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Yankees Potential Trade Target: Kirby Yates

The Bombers don’t need him, but it sure is fun to imagine a bullpen that includes the dominant righty strikeout artist

MLB: Colorado Rockies at San Diego Padres Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees have a super bullpen, with elite relievers such as Aroldis Chapman, Tommy Kanhle, Zack Britton, Chad Green, Adam Ottavino and whoever emerges from a group of talented arms that includes Ben Heller, Luis Cessa, Jonathan Loaisiga, Jonathan Holder and others. One of Jordan Montgomery, J.A. Happ and Domingo German - when he comes back from suspension - will also, most likely, head to the bullpen.

It is by no means a need, but if the Yankees want to soften the blow of losing Dellin Betances, they could try to swing a deal for San Diego Padres closer Kirby Yates.

The Padres’ contention window is opening quicker than the blink of an eye. However, Yates is 32, in his walk year and projected to earn a $6.5 million salary according to MLB Trade Rumors. The Friars already fielded calls for him near last year’s deadline, and may look to move him instead of seeing him depart and enter the open market after the 2020 season.

If he pitches like he has in the last two years, Yates is going to command more money than the Padres are comfortable spending. On the other hand, after handing a $324 million contract to Gerrit Cole, the Yankees might not even consider trading for a reliever slated to be a free agent after 2020.

If they give up significant assets, the most logical scenario for the Yankees would be signing him to an extension or at least try to secure his services in free agency later in the year. While possible, we can safely say that such a scenario is unlikely.

It doesn’t hurt to dream though, right? If the Yankees manage to land Yates somehow, their bullpen would evolve from scary to downright unfair. The funniest thing is that the All-Star closer has already been a Yankee in the past.

He played in the Bronx in 2016 but the results weren’t very good. Although he punched out 50 hitters in 41.1 frames, he had a 5.23 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP.

By that time, he threw his fastball around 59 percent of the time and his slider nearly 33 percent of the time. It was around that time when, prompted by the Yankees’ staff, he decided to learn a different pitch. Yates watched the likes of Nathan Eovaldi and Masahiro Tanaka and started crafting a splitter.

He had a brief stint with the Los Angeles Angels and then, in 2017, arrived to the Padres. He was very good in 2017 (3.97 ERA in 56.2 innings, 13.98 K/9, 3.02 BB/9) and he started throwing his splitter that year. He did it nearly 10 percent of the time.

Yates increased his splitter usage in 2018 to 37.0 percent, and he took off. He had a 2.14 ERA in 63 innings, with 12.86 K/9 and 2.43 BB/9. He took his game to another level in 2019, upping the splitter usage to 41.9 percent. He had a 1.19 ERA (1.30 FIP) with 14.98 K/9 and 1.93 BB/9. He had 3.4 fWAR, which for a reliever is absolutely insane.

Unlike a starter, a relief pitcher can get by with two pitches. One of them, at least, should be very good. Yates has two absolutely filthy pitches in his four-seamer and his splitter.

The four-seamer held hitters to a batting average of .216 (with an even better .176 expected batting average or xBA.) Batters had a .274 wOBA against the offering, and a .248 xwOBA. The splitter had a .153 batting average against in 2019, with a xBA of .168. His wOBA was a meager .182, with a .203 xwOBA.

Imagine having this pitch in the Yankees’ bullpen:

The acquisition cost should not be particularly cheap. However, it may be an idea worth exploring for the Yankees in order to get over the hump.