Former saves leader Kirby Yates is back on the free agent market, with last offseason’s one-year deal with the Blue Jays having wrapped up. That $5.5MM gamble didn’t pan out for Toronto, as Yates suffered a flexor strain that required a March Tommy John surgery. The 34-year-old is expected back at some point midseason in 2022, MLBTR’s Steve Adams confirms, a timeline that seems to align with the typical approximate fourteen-month recovery from TJS.
Ken Rosenthal of Athletic reported yesterday (on Twitter) that Yates is likely to land a two-year contract this offseason. It’s become fairly common to see teams sign pitchers rehabbing from Tommy John procedures to two-year deals, writing off most or all of the first season with an eye towards buying low on a talented arm in year two. Last offseason, the Dodgers and Mariners agreed to deals of this ilk with Tommy Kahnle and Ken Giles, respectively.
In most instances, such deals involve salaries a bit above the league minimum for the first year and a few million dollars above that the following season. There’s not yet any indication about what kind of offers Yates is looking at specifically, although the possibility for a late-season return in 2022 could give him a bit of a boost relative to other similar situations. Assuming his recovery continues as planned, Yates could market two potential stretch runs and postseasons. Kahnle and Giles, on the other hand, were expected to be out for all of 2021 at the time they signed their respective deals.
Yates has barely pitched over the past two seasons on account of elbow issues, so it’s easy to forget how dominant he was at his peak. 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. Between then and the end of 2019, the right-hander pitched to a 2.31 ERA across 179 1/3 innings of relief, striking out a brilliant 38.7% of batters faced while walking just 6.8%. In addition to his aforementioned 2019 saves crown, he was selected to the All-Star game and finished seventh in National League Cy Young award voting that season.
Even as he enters his age-35 season, Yates should still have a decent number of suitors hoping he can recapture some of that late-game dominance. Rosenthal lists the D-Backs as one team with interest, and others likely have entered or will enter the fray over the coming weeks. The Twins and Dodgers were among the clubs known to have interest in Yates during his trip through free agency last winter.