TORONTO -- The news has gone from bad to worse for Blue Jays reliever Kirby Yates, as general manager Ross Atkins announced Tuesday that the right-hander is “most likely” headed for Tommy John surgery, the second of his career.
Yates was originally diagnosed with a flexor strain following his most recent Grapefruit League outing, but has already received a second opinion on the injury. This would keep Yates out for the entirety of the 2021 season after the Blue Jays’ presumed closer signed a one-year deal with the club this past offseason.
This presents the Blue Jays with a much greater challenge than covering the “multiple weeks” Yates was originally expected to miss. The Blue Jays have a deep group of options led by Jordan Romano, as well as Rafael Dolis, David Phelps, Tyler Chatwood and others, but it was Yates regaining his elite 2019 form that would have taken this group in theory from good to great.
In the meantime, Atkins said that the organization will revisit its external options, including trades, “in a more assertive way.”
“We are exceptionally confident in our depth in that area,” Atkins said, “but at the same time you can never have enough and we're always thinking about how we can add where it makes us better, not just to raise the floor but potentially even raising the ceiling.”
There’s risk that comes along with any reliever, of course, and that risk only elevates as they accumulate injuries throughout their career. Yates previously underwent Tommy John surgery as a college athlete in 2006 and had his 2020 season cut short by a procedure to remove bone spurs from his elbow.
This is the absolute last outcome the Blue Jays had hoped for, but there was always an understanding it was possible. Atkins said that Yates was healthy when the club signed him and had no pain or symptoms dating back to his previous injuries.
“This is part of it, you know, part of it was someone that was coming off of the procedure and we knew it was very high risk with potential of high reward,” Atkins said. “We feel very good about Kirby Yates in this environment, and [this is] just part of it. Part of it didn't work out for the Blue Jays this year.”
Expect to see the Blue Jays use multiple relievers in that ninth-inning role as they balance the traditional closer’s job with targeting high-leverage innings for their hottest arms. This is no new challenge for Charlie Montoyo, who lost Ken Giles in 2020 and had to navigate much of the season without his star closer.
The Blue Jays entered this season with the expectation that they’d need to add at the Trade Deadline -- likely to their rotation -- but those needs have already broadened and become more pressing with this injury.