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MLB trade deadline: How the Rockies could turn a Jonathan Lucroy rental into something bolder

Could the Rockies get a catcher and improve their bullpen in a deal with the Texas Rangers?

The Colorado Rockies are open to rentals as they improve their roster in anticipation of a run for a playoff spot in 2017. Pat Neshek is a rental, and if they add a catcher, that player will likely be a rental too.

Texas Rangers’ catcher Jonathan Lucroy is one such potential catcher for hire. He would bring name recognition and a track record that includes big contributions in a playoff race last year. He is struggling this year, however, and with an expiring contract, Lucroy might not demand a huge price. A trade like that, or a similar deal for Alex Avila, would be a relatively safe but nevertheless effective deadline move.

That’s fun, because that means the Rockies are honest-to-goodness playoff contenders. But there might be an even more fun trade out there, specifically with the Rangers, that would be bolder and would help the Rockies beyond this season.

The Rockies could try to put together a package to acquire Lucroy and right-handed relief pitcher Keone Kela.

The 24-year-old reliever is having a dynamite year—one that might put him in line for save opportunities if he remains in Texas. In 32 appearances, Kela sports a 2.51 ERA to go along with a 12.25 K/9 ratio. He made his debut two years ago and had similarly good numbers, while 2016 was a lost year largely due to injury. Ultimately, Kela has an electric arm and would give the bullpen a big boost. And, better yet, he’s under team control through 2020.

As a young reliever with real upside and team control, Kela doesn’t seem like a guy the Rangers would shop at all. But according to reports from Ken Rosenthal and Evan Grant, he is available Given his age and contract status, he would demand a fairly high price and very well might stay put, according to Adam Morris over at Lone Star Ball.

The arguments for the Rockies to seriously pursue Kela start with their needs this season. There’s no need to kick Jordan Lyles while he’s down, but it is fair to point out that the other right-handed options in the bullpen not named Greg Holland have been disappointing. Adam Ottavino is fighting some inconsistency, and the other spots have been a revolving door with guys like Carlos Estevez, Jairo Diaz (gulp), Antonio Senzatela and even Tyler Chatwood.

Pat Neshek obviously helps the team in that regard, but adding Kela would give Bud Black more options in high-leverage spots and more length to the bullpen to meet the demands of the playoff race and (let’s hope) playoff baseball.

We can also look beyond 2017. It’s near certain that Greg Holland will select free agency after this year. Do you think he’ll cash in on his bounce back by signing long-term with the Rockies? More importantly, do you want the Rockies to be the team giving a lengthy contract to a closer?

The correct answer to the latter question is no, by the way, and if you disagree, you should be required to buy three Mark Melancon sherseys to repent: white, black, and that godawful orange.

Keone Kela would give the Rockies another option at closer in the seasons to come. The ghost of Rex Brothers reminds us not to talk about “closers of the future” and all that, but it doesn’t hurt to think about who will be closing games if (when) Holland is off making big money with the Nationals or whomever.

To make this trade, the Rockies would have to part with a big-ticket prospect, or maybe even a young player who has tasted the big leagues. Do any of us want to see Raimel Tapia on the Rangers? Of course not, Mucho Swagger should only be on the Rockies. Would it be indefensible to trade Ryan McMahon? In 2017, yes. In 2016? Not so much, and who knows what that difference means for the major-league player he’ll end up being.

You could indulge hypothetical packages for a while, but the point is that the Rockies would have to really pay to add Kela to a Lucroy package. That’s always scary, especially as those of us who are prospect nerds get attached to these guys. It’s at that point, though, that we should remember the words of Andy McCullough from the 2015 Baseball Prospectus Annual: “prospects are bullshit.”

In other words, the attachment to untested and unrealized potential has a way of making wartless prospects seem more valuable than major-leaguers, whose warts are there for all to see. And that can get in the way of opportunity.

If the Rockies want to go bold at the trade deadline, this is one way they could do it. Jeff Bridich faces the challenge of walking parallel paths: win now and keep building for later. This trade could give the Rockies a rental at catcher now and another valuable bullpen arm for the next few years.

That would be fun, right?