The issue with pitching is that any pitcher, at any moment, of any skill level, can just … disappear. The Yankees learned baseball’s harshest lesson once again on Friday night, when ace reliever Michael King, capable of erasing one to two innings in the blink of an eye, bounced a curve in the eighth against the Orioles and immediately signaled for the trainer.
Through most of the 2022 season, the Yankees’ only bullpen constants have been Clay Holmes and King. The two back-end aces have had to be available more often than not, papering over deficiencies created by Chad Green’s season-ending surgery and Aroldis Chapman and Jonathan Loaisiga’s varying degrees of meltdown.
Now, King will be unavailable for the remainder of the 2022 season and postseason, as initial tests Friday night dampened the clubhouse mood and indicated an elbow fracture had appeared out of nowhere.
Some will take solace in the fact that the trade deadline is just around the corner, and the hole created by King’s absence at least came in time for a replacement to arrive. But King holds the third-best reliever WAR in the league, missing out on a deserved All-Star appearance last week. His ability to cover multiple innings was a game-changer for a Yankees team that raced out ahead of their AL East competition.
Even with King in place, this Bombers bullpen needed deadline help. Replacing King will help, sure, but adding to King was a far surer thing.
Yankees replacements for Michael King after elbow injury
Now, at the very least, King will not miss the 2023 season as well, according to early reports. This isn’t ligament damage, as many feared when the right-hander signaled to his manager and whispered, “It’s the elbow.” It will keep him out long-term, but not into next year — unlike the tragic story of Chad Green entering free agency mid-rehab.
Internally, the Yankees have a few underutilized options who should get more run in King’s place. When Ron Marinaccio’s own injury rehab is completed, he should be elevated one level on the trust tree. Clarke Schmidt, too, can immediately come up and cover multiple innings, even though he’s been groomed as a starter. JP Sears, too.
None of those three pitchers are veterans, though, which means there’s still a glaring need for the Yankees to add experience in trade. David Robertson is the most familiar name (and King-esque escape artist) on the market, but unless he’s paired with All-Star Ian Happ, that would likely require a stiff price. Colorado’s Daniel Bard has an erratic past, but is in the midst of a superstar season. Detroit’s Michael Fulmer has been reliable this season, and nearly Holmes-esque in his devotion to avoiding barrels.
Again, however, all of these names would be more appealing if they could’ve been slotted next to King, not in his place. It hurts.
Perhaps a Loaisiga resurgence, where the filthy right-hander returns to the level analysts expected of him after a breakout 2021, will make fans forget about what they lost. So far, though, there’s been very little indication of a full bounce back to normalcy there, and there’s been absolutely nothing to indicate Chapman is closer to success than a DFA.
The 65-30 Yankees got to where they are in large part because of King’s contributions. That will never be forgotten. From now until the end, though, there will be a hole, no matter what deadline maneuvers are to follow.