Despite manager Aaron Boone confirming that yes, Yankees 2022 trade deadline acquisition Frankie Montas will need shoulder surgery, the far more important injury news to come out of Wednesday's Pitchers and Catchers report date was overwhelmingly positive.
The 2022 Yankees season started its journey off the rails in earnest when relief ace Michael King threw a few pitches during a tight contest in Baltimore and walked off the mound clutching his elbow.
Though fans immediately blamed Aroldis Chapman, whose malfeasance in a comfortable victory made King's presence necessary in the first place, that was always a stretch; King confirmed eventually that he'd been feeling the pain for weeks and tried to pitch through it. The "pop" occurred at Camden Yards, but the foundation had been laid by secrecy.
When King walked off the mound, his lowest point coming after a first half filled with highs, it was essentially the death knell for the Yankees' campaign. Think of how many August, September and October losses would've been averted if they'd had a man who could erase 2-3 high-leverage innings in a blink?
Plus, who knew, at the time of the injury, when he'd return? How could a popped elbow not lead to Tommy John and a year-and-a-half away from the game that had only just started to reward him?
Somehow, King averted that disaster, needing a different type of procedure that was slated to knock him out for the rest of 2022, but wasn't supposed to bleed into 2023 if he played his cards right. According to King, everything went exactly according to plan; not only is he ready for spring training, but he's not limited in any way and has been throwing for weeks.
Yankees most important reliever Michael King full-strength heading into Spring Training 2023
The Yankees' bullpen, a strong unit that found itself without a closer down the stretch in 2022, should have King's wipeout breakers ready for multi-inning duty in no time.
"When Michael King first underwent surgery for a stress fracture in his throwing elbow in July, the Yankees right-hander wrote down all the things he could not do. A meticulous notetaker, King’s list included touching his shoulder and run-of-the-mill tasks such as brushing his air and putting on a backpack. The point was to cross out each task once King regained the ability to do them, giving him “little victories” that symbolized the progress he made. Back in September, King had crossed off every item on his list, except for the last one: 'throw a baseball.' His goal was to do so between the end of October and the end of November. On Monday (Nov. 14, 2022), King shared that he had completed his to-do list, posting a video of himself throwing on Instagram."- Gary Phillips, Sports Illustrated
And now, entering 2023, he feels unlimited in his ability to contribute. Incredible.
Last summer, King's downfall coincided with Clay Holmes losing the strike zone in a harrowing reminder of reliever fungibility.
This time around, the Yankees (should) have Holmes ready to go, a healthy King, Jonathan Loaisiga, Wandy Peralta, Lou Trivino, Ron Marinaccio, Tommy Kahnle, Clarke Schmidt, Albert Abreu, and Greg Weissert waiting in the wings.
In much the same way King's absence torpedoed a promising campaign, his return (and Kahnle's arrival, and Weissert/Marinaccio's progression...) could reinvigorate a stagnant one.