Padres could look at Keone Kela as a buy-low bullpen option

Pitching depth will be critical across the league this year as guys reacclimate themselves with the grind of a 162 season (hopefully) after the abbreviated 60-game regular season we saw in 2020.

The San Diego Padres are clearly aware of that fact, having spent much of the offseason adding a plethora of high-quality depth to the starting rotation. With one of the deepest rotations in all of baseball, AJ Preller could look to put the finishing touches on his masterpiece with another bullpen arm or two. If the team prefers to avoid spending big or dealing prospect capital, a buy-low candidate like Keone Kela could make sense.

Now, I know that most Padres fans want to see Preller bring back Trevor Rosenthal – and that may still come to fruition. Over the weekend, I proposed going all-in and trading for Josh Hader, which certainly seemed to rub a lot of folks the wrong way. A move like signing Kela, who’s battled injuries, falls on the opposite side of the spectrum in terms of cost – but is also a much higher risk play for the team.

MLB.com named Kela, still just 27 years of age, one of 10 remaining free agents who could be poised for a bounceback performance in 2021. It’s not hard to see why. He made just two appearances for Pittsburgh last year and suffered a positive COVID-19 test and a forearm strain that pretty much erased his entire season.

The Padres clubhouse can handle the personality of Keone Kela

That’s obviously a risk in and of itself. This guy has battled injuries throughout his career and has derailed any real momentum he might have mustered otherwise. But for me, why he could be the perfect fit in San Diego is for a reason you might not think of: he’s had reported issues in the clubhouse in his career.

That’s right. I think the Padres should bring in Kela because he’s butted heads with folks in the past. I think that, given the right environment, the former 12th-rounder could blossom into a quality bullpen piece. To that note, I think San Diego’s clubhouse is among the strongest in the league and could help him finally establish himself.

Now, this isn’t without risk. There are some guys who just don’t gel with teammates and that’s obviously not what you want – especially with a club like the Padres who have one of the best groups of guys in the game when it comes to chemistry.

But on the flip side of that coin, Kela brings tremendous upside when healthy. In his injury-impacted career, he has struck out over 30 percent of the hitters he’s faced and consistently runs his fastball up into the mid-to-high 90s. A power arm ready to take the ball from this team’s star-studded rotation could take the Padres up yet another notch.

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Kela isn’t worth any type of major investment. But if San Diego can get him on the cheap, he could prove to be a sneaky move that pays huge dividends down the road.