury tax system. The Yankees could choose to pursue more reliable options such as Shane Greene or Mark Melancon. However, both pitchers figure to be out of their price range considering their longer track record of health and success. Kela has proved that he is a very good major league pitcher when healthy. He has the right upside, experience, and affordability for the New York Yankees.
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