Who is the Closer if Keone Kela Isn’t Available?

First, let me get this out of the way, nobody knows what’s going on with Kela. Does he have COVID, is he opting out, dinged up, waiting on a test? We just don’t know, but as many of us have put Kela on the trade block anyhow, who closes for this club if he isn’t available?

The bullpen has already taken a hit when Edgar Santana was slapped with a suspension for PED use. I can’t say he was an option to close, although he has the stuff, but who does that leave on the table?

Let’s start with those we are sure will make the club. Kyle Crick strikes me as the automatic choice if Clint Hurdle was still the coach, mostly because he loved to fancy the next man up philosophy worked for all of Pittsburgh sports teams. Kyle has some growing to do. He has the stuff but not the control, and while he has more history of hitting his spots than not, last year was that bad for the young man. He was a high velocity, living example of the three true outcomes. Every at bat was a homerun, walk or strikeout.

Michael Feliz is another option but man, he’s just not in possession of any one pitch that you’d call spectacular. I love the progression he showed last season and he can be a dependable back of the pen arm for sure, closing games out would be a waste with him in my opinion. He can give you more than one inning on occasion and I ultimately think he’s more valuable utilizing his flexibility.

Richard Rodriguez is a capable pitcher. Although it feels like he gives up bombs regularly, he’s just one of those guys who accumulates a stat line that shows he wasn’t nearly as bad as he looked at times. Sometimes this is all about the timing or the particular leverage situation he surrendered something big. Either way, he surely doesn’t have closer stuff.

Here is my pick, Nick Burdi. The fastball is real, real scary. What’s underrated though, he has nasty secondary pitches too. We didn’t get to see much of him due to a catastrophic injury in 2019 but this is one Rule 5 pick up who could end up being the type of steal that forces many of us to posthumously say good job Neal.

Another option is young fireballer Blake Cederlind. He is one of the Pirates positive tests for COVID but figures to be able to work his way into position to contribute. This guy can throw, and it looks effortless, as long as you don’t freeze frame on the faces he makes. This year or next, Blake will have a role in this pen.

I’d be more than happy to see the Pirates get away from the closer role in general and simply use pitchers situationally. I’ve never liked the closer if I’m honest. Too often it forces the set-up guy to face the heart of the order while the closer get’s the bottom third. To me it’s an arbitrary assignment and I just don’t buy that it takes a different mentality. It’s become a WWE style, character driven position on a baseball team and more often than not, the vaunted closer is less scary than their intro music.

Maybe Kela shows up and all this is moot for a while, that would be best for the club, the guy is a hell of a pitcher. I could see him pulling out though and spare me all the hand clapping and backrubs about how awesome he is for choosing to shun playing in 2020, I understand it is his right and I honestly don’t begrudge him doing so. But I’ll have a hard time preventing myself from reminding everyone he has never really seemed like Pittsburgh was a place he wanted to be. If I’m honest, I don’t think his value changes much if he does play this season. Teams know what he can do, and I’d hope nobody reads into a potential decision to opt out as an indication his “want to” is lacking. Again, history with this player will factor in though.

The single biggest thing the Pirates would lose from Kela pulling the plug would probably be the prospect the Pirates can’t get by trading him.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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