Be as disgusted as you want with Aaron Hicks’ existence and the Yankees’ current left field quandary. Though the roster isn’t perfect, it’s a foolish errand to deny that the team has gotten better this offseason, even beyond the signings of Carlos Rodón and Tommy Kahnle.
The version of the Yankees that sprinted out to a record-setting pace in 2022 utilized Aroldis Chapman, Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Joey Gallo, three players who are unlikely to play a prominent role in the 2023 season. They were also missing Harrison Bader, who debuted with the team in September, and Oswald Peraza, who was mostly untouched during his first month on the bench. Oswaldo Cabrera was barely even an idea before things got dicey in August.
The 2022 Yankees, entering October, hadn’t established Peraza. They were missing DJ LeMahieu, absent nearly the entire second half and not himself, thanks to a toe issue. They didn’t get nearly what they intended to receive out of Frankie Montas. Anthony Volpe wasn’t an option, but should be this season.
There are a million reasons that, sans Rodón, the 2023 Yankees appear to be a better Opening Day product than last year’s group (which, again, set records before derailing). A reason for optimism regarding this team’s October chances that can’t be discounted, though, is in the bullpen.
The 2022 Yankees lost Chad Green early, leaving a hole in the sixth and seventh innings. This offseason, they replaced his innings with Kahnle’s electric changeup.
The 2022 Yankees lost Michael King around the trade deadline, and it absolutely killed them. For the remainder of the season and postseason, they were a King short. In 2023, they will be replacing his innings with … King himself, who was spotted up and throwing this week after a nearly-catastrophic elbow injury ended his ’22 season.
Yankees reliever Michael King’s recovery is another reason Bombers aren’t “running it back”
Every pitch from a healthy right elbow is a blessing, and no windup can ever be taken for granted, but … man, is it so good to watch King throwing again, full speed, and targeting Opening Day.
Oh, and Ron Marinaccio wasn’t available in the ALDS/ALCS, either! Another one! This seems important.
When King went down, Yankee fans tried to hide their heads in the sand and pretend their ceiling hadn’t been capped, but the reality was that no one in New York’s bullpen could do what King did: erase innings effortlessly, one at a time, in chunks.
When Clarke Schmidt became the go-to multi-inning weapon, called upon to extinguish the ghost runner in extra innings the way King had, it didn’t go quite so well.
Out of 51 King innings in 2022, there were only a few where he appeared hittable — and most of them were right before he winced and went down for the count. All told, King struck out 66 men, put up a 2.29 ERA/2.23 FIP, and finished tied for 10th in reliever fWAR for the full season, despite missing a third of it.
When rational fans talk of internal upgrades, they aren’t referring to Hicks playing out of his gourd and remembering the goal is to hit .350 instead of struggle. They mean full seasons of Peraza and Cabrera, with a dash of Volpe. They mean 162 games of Harrison Bader in center, with Aaron Judge anywhere but center. They mean Montas in the No. 5 slot, with all the pressure off.
And they should mean Marinaccio and King, who would’ve been the Yankees’ best October reliever, but was nowhere to be found. Hopefully, a full season and fulfilled promise is right around the corner.