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As Dodgers methodically rebuild bullpen, Kirby Yates is an appealing target

San Diego Padres reliever Kirby Yates pitches against the San Francisco Giants on Aug. 31, 2019.
San Diego Padres reliever Kirby Yates.
(Ben Margot / Associated Press)

One week into 2021, the Dodgers’ offseason transactions have so far focused on the bullpen. They’ve officially added five relievers to their 40-man roster. Blake Treinen and Scott Alexander were re-signed. Corey Knebel and Garrett Cleavinger were acquired in trades. Tommy Kahnle was signed to a two-year deal.

Knebel could help sturdy the bridge to the ninth inning. Alexander and Cleavinger give the Dodgers left-handed depth. Kahnle was added for 2022 after undergoing Tommy John surgery in August. None are expected to close games, at least not yet.

The Dodgers prefer entering spring training with Kenley Jansen as the closer despite his struggles in 2020. Last month, manager Dave Roberts said that’s the team’s “best-case scenario.” But prominent closers remain on the slow-moving free-agent market and the Dodgers have been linked to two: right-hander Liam Hendriks and left-hander Brad Hand.

The Dodgers’ interest in Hendriks, widely regarded as the best free-agent reliever, has recently dissipated, according to people with knowledge of the situation. The 31-year-old Hendriks wants a four-year contract. But going to four years for a reliever isn’t in the Dodgers’ playbook this winter.

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The Dodgers aren’t willing to give free agent Justin Turner a four-year contract and are exploring DJ Lemahieu, Eugenio Suárez and Kris Bryant as options.

Hendriks and Treinen were teammates for 2½ seasons in Oakland. Hendriks replaced Treinen as closer in 2019 and became one of the top relievers in baseball. Treinen said he isn’t attempting to recruit Hendriks to Los Angeles.

“Look, I’m a reliever,” Treinen said in a videoconference call with reporters. “I’m not Mike Trout or Nolan Arenado or Mookie Betts or any of these mainstay names that will be in households for decades to come. ... The Dodgers are going to do their own thing whether they want to recruit him or not. He’s a phenomenal talent. I think anybody would like having him on the team.”

Hand would come cheaper on a shorter deal. The 30-year-old left-hander posted a 2.05 earned-run average in 23 games for Cleveland in 2020, but that didn’t stop the franchise from declining his $10-million option for 2021.

Kirby Yates, another former All-Star closer, would cost even less and the Dodgers have significant interest in him, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

Yates, 33, emerged as a premier reliever when he joined the San Diego Padres as a waiver claim during the 2017 season. He compiled a 1.67 ERA and 53 saves over 2018 and 2019 but logged just 4 1/3 innings in 2020 before undergoing season-ending elbow surgery in August. He would represent another low-cost, high-ceiling bullpen investment for Los Angeles.

Blake Treinen gives a yell after getting Atlanta's Marcell Ozuna to fly out to end an inning in the NLCS.
Blake Treinen yells after ending the seventh inning on a fly out by Atlanta’s Marcell Ozuna, right, in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Treinen signed a two-year contract with a club option Tuesday and will earn at least $17.5 million. It’s a sizable expenditure for a noncloser reliever but it affords the Dodgers some security. Treinen was maybe the best reliever in the majors for the Oakland Athletics in 2018. He was a trusted option for the Dodgers in 2020. The organization believes Treinen can further tap into his potential in 2021.

“There was a handful of other teams that were pretty aggressive in wanting to sign me,” Treinen said. “The Dodgers checked all the boxes on things we were looking for and so we ended up coming back. Any time the best team in baseball wants to sign you, it’s a blessing.”

Adding Treinen doesn’t end the Dodgers’ effort to bolster the bullpen, but it likely shifts their approach. They can afford to wait the market out and strike at the right price if a worthwhile opportunity rises. There’s no shortage of options.


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