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What To Do With Kirby Yates

Photo: © Scott Jones | Dreamstime.com

With a few dominoes already falling on Tuesday, Padre fans are justifiably wondering how many more trades will happen between now and the July 31st deadline.  While All-Star reliever Brad Hand should warrant the best return and the most attention, that doesn’t mean that he’s the only member of the San Diego bullpen that could be on the trade block.

Outside of Hand, the surprising Kirby Yates has been the brightest spot in the Padres bullpen.  In 31.1 innings, he has a sparkling 1.72 ERA, while posting a 13.8 K/9 and limiting hitters to a .575 OPS.  This is another instance of the Padres taking a flier on a reliever and spinning gold, as Yates was selected off waivers from the Angels in late April.

The question for the Padres now is to decide what to do with the 30-year-old righty.  Do they keep him and hope that his value grows as he continues to dominate, or do they think his value has reached its peak and sell now?

Before opining on that, let’s take a look at a pair of Padres relievers (well, one’s gone now) and see if we might be able to draw any parallels to them.

 

Ryan Buchter

Like Yates, the Padres took a flier on a not-that-young journeyman reliever by signing Buchter to a minor league contract before the 2016 season.  Before the trade deadline last year, he had posted some impressive numbers, including a 2.81 ERA and 11.8 K/9.  The Padres didn’t deal Buchter, and while part of that may have been that Preller’s reputation (dealing a pair of “damaged goods” pitchers in Colin Rea and Drew Pomeranz), for the sake of this exercise, we’ll just say that they kept him on purpose, to help the team and build his own trade value.

Well, things didn’t quite work out as well as San Diego would’ve hoped, as Buchter had some slight but noticeable regression this season.

 

ERA IP K/9 BB/9 H/9 AVG OBP SLG
2016 Pre-Deadline 2.81 48 11.8 4.5 5.4 .176 .285 .315
2017 3.05 38.1 11.0 4.2 6.6 .199 .292 .404

 

The big difference here is the 96 point difference in OPS and a few extra hits, but the strikeout and walks don’t seem to have changed too much.  Though not shown, his FIP has risen from 3.07 (for all of 2016), to 4.55 this year.

A question to ponder about Buchter: Did his trade value rise or fall from last July to this one?  Had they traded him, the potential trade partner may have (rightfully) questioned Buchter’s track record, despite his good performance for a few months.  Since they kept him, did teams see him as more of an established commodity, despite the dip in performance?

 

Brad Hand

Man, this guy can’t even do a Kirby Yates piece without mentioning Brad Hand?  Well, sorry, on the trade market, it’s all about comparison, and though Yates and Hand are on the same team, they are definitely in competition with each other.  Yates is no Hand, but let’s try the same exercise with the Padres most valuable trade chip

Like Yates, the Padres took a flier on a not-that-young journeyman reliever by selecting Hand off waivers in April of 2016.  Before the trade deadline last year, he had posted some impressive numbers, including a 2.98 ERA and 10.4 K/9.  The Padres didn’t deal Hand, and while part of that may have been because of Preller’s aforementioned reputation, let’s see how things shook out for the Padres All-Star.

 

ERA IP K/9 BB/9 H/9 AVG OBP SLG
2016 Pre-Deadline 2.98 57.1 10.4 4.9 6.6 .202 .306 .303
2017 2.08 52.0 11.6 2.4 6.4 .199 .268 .301

 

Wow.  Okay, so while Hand was a valuable reliever at last year’s deadline, he’s put together an even more stellar season in 2017.  Though it’s not shown here, not only has he improved this year, but after the deadline last year, he boosted his track record by posting a 12.6 K/9, a miniscule 1.4 BB/9, and a 2.81 ERA (he did allow four homers in 30 appearances, which inflated the his ERA a bit).

By holding on to Hand, who would’ve had some decent value last year, they were able to greatly improve his stock because a) he got better, and b) his track record of success increased.

 

Back to Kirby Yates

 So, based on reviewing Yates’ current (for now) and former teammates, we can see the benefits of waiting (Hand), as well as some of the pitfalls of not selling at the highest point (Buchter).  That being said, let’s take a look at just how well Yates has performed this season.

