The defending champion Braves have made an addition in the bullpen, announcing a two-year, $8.25MM guarantee for free agent reliever Kirby Yates. The team announced that’ll take the form of a $1MM salary in 2022, a $6MM salary in 2023 and at least a $1.25MM buyout on a 2024 club option valued at $5.75MM. (The Braves are among the teams that publicly disclose contract terms). Yates is a client of Beverly Hills Sports Council.
Yates is coming off a lost season. After signing with the Blue Jays last offseason, he suffered a flexor strain in Spring Training that required Tommy John surgery. That procedure is expected to keep him out until midseason 2022, which explains the contract’s backloaded structure. That came on the heels of a 2020 campaign also wrecked by injury, as he was limited to just 4 1/3 frames with the Padres that season.
Because it’s been a few years since we’ve seen Yates over an extended period, it might be easy to forget how great he was at his best. A late bloomer who bounced around the league on waivers through the first few years of his MLB career, he took his game to a new level upon landing with the Padres in 2017. Over the next three seasons, the right-hander pitched to a combined 2.31 ERA across 179 1/3 innings of relief, striking out a brilliant 38.7% of batters faced while walking just 6.8%. Yates led all of baseball with 41 saves in 2019, a season that also saw him earn an All-Star nod and finish seventh in National League Cy Young award voting.
Yates turns 35 years old next March, so there’d be some risk for Atlanta even independent of his spotty recent health history. But he was utterly dominant the last time he was at full strength, and that ceiling prompted the front office to take a shot on a rebound.
We’ve seen similar deals of this ilk in the past. Tommy Kahnle and Ken Giles signed two-year contracts with the Dodgers and Mariners, respectively, last winter despite both being expected to miss the entirety of the 2021 campaign recovering from TJS. Yates offers the potential to contribute to a playoff push down the stretch next year before logging a hopefully healthy 2023 campaign. The Braves also pick up some additional upside in the form of the 2024 club option, which would look like an abolsute bargain if Yates does manage to return to anything resembling his 2017-19 form.
Jeff Passan of ESPN first reported the Braves and Yates were in agreement on a two-year, $8.25MM guarantee with a $5.75MM club option for 2024.