NEW YORK – Kirby Yates isn’t used to this type of attention.
The San Diego Padres’ All-Star closer is on his fifth team in as many seasons. He didn’t really have to ever concern himself with trade rumors like the ones popping up now that he’s become arguably the game’s best reliever with his sparkling 1.05 ERA.
“This is weird for me because I’ve switched teams so many times that I’m usually the guy everybody is getting rid of,” Yates said. “If teams are calling and want to target me and stuff like that, it’s neat in an aspect based on where I was and the 180 flip of it now.”
With the Padres fading in the wild card race, Yates’ status has become a hot topic since there is a league-wide need for more relief pitching, and the Padres will listen to offers. One good reliever could make a world of difference for contenders like the Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins and Washington Nationals, and Yates could be that difference-maker.
Padres general manager A.J. Preller did not sound like a general manager ready to cash in on Yates despite the bounty he could possibly receive. Yates added that Preller told him during a recent series in Chicago that the team wants to retain him.
The righty is under contract through the 2020 season.
“Kirby has been incredible for the last three years. This year, he’s as good as any reliever in the game,” Preller told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday afternoon at Citi Field. “If you’re going to win a championship, you’re going to need a guy like Kirby in the back of the bullpen for you. It’s that time of year where you listen on anything. You’re not going to turn your phone off, you want to listen to what other options are out there and what possibilities there are. Kirby, if we envision playing baseball deep into the season, you’re going to have a guy like Kirby at the back of the pen.
“That’s how we’ve approached the last month, really.”
The Padres’ odds of making the playoffs have dwindled due to their 3-9 showing since the break, which included another series loss here in New York.
Yates did not appear in this series, and has pitched only three times in the second half since his team has not had many leads to give him.
With this season looking like a lost cause, the Padres are in a spot in which they could stand to cash in on Yates’ value and add even more prospects to their core.
It remains to be seen if the San Francisco Giants will trade any of their available relievers, which would enhance the value of any others relievers on the blocks. Yates’ value is also higher now than it likely will be at any other time he’s a Padre.
Preller and his staff know all too well that having an elite closer on a losing team is a wasted asset, and when presented with that dilemma following they 2015 season, they shipped Craig Kimbrel to the Boston Red Sox. The Padres have the talent to contend in 2020, but they have to make an honest assessment of how close they are to challenging the Dodgers considering Yates can leave after the season.
The team could also pursue an extension to ensure they have Yates for several more years, and could always just ride it out considering they would be in position to receive a nice haul next summer if Yates continues to dominate.
“He’s been great for us the last few years. He’s been great on the field, as good as it gets,” Preller said. “In the clubhouse, being a leader, being a guy that does things the right way every single day on the field, off the field, he’s been a big-time example for us. He’s a guy we’re going to look to grow with in the next few years.”
Yates would prefer to remain in San Diego.
“I don’t really pay attention to it. I’m not a guy that searches Twitter or anything like that. I don’t look for certain things,” Yates said. “If you’re out there and wanted to go find things, I’m sure I could find them. I love it here, and want to stay in here.”
Keeping Yates in San Diego certainly seems like a win-win move since the two have enjoyed a beneficial partnership.
Yates, a Hawaii native, spent time with the Rays, Indians, Yankees and Angels before finally landing with the Padres in April 2017.
While Yates posted a 5.38 ERA with those other teams, he appealed to the Padres for two main reasons, according to Preller.
First, they liked how his fastball, which is averaging 94 mph this season, played at his level. They also felt that his split-finger fastball gave him a legitimate out pitch.
Within the Padres’ structure, Yates’ split-finger has developed and flourished into one of the most lethal offerings by any reliever.
He started using the pitch in 2017, threw it 37 percent of the time last year, and has upped it to 42.5 percent this year, according to BrooksBaseball.net.
Opponents have hit .143, .170 and .155 against his split-finger the last three years, respectively. Hitters have actually fared better over these last three years against Kenley Jansen’s cutter and Aroldis Chapman’s fastball, two other elite offerings.
“The [Padres] helped me understand how to use. Talking about fastball and fastball command, and the ability of being able to throw my fastball where I want,” Yates said Tuesday afternoon. “The execution rate of the fastball has probably gone up and with that the split has gone up with it. It’s a swing-and-miss pitch that complements my fastball really good and vice versa.”
He’s converted 41 of 44 saves since the Padres traded Hand, including 31 of 33 this year. Yates has yielded just 26 hits while striking out 70 spanning 43 innings.
“There’s not a lot of closers that let you rest through most ninth innings and he’s done that consistently all year long,” Padres manager Andy Green said. “It’s been low-stress, it’s been highly dominant. Even the blown saves he has have been dribblers out in front of home plate, errors behind him. He’s been awfully sharp.”
Now, Yates just waits to see if he will continue to be the Padres’ closer, and he hopes to be for a long time.
“Teammates are awesome. It’s a lot of fun to come to the field every day. Even the last two years when we weren’t very good, it was still great to be around the guys and I had a really good time,” Yates said. “I have a really good relationship with the staff, everyone has been super welcoming to me. I’ve developed a good relationship with the organization.”
More from Yahoo Sports: