The Toronto Blue Jays will likely play the season without one of their top free-agent signings. Reliever Kirby Yates, who was expected to be Toronto's closer in 2021, appears instead headed for Tommy John surgery. Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins told reporters on Tuesday that Yates had undergone an MRI after originally being diagnosed with a flexor-pronator strain, according to Sportsnet's Arden Zwelling.

"It's most likely going to be a Tommy John revision," Atkins said. "Still very fresh with the information. But that's the most likely outcome."

Yates, who will celebrate his 34th birthday this week, missed most of last season after undergoing surgery to remove bone spurs. He was limited to just six appearances in 2020 with the Padres, and he wasn't particularly effective in them. Since 2018, Yates has managed a 2.04 ERA (198 ERA+) and a 5.85 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 131 outings. He's also saved 55 games and has finished an additional 27. The Blue Jays were optimistic enough about his potential to return to form to guarantee him $5.5 million for the year. Obviously this is not what they had in mind.

Yates' injury is the third suffered this spring by a Blue Jays pitcher of note. Young right-handed starter Nate Pearson is expected to be sidelined for several weeks as well after he recently reaggravated a groin injury. Meanwhile, reliever Thomas Hatch has been dealing with elbow discomfort. Hatch seemed likely to fill a middle-relief role after he posted a 2.73 ERA over 26 innings last year.

With Yates unavailable, the Blue Jays will likely turn to some combination of Jordan Romano and Rafael Dolis in the ninth inning. Dolis finished second on the Blue Jays staff last season by amassing five saves, or two fewer than team leader Anthony Bass

The Blue Jays are expected to be a serious contender in the American League this year after a busy winter. SportsLine's projections have Toronto down for 85 wins. In addition to Yates, the Blue Jays signed two of the top free-agent position players, in outfielder George Springer and shortstop Marcus Semien. Toronto also re-signed lefty Robbie Ray, traded for Steven Matz, and inked Tyler Chatwood and David Phelps