Yankees may not have elite bullpen arm for Opening Day

michael king, yankees

As the Yankees gear up for the 2023 season, they’ve had to answer plenty of internal health questions regarding the availability of many critical pieces on the team.

DJ LeMahieu seems to have progressed well and should be ready for Opening Day, but updates on Michael King would suggest he may not be. The Yankees relied on Michael King heavily in the 2022 season before he fractured his throwing elbow in an outing at Baltimore, so his health is a massive question mark.

Chris Kirschner of The Athletic reported while answering questions in his latest article that “King may not be fully ready to go by the start of the regular season.”, which could mean the Yankees will have to go internally in order to fill in for King as he rehabs. While he is progressing well in rehab, how does this affect the Yankees’ bullpen alignment on Opening Day?

Buying Some Arms More Time

Albert Abreu and Domingo German both are out of MiLB options and are on the chopping block. While neither performed poorly in 2022, the Yankees have a flurry of high-upside arms that are either better right now or have a higher ceiling. Michael King not being ready for Opening Day buys them more time on the roster to outpitch other guys on the team. Abreu is someone the Yankees like a lot, as they traded him in a deal for Jose Trevino but then brought him back after he was DFA’d. His high-octane arm boasts impressive velocity, and while he broke down towards the end of the year, he still had a K-BB% above 18% and a GB% nearing 50%.

His sinker-slider combination is really strong, and at the age of 27, there’s still room for him to put it all together and become one of the best relievers in their bullpen. The Yankees don’t seem like they want to give him up just yet, and perhaps having a shot to move up the bullpen could make him a permanent fixture in this bullpen.

As for Domingo German, he and Clarke Schmidt are going to be in direct competition for the 6th starter job. They both know the Yankees are going to load-manage guys like Severino, Cortes, and even Carlos Rodón to make sure they’re 100% for the postseason. They’ll have a shot to make multiple starts throughout the year and fill in if there’s an injury, but even when they’re not starting, they could serve a role in the bullpen. Schmidt can be optioned and stay with the organization if the Yankees feel he isn’t doing his job, but for German, it would most likely be a DFA.

New York Yankees, Domingo German
Jul 21, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Domingo German (55) reacts after a play during the second inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees seem to value Domingo German quite a bit, sticking with him in the rotation in 2022 even when he got shelled early on. As he approaches the age of 30, his role on the Yankees seems a little less clear and optimistic than the likes of Albert Abreu. He hasn’t been used as a reliever like Schmidt has in high-leverage, and with just two years of control after this, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Yankees dealt him before Opening Day.

If they don’t, he has some time to establish himself as a reliever and potentially stick in the Yankee bullpen, but that’s a tall task, as his Stuff+ of just 98.2 would make it hard for him to leapfrog his peers. They won’t have much.

Will the Yankees Get Much From Michael King?

In that very same article, Kirschner also said that King has already begun his throwing program and is progressing well, so there’s optimism in his ability to return to 100%. He may not be ready for Opening Day, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be here early in the season and impact this team in a positive manner. It’s probably for the best that he does get time to rehab with the MiLB teams as he finds his command on the sweeper and fastballs. Velocity seems to stabilize a lot sooner than command, which takes a really long time to re-discover.

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

Michael King isn’t necessarily a command-first pitcher with a 101.5 Location+ and 8.0% BB% in 2022, hovering around the league average, but getting back to that point is key. Velocity is the biggest question mark, as if he loses a tick on his fastball, it’ll affect his raw stuff, but in 2021 we saw him succeed at over a tick lower in velocity, so I don’t think he’ll take a massive step back. He sat at 94.7 MPH over his final 19.0 IP in 2021 and pitched to the tune of a 2.37 ERA and 25.6% K-BB%, so I have confidence that he’ll remain one of the top relievers in the game after his return.

The Yankees have the depth to thrive even with Michael King on the IL, but they’re going to welcome King back with open arms upon his return. He’s arguably their best reliever when we look at raw stuff and performance, and he fills the multi-inning role beautifully. His versatility late in games is also extremely helpful, as he can take on the 7th and 8th in one game and then close out another, it’s a luxury to have in any bullpen.

If the Yankees get King at 80% of what he was in 2022, they’ll boast a bullpen that is unhittable on paper. They’ve got all types of movement profiles and elite velocity, and Michael King can hopefully get back on the mound sooner rather than later in 2023.