 

ERA IP K/9 BB/9 H/9 AVG OBP SLG
2017 1.89 33.1 13.8 2.4 6.8 .203 .258 .350

 

Yates’ season has been comparable to Hand’s stats from last year, and perhaps even a little better.  Compared to Pre-Deadline Hand in 2016, Yates is striking out almost 3.5 more per nine innings, allowing half the walks, with a slight increase in slugging percentage (it went up a bit due to the home run he gave up last night).

The question becomes a balancing act of recent dominance vs. an extended track record.  Do the Padres think Yates can pull a Brad Hand and continually improve, or at least show that he can do this for an extended period of time and improve his trade value, or can he only get worse from here, and turn into Ryan Buchter next year?

 It’s worth noting that before this season, he had a 5.25 career ERA in 97.2 innings across three seasons, with a 10.4 K/9 and a 3.8 BB/9.

It’s not a given that they deal him, especially since they’ve already parted ways with Buchter and Brandon Maurer, and Hand is likely to go as well.  Seeing four bullpen pieces move, along with one or more starters, seems like a lot.  However, he’ll be 31 next year and it’s tough to imagine him having a better season next year, so for the purpose of this exercise, we’ll explore the Yates trade market like the Padres are shopping him.

The Colorado Rockies just added Pat Neshek from the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Nationals nabbed Ryan Doolittle and Ryan Madson from the Oakland A’s.  Both still have holes in their bullpen and could be interested in Yates, who would be cheaper to acquire than Hand.  The Houston Astros have Ken Giles, Luke Gregerson, and Chris Devenski in their ‘pen, but not much else, and could stand to have another arm for the playoff run.  And the Tampa Bay Rays have a bullpen so badly in need of an upgrade that they even signed Sergio Romo.

While it’s hard to say who Padres GM A.J. Preller might be interested in from those systems – especially given his penchant for rookie league teenagers – here’s a few shots in the dark at some players they might target in return for Yates.

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Nationals

Did you know that Jabari Blash has a little brother that plays first base for the Nationals rookie league team?  How fun would it be to get the family together in the Padres organization?  Well, he was drafted a month ago in the 23rd round, and as such, isn’t likely to be traded anytime soon.  A likely target could be Telmito Agustin, a 20-year-old outfielder who, like Blash, is from the Virgin Islands.  He’s hitting .252/.292/.406 in Single-A Hagerstown and has a 25.4% K rate with nine stolen bases.  MLB.com ranks him 30th in Washington’s system, which has some great players at the top and is thinner towards the bottom, but he intrigues me more than most of the guys ranked near him.

 

Rockies

Tyler Nevin, son of Phil, the former Padre and current Giants base coach, was drafted with the 38th overall pick in 2015.  While it’d be cool to have another Poway High graduate in the fold (along with Alex Dickerson), he’s probably a tough get, despite his struggles at Single-A this year, along with not having a defined defensive position.  Shael Mendoza, a 20-year-old out of the Dominican Republic currently playing rookie ball in the Pioneer League seems promising, going 19 for 22 in stolen base attempts in 28 games while putting up a .979 OPS.  He is unranked on MLB.com’s Rockies Top 30.

 

Astros

Gilberto Celestino began the season ranked 12th by MLB.com in the Astros system, but was dropped down to 23rd in the midseason rankings.  At 18 and a half years old, he’s a speedy center fielder who can cover ground, but is still working on developing some pop (2 HR, 5 doubles, and a .379 SLG in 28 rookie league games).  In the Gulf Coast League, second baseman Carlos Machado, a 19-year-old outfielder from Venezuela could also be worth taking a look at, as he’s slugging .500 in his first 24 rookie league games.

Rays

Trying to switch it up a little bit a move away from international position player prospects, the Rays 29th ranked prospect is Resly Linares, a 19-year-old lefty from the Dominican Republic.  In a short 25.1 inning sample for the Hudson Valley Renegades, he’s struck out 30 while walking ten, limiting hitters to a .151 average.

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I’m not saying that it’d be a even one-for-one swap with any of these prospects; as we saw with Maurer and Buchter, they were packaged together with Cahill to improve the return.  If that happened, you’d obviously expect more than just one of these guys, but these are just a few options from the given systems.

It will definitely be interesting to see how active the Padres are at the trade deadline, and though Yates isn’t the same caliber as Hand is, he should garner plenty of interest.  If they decide to keep him, look for him to become an important cog in the depleted Padres bullpen.

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