The Toronto Blue Jays have bolstered their bullpen with former All-Star Kirby Yates. The 33-year-old pitcher is one of the better relievers left on the free agent market despite a quiet 2020. He joins a team that is eager to compete. Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic announced the signing Tuesday evening on Twitter. The deal is pending a physical, which Yates took earlier Tuesday in Florida. Although the results are not yet known, the belief is that it went well.
Free-agent reliever Kirby Yates is in agreement with the Blue Jays, a source tells The Athletic.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 19, 2021
Blue Jays Add Kirby Yates
Yates has been one of the best relievers in baseball for much of his career, but 2020 wasn’t particularly notable. He threw 4 1/3 innings for the San Diego Padres with a 12.46 ERA, eight strikeouts and four walks. It’s obviously too small to say much, but the Blue Jays will keep a close eye on some peripherals. A 16% walk rate was the highest of Yates’ career and he threw his highest percentage of pitches inside the strike zone since 2017. He has been a great pitcher, but he’s at an age where some people will just fall apart.
The Boston Red Sox originally drafted Yates in the 26th round of the 2005 Amateur Draft out of a Hawaiian high school, but he did not sign with them. The Tampa Bay Rays scooped him up and turned him into a fine pitcher at times but posted a 5.27 ERA across 56 1/3 uneven innings; the ERA was below 4.00 in 2014, but almost 8.00 in 2015. Yates eventually found traction with the Padres thanks to a waiver claim. Even when counting 2020, he has a 2.55 ERA and 286 strikeouts in just 183 2/3 innings. 2019 was especially dominant. That is the year Yates threw 60 2/3 innings, struck out 101 batters, and had a 1.19 ERA. He received down-ballot Cy Young support despite having less than half of the innings of any other vote-getter. That is the Yates that Toronto wants in 2021.
Yates’ Role as a Blue Jay
Yates could compete to act as Toronto’s closer. He has saved just 57 games out of 291 appearances, but has enough experience to merit consideration. At the very least, he should boost a Blue Jays bullpen that posted a respectable 1.8 WAR in 2020. That was good for 11th in baseball. The AL East division is wide-open right now, so an addition of Yates’ caliber could be just what Toronto needs to get back in the playoffs.
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