Philadelphia Phillies: Is reliever Keone Kela worth the risk?

Should the Philadelphia Phillies take a chance on RHP Keone Kela?

After a year’s worth of historically bad bullpen production, it should come as no surprise that the Philadelphia Phillies are expected to sign a reliever or two this winter (or three or four). Outside of promising youngsters JoJo Romero and Connor Brogdon (and maybe Hector Neris?), the team needs a complete revamp at the position.

With that in mind, a name that has frequently popped up as a potential option is that of former Ranger/Pirate Keone Kela. Possessing a fiery fastball and just 27 years old, Kela seems like the dream signing for the Phils this offseason. However, there’s some risk that you have to factor into a potential move.

Kela was extremely productive in 2017, 2018, and 2019. He posted a sub-3.00 ERA in 2017 and 2019, and his WHIP never climbed above a 1.096. Kela was a strikeout machine during this timeframe, relying on a fastball that routinely hit 97 MPH and a 12-6 curve that would creep up into the mid-80s.

He was the picture perfect example of what a modern day reliever looks like, and was quickly establishing a name for himself as one of the soon-to-be best relief arms in all of baseball. If he could have himself a dominant 2020 season, Kela was likely looking to cash out on the open market as an unrestricted free agent under the age of 30 (which is extremely rare).

However, Kela experienced some pretty severe right forearm inflammation early on in his 2020 campaign, and it would eventually sideline him for the remainder of the shortened season. This isn’t the first time that Kela has struggled with injury either, as his 2016 season was thrown awry due to elbow surgery. Kela also had to undergo stem-cell therapy on his right shoulder in 2017, which created some added concern around the league in regards to his longterm future in baseball.

If Kela is healthy (and that’s a big if), he would undoubtedly be an improvement to the Philadelphia Phillies league-worst bullpen. He could instantly slide into the team’s closer role, and provide Joe Girardi with a trustworthy arm to turn to in the ninth inning. His high velocity stuff is right in line with what a team should be looking for out of their relievers, and he would likely benefit from working with the Phils’ new pitching coach Caleb Cotham.

However, if Kela fails to return to his previous form, or some of his old injury issues start to creep up and cause further missed time, the Phillies would once again be left hung out to dry when it comes to their bullpen situation. The team has been hit hard when it comes to reliever injuries over the last two years, with guys like David Robertson, Seranthony Dominguez, and Pat Neshek all failing to really do much of anything.

Taking a gamble on Kela could prove to have massive positive implications if he can remain active, and it could also derail the Phillies bullpen even further if he gets injured once more. The team has limited assets this offseason, so they can’t really afford to “whiff” on any free agent additions.