Toronto adds high-upside reliever Kirby Yates

January 21st, 2021

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays have signed right-hander to a one-year, $5.5 million contract, the club announced Wednesday.

The deal also comes with $4.5 million in performance bonuses for appearances and awards, according to a report from Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet. MLB Network insider Jon Heyman added that Yates could reach the full $10 million value of the deal by pitching in 70 games, and the righty would get to a total of $8.5 million if he appears in 35 games. The Blue Jays did not confirm those terms of the deal.

Toronto's interest in Yates was first reported by TSN’s Scott Mitchell, who added that the righty was in Dunedin, Fla., on Tuesday to meet with the Blue Jays.

The Blue Jays also recently agreed to terms on a one-year deal with right-hander (per a source), who is expected to pitch out of the bullpen. That deal has not yet been made official by the club.

Yates is one of the market’s most intriguing relievers after his elite 2019 season, when he posted a 1.19 ERA with 41 saves while striking out 15 batters per nine innings. Free agency came a year too late for Yates, as he struggled in '20, allowing six runs over 4 1/3 innings before undergoing surgery to address bone chips in the back of his right elbow.

When healthy, Yates possesses a brilliant splitter with a four-seam fastball that averaged 93.5 mph in 2019, according to Statcast. Yates was also excellent in '18, posting a 2.14 ERA in 65 games for the Padres.

Set to turn 34 before Opening Day, Yates should have a clear path to closing games for the Blue Jays, who lost former closer Ken Giles in 2020 to injury and, eventually, Tommy John surgery. Manager Charlie Montoyo filled that role with a combination of Jordan Romano, Rafael Dolis, Anthony Bass and A.J. Cole.

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While Romano, Dolis and Cole are all returning in 2021, the addition of Yates would allow Montoyo to use some of these pieces more aggressively in earlier innings, something done successfully at times in '20. That group profiled much differently than many past Blue Jays bullpens, too, with multiple high-velocity arms and impressive strikeout numbers. That’s an area where Toronto has trailed behind the rest of baseball in recent years.

Prior to his four seasons with the Padres and a brief stop with the Angels, Yates got to know the American League East well as a member of the Yankees (2016) and Rays (2014-15).