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The Yankees Bullpen is Falling Apart, Now What?


Michael King, a centerpiece to the Yankees’ bullpen, suffered a fractured elbow Friday. (Nick Wass/AP)

The Yankees Bullpen is Falling Apart, Now What?

The New York Yankees earned their MLB-best 65th win of the season over the Baltimore Orioles Friday evening, 7-6. But they also might’ve subsequently suffered their biggest loss of the 2022 campaign as well.

Yankees reliever Michael King is believed to have fractured his elbow, ending his season, according to the New York Post’s Joel Sherman. It occurred after throwing his 17th pitch — a slider — on an 0-2 count with one out in the bottom of the 8th inning. King noticeably was in pain after hurling the 82 MPH breaking ball, walking towards the dugout in the pain and abruptly leaving the game.

Yankees closer Clay Holmes got the final two outs of the inning on two pitches.

“Saw the same thing happen to [Chad Green] last time we were here. It’s never good,’’ Aaron Judge said after the game. “Especially how big of a bullpen piece (King) has been for us, the work he puts in day in and day out to get to this position.

“One of our high-leverage guys. It’s tough to see. He’s in our prayers, that’s for sure.’’

By all accounts, King — who features a four-pitch mix, including a devastating two-seam/slider combo to righties — has been one of the Yankees’ top relievers this season and, frankly, one of the best in baseball. He owns a 2.29 ERA, a 2.23 FIP, fanning 33.2 percent of his batters while only having walked eight percent of them — all of which were career bests over a full MLB season. King sported a career-best 24.2 K-BB%, nearly doubling his previous best of 13.8% set last season.

For the most part, King assumed the fireman role — a role held by Chad Green, who underwent Tommy John Surgery earlier in the year, also ending his season prematurely. King was New York’s most suited arm to enter a pressure-packed situation out of the ‘pen and get out of it unscathed. According to Baseball Reference, King entered with a team-most 20 inherited runners on base throughout the season. A total of three — equating to 15.0 percent — of the inherited runners he allowed scored, the best rate on the team.

Now, King joins a long list of injured Yankees relievers: Green, Miguel Castro, Ron Marinaccio and Zack Britton, who has yet to pitch this season after rehabbing from TJ Surgery.

Castro was placed on the injured list before the All-Star break and was shut down for four weeks; Britton should be returning sometime in late August or September barring a setback, although there hasn’t been an official timetable set yet. Marinaccio, a rookie, could be returning this weekend and has been beneficial in his limited big-league bullpen action — good news!

It doesn’t help the matter that Jonathan Loaisiga hasn’t looked like 2021-dominant self since returning from the IL prior to the break and that Aroldis Chapman can’t be trusted in big spots anymore. New York needs those two now more than ever, along with Marinaccio (when he returns), Holmes, Albert Abreu, Wandy Peralta and Lucas Luetge, plus others in the rotation (Jameson Taillon, Jordan Montgomery, Nestor Cortes Jr.) to continue holding up their end of the bargain for as long as their arms can allow them to.

That might be asking a lot out of players who might not have the capacity or the wherewithal to withstand this much of a workload for an extended period of time.

The bullpen, which was once considered arguably the Yankees’ biggest strength over the last several years, might have simply deflated into perhaps it’s the most glaring weakness with the snap of a finger.

What now?

New York’s best option to replace King who’s already on the 40-man roster is Clarke Schmidt, who’s pitched to a 3.00 ERA in 14 appearances (24.0 IP). He’s struggled to find his footing in the majors throughout the last few years, but has excelled as a starter in Triple-A Scranton and possesses the stuff worthy of contributing at the big-league level. He still has two options left.

Thankfully for the Yankees, however, it can still look for external options with the trade deadline being over a week away — set to be on Aug. 2 at 6 p.m. ET.

I tossed out the idea the Yankees needed pitching depth when I examined potential 1-2 needs plus options for each AL contender. I said New York needed an “additional rotation arm plus bullpen piece” which could “go a long way into managing the pitching staff the rest of the way.”

Obviously, I didn’t foresee King’s injury — nobody did. Now the pressure on general manager Brian Cashman to add at least 1-2 arms is much heavier.

But who?

The two names I listed in the aforementioned piece were Colorado’s Alex Colome and Rangers’ Brock Burke, an up-and-coming 25-year-old southpaw with good velocity and strikeout numbers that Texas could extract a couple of quality prospects for.

Who are some others? Here could be five additional, but feasible options, among plenty of others:

  • David Robertson, Cubs: A once-Yankee farmhand who’s already had two stints in pinstripes, Robertson — who’s rejuvenated his career in Chicago — is one of the most attractive relievers on the market and could immediately slot into the back of their ‘pen.
  • Chris Martin, Cubs: Staying in the Windy City, Martin, another former Yankee arm, boasts a 25.4 K-BB% and could plug into the middle of the bullpen.
  • David Bednar, Pirates: Bednar’s assumed Pittsburgh’s closing role this year and has flourished, becoming a first-time All-Star this year and the Pirates’ latest crazed pitching trade target. Over the last two seasons (104.1 IP), he’s amassed a 32.4 percent strikeout rate, a 7.7 percent walk rate, plus has pitched to a 2.50 ERA and 2.68 FIP.
  • Carl Edwards Jr., Nationals: Edwards hasn’t pitched a full MLB season since 2018 due to injuries after being one of the Cubs’ more reliable relievers from 2016-18. He signed with the Nationals in the offseason, and has pitched to a tune of a 3.15 ERA and 3.90 FIP with excellent peripherals to entice New York.
  • Michael Fulmer, Tigers: Fulmer has the propensity to walk batters, but is excellent at inducing soft-contact and an above-average ERA and FIP. As a former starter, Fulmer could eat innings if needed, too.

Even more options might include: Amir Garrett (Cubs), Andrew Chafin (Tigers), Daniel Bard (Rockies), Domingo Acevedo (Athletics) and Gregory Soto (Tigers).

Now the Yankee fans will have to #LetCashCook over these next several days in what will be a very pressure-filled deadline for the New York Yankees.

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