The Yankees are betting big on one bullpen arm turned starting pitcher

yankees, michael king
May 2, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees relief pitcher Michael King (34) has the ball tossed back to him after defeating the Cleveland Guardians 4-2 at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees have officially seen two of their pitchers enter free agency, with the additional move of outrighting Domingo German. Luis Severino and Frankie Montas are now seeking new teams in the open market, though Montas might consider a one-year extension with the Yankees, possibly at a reduced rate.

Montas’ Potential Return and Injury Recovery

Montas’s entire 2023 season was predominantly spent recovering from shoulder surgery, resulting in him pitching a mere 1.1 innings towards the season’s end. Despite the setback, his performance in the two preceding seasons suggests that the Yankees might find significant value in him for 2024 without a steep financial commitment.

Filling the Rotation Gaps

The Yankees are currently facing the challenge of filling three open spots in their rotation. Michael King, formerly a bullpen pitcher, is expected to take one of these spots. At 28, King delivered an impressive 2023 season, pitching a personal best of 104.2 innings. His stats included a commendable 2.75 ERA, a 3.13 FIP, and an outstanding 10.92 strikeouts per nine innings.

michael king, yankees
Jun 5, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Michael King (34) celebrates after striking out the final batter in the tenth inning and gets the win against the Detroit Tigers after pitching a scoreless 10th inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

King’s Stellar Performances and Pitching Arsenal

King’s aptitude as a starter became evident when he achieved a 2.02 ERA over seven games, totaling 35.2 innings. His remarkable outing against the Toronto Blue Jays on September 20, highlighted by giving up only one earned run and striking out 13, demonstrated his potential as a reliable starter.

King’s arsenal consists of a four-seam fastball, change-up, sweeper, and sinker. His sweeper was particularly effective in 2023, notching a .264 average against with a notable 39.5% whiff rate.

King’s Unique Skills and Role Transition

What sets King apart is his ability to generate significant horizontal movement with his pitches—24% more with his sweeper and 20% more with his change-up compared to the average pitcher. This ability, coupled with his precision, promises an exciting future for him as a starter, even though his presence might be missed in the bullpen.

Projected Yankees Rotation and Market Opportunities

The Yankees’ projected rotation includes Gerrit Cole, Carlos Rodon, Clarke Schmidt, Nestor CortĂ©s, and King. General Manager Brian Cashman is rumored to be eyeing the free agent market for additional strength, possibly setting sights on international sensation Yoshinobu Yamamoto and considering a reunion with Jordan Montgomery, fresh off a World Series victory with the Texas Rangers.

Financial Strategy and King’s Future

The departure of Severino, Montas, and German could free up approximately $20 million in luxury tax salary, providing the Yankees with options for roster enhancement. Re-signing Montas would reduce that amount, but there remains ample financial leeway for strategic additions.

King’s development towards the end of the season injects a dose of optimism into the Yankees’ future prospects. With team control until the 2026 free-agent class and arbitration eligibility approaching next year, King’s expected salary of around $3.1 million positions him as a valuable asset at an efficient cost.

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