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Despite some unclarity about their intentions in free agency, the Arizona Diamondbacks are currently among the teams in pursuit of free-agent relief pitcher Kirby Yates, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.
Yates missed the entire 2021 season after being diagnosed with a flexor strain that required his second Tommy John surgery.
Sources: Dbacks among teams in mix for free-agent reliever Kirby Yates, who missed all of 2021 after undergoing his second Tommy John surgery on March 24. Yates, 34, likely will command a two-year deal, with teams banking on his full return to health in the second year.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) November 23, 2021
He already has a connection to Arizona. After being selected in the fifth round of the 2005 Amateur Draft by the Boston Red Sox right out of high school, Yates did not sign and instead went to Yavapai College in Prescott.
In college, he missed the 2006 and 2007 seasons due to having his first Tommy John surgery.
The 34-year-old righty from Hawaii has been a part of five teams in his seven years in the majors, but he never got to play a game for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2021 due to the injury. He has a career 3.54 ERA and a 1.148 WHIP but was really dialed in prior to the 2020 season.
As a pseudo-closer for the San Diego Padres in 2019, he was lights out, sporting a 1.19 ERA in 60.2 innings pitched with 101 strikeouts and a league-leading 41 saves. He made the National League All-Star team that season and was ninth in NL Cy Young Award voting.
Yates could be the answer that Mike Hazen and the D-backs are seeking in free agency. Per Rosenthal, he is looking for a two-year deal, which is most likely the maximum Arizona would want to offer to any potential free agents. His seven-plus years of service time is the type of affordable experience with which the D-backs are looking to surround their young prospects.
He’s been through a career-threatening injury as a pitcher and is on the other side, which again can provide some insight for players such as Luke Weaver, who also had Tommy John surgery, or Zac Gallen, who experienced myriad injuries during the 2021 season.
Nonetheless, the D-backs need reliable bullpen arms more than they need mentors. They were tied with the Washington Nationals for the worst ERA (5.08) in the National League for relief pitching, and they ranked dead last in all of MLB in saves with 22.
By trading Joakim Soria last season and declining the option on Tyler Clippard the D-backs bullpen is missing the experience and talent someone of Yates’ caliber could bring.
At this point, there are some reservations about signing Yates, due to the injury. Most teams aren’t expecting him to return to form from surgery until 2023, per Rosenthal’s tweet. However, that is something that could absolutely also be said about the Arizona Diamondbacks next season, so perhaps this is a perfect match for both the franchise and the player.