Not many teams are afforded the opportunity to put clear-cut major league starting pitchers in their bullpen. It takes a few different things working out all at the same time. The first factor is pitching depth, and I’m not just talking a bunch of pitchers worthy of being on a major league roster. I’m talking a full rotation, bullpen, and upper-level minor league’s worth of good pitchers. The second is health — you never know what might happen with pitching. Everybody can do down at the same time or everybody can be healthy at the same time. The last factor is coaching/player development. You have to know what players can work in what situations and make sure all parties involved understand what each pitcher brings to the table.
Right now, all these things are clicking at the same time for the Yankees, even with their three innings leaders from the bullpen in 2021 missing significant chunks of the season thus far. Because of all this, the Yankees have been able to get over 60 innings combined from Michael King and Clarke Schmidt. These two pitchers are starters on most teams. They have the stuff that would absolutely put them at least in the 3-4 range of any given rotation.
It’s truly a privilege that the Yankees have deployed both King and Schmidt in just about any way you can imagine. Schmidt has been incredible in a few spot starts and multi-inning relief appearances in extra innings. King has been used in three innings at times, but in recent weeks has served as the setup man to Clay Holmes after injuries to the back half of the pen. King has also been the most valuable reliver in baseball by fWAR. He is without question an All-Star. Schmidt hasn’t been quite as good, but every inning he has thrown for this team has been important and he has done it while flip-flopping between the majors and minors.
Like I said earlier, these two pitchers are giving the Yankees opportunities on the field. However, the effect they might have on the Yankees’ acquisition decisions may be just as important. Brian Cashman has unbelievable flexibility heading into this trade season. King and Schmidt are under control for years to come. Schmidt in particular can serve as the foundation of a trade, or Cashman can decide to keep the proven major leaguers and ship away the other upper-level minor league talent.
Some teams become weary of trading near-MLB ready prospects because their potential is so close to being realized on the bright stage. Luckily for the Yankees, there really isn’t much room on the roster outside of shortstop, an outfield position, and the catcher position. Any minor league talent that is on the brink of the majors is best to be used in a trade package for a player that will help the 2022 Yankees in their quest to a World Series title. Nowadays, teams are so risk-averse when it comes to trading prospects, but there isn’t much risk involved when you have players like Michael King and Clarke Schmidt that can be moved to the rotation at any moment. Think of it akin to what Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May (pre-TJ) have done for the Dodgers’ flexibility.
I don’t mean to say that the team needs to move on from players like Hayden Wesneski or Ken Waldichuk. Rather, if the team can upgrade the major league roster, they need not fear that their organizational pitching depth will be hurt to the point that they will worry about losing say, Jameson Taillon in free agency. Taillon has been very good for this team, but if they have legitimate candidates to replace him in the rotation, they may not have to spend the eight to nine figure contract that he will yield.
You see what I’m saying here? Michael King and Clarke Schmidt’s rise this season will pay dividends in so many ways. Other than the Dodgers, I don’t think there is a team that has ever been in such a prime position to bolster their lineup mid-season. Teams with shallow major league rosters usually can’t risk selling the future for a star player, but this is the Yankees. Losing a few good prospects isn’t an issue, the Yankees have no excuse to not help this team. If players struggle for an extended period, there is no reason to not replace them with better performers — plain and simple.