San Diego Padres

San Diego Padres: Do They Have a Kirby Yates Conundrum?

The San Diego Padres have been a quiet surprise, floating around .500 and in wild-card contention. But for a young, upstart team, should they take advantage of their most valuable trade chip to boost their rebuild, or stay aggressive and go for it?

2019 has been a down year for bullpens. They have been a mess all around, so if you’re a team with an elite reliever or two, and on the fence or not looking to contend, like the San Diego Padres, you’re in luck because it’s a seller’s market.

A multitude of contenders such as the Atlanta Braves, Colorado Rockies, Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins, Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Red Sox, Milwaukee Brewers, and even the Washington Nationals need or can stand to add bullpen help.

Thus, intense trade speculation surrounds guys like Will Smith, Felipe Vasquez, and Shane Greene. There’s also the chance that the likes of Sean Doolittle, Edwin Diaz, Brad Hand, and Amir Garrett are shopped.

But one name that hasn’t been mentioned enough among this group is Kirby Yates of the San Diego Padres.

Heading into play on Wednesday, the 32-year-old had 33 innings under his belt while carrying a 1.36 ERA, 1.30 FIP, and 0.91 WHIP in concert with striking out 54 of 128 batters faced- an astounding 42.2% clip (25% is roughly league-average). And opponents are hitting just .181/.252/.259 off him.

But his success isn’t anything new. Since the start of 2018, the Padres closer has been among the best relievers in baseball, posting a 1.88 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, and 2.12 FIP, with 144 strikeouts to 26 walks in 96 innings, while limiting opposing hitters to a .181/.249/.272 line.

This is a type of player you want to hold onto if you’re making a playoff push and one that’s the perfect trade chip for a rebuilding squad. But this is what makes him a bit of a puzzle for the Padres to solve because they are the unique team that is clearly rebuilding, yet surprisingly competitive.

They sit just two games out of playoff spot at the start of play Wednesday, but it’s no secret that 2019 was supposed to be the first step forward on the path back to contention.

Armed with what many believe is the top farm system in the sport, and a host of young talent on the MLB roster, legitimate contention was expected to begin in 2020 or 2021.

This would logically push Yates out of the Padres’ timeline considering he will be a 33-year-old free agent after the 2020 season. And if he keeps this up, he would likely command somewhere close top dollar.

But the Padres already have Eric Hosmer, Manny Machado, and Wil Myers signed to long-term deals, so would they want to commit such an investment to an aging pitcher, albeit one with a relatively fresh arm?

And if San Diego has no intention of paying Yates, is it worth holding on just to see him depart for nothing?

Or do they want to stick to the plan and continue to build around their young core while collecting what they can for those not in the long-term picture? This would entail moving Yates at his peak value, which would be anytime before the July 31st trade deadline.

They can always trade him in the offseason, but at that point, he likely won’t net the “overwhelming offer” they reportedly want for him.

Obviously, this is all for naught if the Padres have decided on a specific route to take. If they have indeed chosen to contend, they must seriously question the sustainability of what they are doing because of their youth and subpar rotation.

The decision will be easier if they start to falter or other premium arms set the market. But until then, it’s easy to see the Padres staying put and not forcing a move.

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