If the San Diego Padres choose to move closer Kirby Yates, the team has options in the young bullpen. Here is a look at Yates, and some possible names to look at as a replacement for him if the Preller and the Padres find a suitable trade partner.
In April of 2017, Kirby Yates was DFA’d by the Angels and claimed off waivers by the Friars; the latest project for longtime pitching coach Darren Balsley.
Once he began to use his split-change more often, that waiver claim quickly began to pay dividends for the Padres. Following the trade of Brad Hand to Cleveland in July of this past season, Yates successfully transitioned into the closer role and continued to establish himself as one of the best relievers in baseball over the past year and a half.
Yates will be 32 years old heading into the 2019 season. Despite being under control through 2021, he will be a bit older for a bullpen arm on a team not expected to compete until at least 2020. As with several other positions, the Padres have a very important decision to make this winter when it comes to the future of their closer role.
It’s hard to say what the return would be like for Yates if the Padres made him available in discussions. It’s hard to compare his situation to Hand’s as Hand was coming off a full extra season of success and was nearly four years younger than Yates will be at the start of next season. Yates does have his contract situation as an added bonus though. Like Hand, he’s under team control through 2021, but Hand was under a guaranteed $19.75 million deal with a team option for ’21 while Yates will still just be arbitration eligible. The early career numbers and the shorter track record might serve to scare off other front offices from offering up any top prospects for a reliever past the age of 30. As he did with Hand, Preller has shown that he’s perfectly willing to wait out the market until he finds an ideal trade for his team and it would be no surprise to see him roll the dice again on Yates and see if his ace reliever can continue performing at this level at least through next July.
Yates’ peripherals certainly suggest that his success so far in San Diego has been no fluke. Compared to his disastrous 2016 season with the Yankees, Yates has raised his K% by 8.8 points while lowering his BB% by 3.5. His ERA+ has also risen nearly 100 points, from 83 in 2016 to 180 in 2018. He’s done this by almost completely abandoning his slider, which he threw 32.2% of the time in 2016 compared to 4.9% of the time this past season, and instead replaced it with the split-change I mentioned earlier, which he threw 36.1% of the time for great success. So if the Padres did look to trade him, who would be interested and who would take his place?
Luckily for Preller, several teams who saw success as contenders this season, and figure to still be competing in 2019, had plenty of poor performances out of their bullpens. Atlanta, St. Louis, and Boston are all teams that should be looking for arms to nail down their 8th or 9th inning spots, and Cleveland may even be looking for more help in their ‘pen as Andrew Miller is a free agent this winter. Preller has completed deals with all four of those teams in the past and only Boston has a fairly barren farm system. Dave Dombrowski has shown in the past that he has no problem trading away any of his prospects that he does have for current commodities, but the Red Sox may still be a little wary of Preller following the Pomeranz fiasco that ultimately led to a one-month suspension for San Diego’s GM. Atlanta and Cleveland may also be looking for outfield help this offseason with the impending departures of Nick Markakis and Michael Brantley, respectively. In order to increase a return, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Preller try to package someone from the corner outfield glut that has taken shape.
Once a trade is completed, the Padres have no shortage of arms who could step up and be the latest in a very long, very successful list of Padres closers.
Maton has had a few ups and downs in his two seasons with the major league club, but a close look at his numbers this season show some significant improvements hidden by a bit of bad luck. He was able to drop his astronomical HR/9 from 2.09 to 0.57, but his ERA still saw a bit of an increase as his BABIP against jumped 75 points to a high .359. He was able to keep his GB% and K% nearly on pace with his numbers from last season while also increasing his soft contact rate. He struggled a bit with command, walking over four batters per nine innings pitched. The spin rate on his fastball is still incredibly high and at 26 next season, he still has time to develop further as a valuable bullpen piece for this team.
Jose Castillo jumped onto the scene with Venezuela at the WBC in 2017 at Petco Park. He came into a 1-0 in a high leverage situation with runners on and proceeded to strike out Christian Yelich and Nolan Arenado to get out of the jam. He continued to impress in his major league debut this June against the Reds as he struck out the side, including Joey Votto. Ultimately, Castillo would go on to have one of the many strong seasons out of San Diego’s bullpen this season as he posted a 12.21 K/9 and a WHIP under 1.00. His splits are very good for a lefty as righties are only hitting 66 points higher off of him at just .189 and striking out in 36% of at-bats. Out of all of the young bullpen arms, Castillo probably has the best shot at long-term success as a closer, and with this team, as he’ll still be just 22 years old at the start of next season.
Wingenter was a later call-up as he didn’t make his debut until August 7th, but he still managed to throw 19 innings over 22 appearances in his first chance against big league hitters. As a young fireballer, there were times that he struggled with his command, posting a BB/9 above 5. He did compensate for that by striking out 33% of batters and stranding nearly 82% of baserunners. But as with most young pitchers, he still has a lot of growing to do while showing considerable upside. Once he starts displaying better command of that fastball, he should see himself getting more chances preserving leads in high-leverage situations.
At 28, the former catcher was a bit old for a rookie. The flamethrower spent several struggling years in the Cardinals’, Pirates’, and Reds’ systems before spending a stint in independent baseball and finally finding a home, and success, in San Diego. With his plus fastball and changeup, Stock would be expected to be a high-strikeout pitcher, but he K’d just under a batter per inning this season. However, he did an exceptional job limiting hard contact and was incredibly stingy at giving up home runs, surrendering only one over 39.2 innings and also walking only 7.8% of hitters. Stock’s age may limit him a bit when it comes to the potential closer competition, but he definitely showed more than enough to earn himself a spot on the 25-man roster come next season.
If the Padres do find themselves trading yet another closer this winter, they have plenty of bullpen arms ready to step up and fill the shoes of some pretty big names who have toed the rubber for the Friars over their 49-year history.