Kirby Yates Reportedly Agrees to Contract with Blue Jays in MLB Free Agency

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistJanuary 19, 2021

San Diego Padres relief pitcher Kirby Yates (39) in the first inning during a baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Friday, Aug 14, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

Veteran closer Kirby Yates reportedly agreed to a deal with the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.

Rosenthal added the contract is expected to be for one-year and worth $5-5.5 million.

The 33-year-old enjoyed a career year in 2019, earning his first trip to the All-Star Game. He finished with an MLB-best 41 saves, 101 strikeouts and a 1.30 FIP over 60.2 innings. His 3.4 WAR were second among all relief pitchers.

In 2018, the San Diego Padres cashed in on Brad Hand's trade value and shipped him to the Cleveland Indians, receiving highly touted catching prospect Francisco Mejia.

San Diego didn't take the same approach with Yates, which was likely due to the fact the franchise wanted to contend.

First came Eric Hosmer, and then Manny Machado arrived on a franchise-record 10-year, $300 million contract. Promoting Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddack ahead of 2019 Opening Day—rather than manipulating their service time—showed the front office wasn't content to be a doormat anymore.

In retrospect, the team might have been wise to cash out on Yates' value when it had the chance.

The right-hander allowed six earned runs over 4.1 innings to open 2020. An elbow injury forced him onto the injured list and eventually required season-ending surgery.

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A decline can come rapidly for relievers, even those who fit into the elite category. Craig Kimbrel was an All-Star in 2018 but has looked a shadow of his old self since joining the Chicago Cubs.

Unlike Kimbrel, Yates doesn't rely on overpowering stuff to stymie opposing hitters. His fastball has averaged between 93 and 94 mph throughout his career, per Brooks Baseball, which no longer qualifies as top-end velocity.

Perhaps that will allow Yates to age more gracefully, but it's also worth remembering he turns 34 in March. The Hawaii native didn't make his debut until he was 27, and his breakout with the Padres didn't arrive until he was into his 30s.

When it comes to projecting how Yates will perform post-elbow surgery, there isn't a long track record for fans to utilize.

In general, closers may not be a prized commodity anymore. The Tampa Bay Rays reached the World Series with a bullpen made up of relievers largely anonymous to casual followers. Cleveland declined Hand's 2021 option when nobody else wanted to pick up his $10 million salary.

Perhaps Toronto pulled off a shrewd piece of business, buying low on Yates before he returns to his All-Star form of 2019. Equally plausible is a scenario in which he ultimately doesn't do enough to improve the team's bullpen, making the signing a wash.


Stats are courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise noted