The Boston Red Sox may be the best fit for a trade partner if the San Diego Padres look to deal closer Kirby Yates for a long-term rotation upgrade.
The Boston Red Sox have clear objectives to reduce payroll and upgrade their bullpen. Making a trade with the San Diego Padres could be the solution for both of these goals if they put Kirby Yates on the market.
Yates is among the top closers in baseball. He led the majors with 41 saves while posting a microscopic 1.19 ERA and 0.89 WHIP. His 14.98 K/9 ranked fifth among relievers and he was among the best at limiting free passes with a 1.93 BB/9. Yates also led all NL relievers with 3.4 WAR, per FanGraphs.
Why would the Padres be eager to move one of the game’s best relievers? MLB.com’s Matt Kelly explains in an article about trades that could shake up the relief pitcher market.
"“For starters, Yates is a year away from free agency,” writes Kelly. “The Dodgers aren’t going away, and San Diego has a lot of ground to make up — 36 games, if one goes by this year’s standings — to match Los Angeles. There’s Padres stars on the rise like Fernando Tatis Jr. and MacKenzie Gore, but San Diego also has plenty of holes to fix in a heavily right-handed lineup. As hard as it would be to give up a closer like Yates, it’s an opportunity to add outside reinforcements and build around the youngsters.”"
A top-tier closer is an unnecessary luxury for non-contender. The Padres have a bright future with several promising young players and a loaded farm system but they appear to be at least a couple of years away from contending after finishing 19 games out of a Wild Card spot in 2019. Yates could bolt in free agency before their window opens so if they aren’t confident that they can re-sign him, now is the time to trade him.
San Diego has a potential in-house replacement with flamethrower Andres Munoz, which might give them a reason not to shell out a lucrative contract for Yates next year.
The Red Sox are considered the “best fit” for a Yates trade due to their need to upgrade the back end of their bullpen. As dominant as Brandon Workman was once he finally ascended to the closer seat, his limited track record may lead the Red Sox to seek a more proven option. Lengthening the bullpen would build a stronger bridge to the ninth inning and prevent their top relievers from being overworked.
Kelly’s article mentions David Price as the bait to lure Yates away from San Diego. The Padres starting rotation ranked 12th in the NL with a collective 4.66 ERA despite playing half their games in one of the most pitcher-friendly ballparks in the majors. A starting pitcher they control for more than one season has more value than one more year of Yates.
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The Padres are rumored to be in the hunt for Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. If they strike out in free agency, Price could provide them with a solid fallback plan. They must be able to afford his $32 million annual salary if they are willing to chase the top starters on the market and Price comes with only a three-year commitment – short enough to mitigate the risk that comes with investing in an expensive pitcher but long enough that he’ll remain a factor when their window to contend opens.
Price is no longer on the same level as Cole and Strasburg but he was excellent this year until a cyst on his wrist derailed his season and he pitched well when healthy in the previous two seasons. You can call him an injury risk but what pitcher isn’t? Price should be fully recovered from the surgery to remove the cyst and enter 2020 with a clean bill of health.
MLB Trade Rumors projects Yates to earn $6.5 million in his final year of arbitration. Swapping him for Price would save the Red Sox $24.5 million in 2020 for luxury tax purposes, putting Boston comfortably below the threshold with enough room to add a cheap rotation replacement in free agency or via trade.
The Red Sox rotation would be weaker without Price but the concern is partially offset by a stronger bullpen. Boston essentially has to take a step back somewhere if they are serious about cutting payroll to avoid the tax. Getting out of Price’s contract is a more palatable option than some of the other scenarios that have been rumored.
There has been no indication that these clubs have discussed a potential deal but it’s clear how they match up as trade partners. If the Padres start shopping Yates, keep an eye on the Red Sox as a suitor.