Yankees' lost September 2023 was extremely important for 2 reasons

Plenty was accomplished last fall.
New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays
New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays / Douglas P. DeFelice/GettyImages

Of all the lost months of 2023 for the Yankees, September created the most numbness. In its first week, hope sprung shockingly eternal after the arrival of Jasson Dominguez and the reveal that he might have Martian-like qualities after all, launching liftoff in Houston. Shortly thereafter, those shreads of hope dissipated. First, he was scratched. Then, he was sore. Then, he was surgically repaired.

But those three weeks at the end of the season you probably didn't watch appear to have set the tone for an all-important 2024 -- and not just because a romping at the hands of the Kansas City Royals gave Carlos Rodón a firm chance to turn his back on a lost year.

Once it was clear they'd be eliminated before October's arrival, the Yankees took advantage of their plight, showcasing their internal talent and continuing to widen their pitching search. Rather than accept defeat and restrict their operations, they simply kept shopping.

And, now that 2024 has gotten off to a hot start, it's clear the Yankees owe a degree of their success to two important decisions from the end of their biggest failure in decades: allowing Michael King to test himself in the rotation, and getting Luke Weaver in the building (and the lab) silently, while no one else was looking.

Yankees excelled in getting garbage time with Luke Weaver, gassing up Michael King

The Yankees have built up enough trust in the bullpen/swingman department in recent years that, when they re-signed Weaver out of the blue this offseason and added a 2025 club option, it was fair to assume they'd found something last season.

The righty was initially claimed last Sept. 12, during a portion of the season where the Yankees were merely trying to survive to the finish line, employing arms like Zach McAllister and Anthony Misiewicz to cover frames. Weaver made three starts, posting a 3.38 ERA with 16 Ks in 13 1/3 innings pitched. Intriguing, but difficult to judge from an outside perspective. It was the offseason return that cemented the Yankees had seen something in his grips that they could mold, and thus far, the hint they perceived last fall has grown into a full-blown roar. They did an incredible job keeping Weaver in the program; as it turns out, their search to replace Multi-Inning Michael King was completed before King himself had even departed.

That, of course, was the Yankees' other masterstroke. If they were still scratching and clawing for playoff position, would they have acquiesced to King's request to return to his roots? Clearly, they had enough confidence in the right-hander to nod their head in his direction, but it's unlikely that even the Yankees expected his stuff to sustain so well at the end of a long season in the bullpen. King's seven-inning, one-run, 13-strikeout start against Toronto on Sept. 20 defined his late stretch of dominance, allowing the Yankees to sell the righty as a two-years-of-control potential future ace, as well as someone they really didn't want to part with in a potential Juan Soto trade.

That was certainly true. If the Yankees could've kept King as rotation depth, they would've loved to do so. But a one-month stretch in a lost year was the only thing that made him viably "untouchable" in a life-changing Juan Soto trade. That same month turned Jhony Brito into a commodity, too (20 innings, 19 Ks, 1.35 ERA).

A month of baseball consumed by no one other than the genuine diehards resulted in the Yankees getting a head start on their second-best reliever of 2024 and set them up to build a narrative in a Soto deal that allowed them to emerge with the prize and keep a significant foundation of talent intact. If 2024 ends as special as it's begun, fans might just have 2023 to thank, as well as the Yankees' dogged pursuit of success at the margins, even as everything on the surface looks like swirling failure.