The bullpen market in the 2020-2021 MLB offseason is packed with quality relievers and game-changers. And one of the players with the highest profiles will be Kirby Yates, who became one of the league’s best closers in San Diego. Moreover, there will be many candidates for potential Kirby Yates destinations.
Yates missed the better part of the 2020 season with an elbow injury. However, this was after he completed a magnificent two-year span, the biggest breakthrough of his career. In 2018, his first full campaign with the Padres, Yates posted an ERA of 2.14 in 63 innings. Furthermore, he proved that his success was sustainable with more than 12 K/9 and 0.9 HR/9, and this was right on the money when predicting his performance the following season.
Not only did Kirby Yates replicate his strong 2018 numbers but he even managed to improve upon them. This time around, the average amount of strikeouts per nine innings reached 15 – eighth-best amongst MLB relievers. Also, he marked another positive drop in his walk and home run figures, conceding merely 0.3 homers and less than two bases on balls per nine.
This set the bar so high that even a 2020 injury won’t decrease the value of his next deal. Spotrac projects him to get more than $8.5 million per year. Alongside the likes of Brad Hand and Liam Hendriks, he is the best reliever currently on the market. Underwhelming bullpen groups across the majors will be seeking to add efficiency to their staff. To say that there were beyond many relief units that imploded in 2020 would be an understatement. Therefore, the market for Kirby Yates will be very active for the months to come.
Kirby Yates Destinations: Philadelphia Phillies
If any team is desperate to add upgrades to a horrible bullpen, this certainly is the Phillies. Philly’s relief pitching staff has had issues for a couple of seasons in a row but 2020 was the peak. The team posted a 7.06 bullpen ERA, the worst in Major League Baseball. The team recently re-signed long-tenured reliever Hector Neris to a one-year deal. ESPN currently lists him as the closer. However, with quality and depth being on a low note in the rest of the group, the Phillies might want to move Neris to the heart of the unit and pursue a better closer.
Yates and the Phillies would be a perfect fit to address Philadelphia’s looming weakness concerning the bullpen. While the group ranked near the middle of the pack in walks and punchouts per nine innings, home runs ruined this foundation. The Phillies were the only team to allow more than two big flies on average per nine (2.03) throughout the 2020 campaign.
On the contrary, Yates has excelled where the Phillies failed, reaching figures of 0.9 HR/9 in 2018 and 0.3 HR/9 in 2019. When Neris was the closer this past season, he didn’t surrender a single homer but was far less effective regarding control. Moving him to the essential part of the bullpen will endure stability against the long ball both there and in the closer role. Also, this could contribute to an overall improvement in this department.
The Phillies have been one of the biggest spenders in the MLB, recording the eighth-biggest payroll with $132 million. Moreover, they have $149 million counting towards the luxury tax payroll, under which they have $60 million to spend, although luxury tax, revenues, and payrolls are all likely to drop for the next couple of years.
Yet, they haven’t had great success with recent relief additions. Philly has signed David Robertson, Tommy Hunter, and Pat Neshek to deals worth $56 million since 2018, with a mixed-to-disappointing turnout. The recent hiring of Dave Dombrovski has indicated that the Phillies will be active again this winter. The bullpen should be among the first orders of business with a closer like Yates a priority.
Kirby Yates Destinations: Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have been moving closer towards contention with a couple of productive offseasons. Efficient spending and a talented farm system have made Toronto a dangerous opponent and an AL Wildcard hopeful. How can they take the final step that will allow them to be a solid and consistent club? The bullpen will have to be on the top of the wish-list in 2020.
Toronto had one of the worst relief groups throughout the 2020 campaign. They finished the shortened season with a 4.71 bullpen ERA, the seventh-worst in the majors. This winter, they were bound to suffer another blow as Anthony Bass, who led the staff with seven saves, became a free agent. If he signs with a club other than Toronto, this will leave Rafael Dolis and Jordan Romano to compete for the closer role.
Ramano registered a very positive improvement in the control and home run departments in 2020, cutting both by almost half. Meanwhile, he maintained his strongest component, striking out more than twelve batters per nine innings. He could be in for a great year but Toronto still needs a significant upgrade in their relief pitching staff.
There’s still some work to be done in the starting rotation as well but the Jays have the core for a contending team. This year, the team reached the postseason for the first time since 2016. In addition, Toronto scored the seventh-most run in the league with 302, which was also the third-most in the AL. A short campaign could be disillusioning as to what the team is actually capable of. Nevertheless, Toronto is a good bullpen away from being close to the AL Wildcard mix under the normal format. Kirby Yates as a closer would be a significant boost in this task of theirs.
Kirby Yates Destinations: Washington Nationals
The 2019 World Series champions didn’t manage to retain their crown and the bullpen was an enormous reason why.
The Nationals finished a disappointing 26-34 year in the bottom part of the bullpen rankings. With an ERA of 4.68, the unit placed eighth-worst within Major League Baseball. Moreover, control was once again a big issue with Washington relievers allowing 4.81 bases on balls per nine innings. This was the fourth-worst figure in the league and the second-worst in the NL.
The woes of the 2020 bullpen were particularly worrying because they confirmed a previous trend. When the Nationals won it all a year ago, they had to overcome a tough May start when they were almost 20 games under .500. The main reason for the early decline was a struggling bullpen. Even though they turned their luck around to grab a Wildcard berth, they ended up finishing last in the NL in bullpen ERA. This happened in a full 162-game campaign, meaning that the 2020 problems are unlikely to be a fluke.
The 2019 group was fairly similar to the 2020 one, except for Will Harris‘s addition this year. Harris ended up having a solid season, posting a 3.06 ERA with 10+ K/9. Therefore, the surrounding cast around him was what changed for the worse. On the one hand, the departure of Sean Doolittle could spell trouble in terms of depth. On the other hand, this leaves an opportunity to replace him with higher quality.
Daniel Hudson currently has the upper hand as Washington’s closer, however, he has wide experience as a late-game reliever as well. A good example is during the banner campaign in 2019, which includes his stint with the Jays before a trade brought him to the capital.
If the Nations were to stick with Hudson in the closer role, they’d have considerably fewer high-profile options available. They have the chance to allocate finances efficiently if they go for a closer and move Hudson. Yates, Brad Hand, and others provide great price-to-production potential, making a closer a better investment. In such a case, Kirby Yates would be among Washington’s top priorities.
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