This is the first optional assignment to the minors for Yarbrough in three years, as the 30-year-old southpaw had entrenched himself on the Tampa Bay pitching staff with generally solid performances. Last year’s 5.11 ERA was unsightly, but Yarbrough still soaked up a team-leading 155 innings on the heels of the shortened 2020 season — at a time when all 30 teams were extra cautious with pitcher workloads. Despite the career-worst ERA, Yarbrough was tendered a contract in anticipation of a return to his 2018-20 form, when the southpaw notched a 3.94 ERA with a 20.3% strikeout rate and very strong 5.8% walk rate over 344 2/3 innings.
That, however, hasn’t come to pass. Quite to the contrary, in fact, as Yarbrough will lug a career-worst 5.65 ERA to Durham for the time being. Yarbrough’s most recent outing against the White Sox was one of the worst of his career, as he was tattooed for six runs on eight hits and two walks with no strikeouts in just 1 2/3 innings.
Right-hander Shane Baz is nearing a return to the big league rotation, where the team already has Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen, Corey Kluber and spontaneous Rays breakout du jour Jeffrey Springs all pitching quite well. Yarbrough could be out of a rotation spot at that point anyhow, and since he just started on Sunday, the Rays will take this time to get a fresh arm into the bullpen in the form of Bard.
Yarbrough has more than four years of Major League service time but does not have the five years needed to refuse an optional assignment. He’ll work with the Rays’ staff in hopes of engineering a rebound, although it’s worth pointing out that his downturn over the past two seasons coincides with a drop to a career-low 86.7 mph average on his fastball.
Tampa Bay controls Yarbrough through the 2024 season, but given this year’s struggles and now this demotion to the minors, he’ll be a clear non-tender candidate at season’s end if he can’t get back on track. With Baz on the mend and Luis Patino, Yonny Chirinos, Brendan McKay and (ideally) Tyler Glasnow eventually to follow, the Rays may feel Yarbrough is best deployed as a reliever. It’s also feasible, given their annual payroll limitations, that they’ll look to move Yarbrough and shed some of his salary as the trade deadline draws nearer. That’ll depend on the health of the rest of the staff, of course, but the Rays — as is the case every year — aren’t exactly hurting for pitching depth.