Texas Rangers: Grading, Breaking Down the Keone Kela Trade
By Kenneth Nash
The biggest deal of July for the Texas Rangers was completed late Monday night as Keone Kela was sent to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The big splash that everybody expected from the Texas Rangers was finally made Monday night. Night is a bit generous though, more like 1:30 am central time. The Rangers dealt closer Keone Kela to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Taylor Hearn and player to be named later. The Pirates had long standing interest in Kela. We even put out a possible trade scenario with Kela going to the Pirates last week. (humble brag, I put Taylor Hearn in my trade prediction) Kela was the name that was expected to pull the most return for Texas this July as he’s been as dominant as they come this season.
It didn’t come as a shock for Texas to deal the 25-year old closer this summer despite the fact that he’s under team control for a couple of more years. As the Rangers engage in their rebuild, Kela didn’t factor in as a long-term option as the 9th inning man. Due for arbitration this summer, his salary is expected to make a fairly significant jump and he would be a free agent right around the same time the Texas Rangers would be really ready to compete. Although we only know one of the two players coming back to Texas, we’ll go ahead and grade/break down the latest move.
Digging Into the Details
The biggest question here for a lot of fans is why deal Keone Kela. The 25-year old, as mentioned above, isn’t set to be a free agent until 2021 according to Sportrac. He is set for arbitration this offseason which would see a bit of a jump in his salary but still, standard thinking would be you keep a young, promising closer if he’s under control for a few years. However, with this rebuild that Texas has embarked on, at the earliest they aren’t competing until 2020. That would be Kela’s final season under contract meaning you would most likely lose him for nothing in exchange for having him for two seasons where his talent is essentially wasted. Additionally, with players like Jose Leclerc and CD Pelham seemingly fit to take over the reigns at closer in the not-to-distant future, it seemed the Rangers have plenty of young bullpen arms to fill the hole left by dealing Keone Kela.
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If all that wasn’t enough, Keone Kela’s value probably won’t be higher than it is right now. Kela, whose struggled with arm injuries in the past, is 24 of 25 in save opportunities in 2018 with a 1.50 ERA and 33 strike outs in those chances. Some of the best closing stats in baseball, Kela had turned himself into a coveted late inning reliever for teams looking to compete this year and over the next couple of seasons. Teams like the Pirates, Dodgers and Diamondbacks all expressed legitimate interest in the right hander. The Rangers really had no choice but to capitalize while they could.
LHP Taylor Hearn
Hearn represents the best pitching prospect the Rangers have acquired this summer. A 23-year old lefty, Hearn sports a live fastball and above average changeup that made him a handful in Double-A this year. He’s also worked on developing his slider which can play a big part on what his long-term ceiling is. At the time of the deal, Hearn was the Pirates number 7 overall prospect and number 3 pitching prospect. Coincidentally, MLB Prospect Watch has Hearn now as the number 7 overall prospect for the Texas Rangers and 4th pitching prospect.
For Double-A Altoona this season, Hearn is 3-6 in 19 starts with a 3.12 ERA. He’s struck out 107 and walked just 38 in 104 innings while holding opposing hitters to a .198 batting average. While he needs to develop more control and more command of his slider, he has the potential to be a middle rotation starter. If he struggles, he still has the upside of a hard-throwing, late inning, lefty reliever. Oh and as the icing on top, he’s a local kid who graduated from Royse City High School.
Player To Be Named Later
Obviously there’s not a ton we can put here because we don’t know who this will turn into. However what we do know is that the player likely won’t be named for a couple of weeks thanks to Evan Grant.
With regards to the quality of the player, it seems to be a lower tier prospect according to Jerry Crasnick this morning.
Now that can mean a lot of things. This means Texas could still add a Top 30 prospect to the deal similar to a Jason Bahr quality who while not originally highly ranked, has climbed a lot this season. It also could mean a Rollie Lacy type pitcher who has upside but is behind the eight ball a bit developmentally. Here’s hoping it’s somebody Jason Bahr quality as that would make this a very favorable move.
Grade: B –
Until we know who the second player is, any grade is a bit presumptuous. Taylor Hearn is a player I’m really high on which has me excited. The downside here is many thought the Rangers could more from a deal involving Kela. At one point it was thought they may could get a Top 5 prospect so this is a bit of a letdown. If they can acquire another Top 30 prospect as the PTBNL this becomes an A grade but until then, the highest it can be is a B-.