Will Michael King’s full transition to Padres’ rotation ultimately succeed?

The Padres desperately need this to work.

2024 San Diego Padres Spring Training, pitcher Michael King
2024 San Diego Padres Spring Training, pitcher Michael King / Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres/GettyImages

Michael King was the one piece of the Juan Soto trade that the New York Yankees were hesitant to let go. But AJ Preller stood by his demands and King was included in the trade package from the Bronx.

Will it ultimately work out the way Preller and the Padres front office hope? That depends on whether or not King makes the transition from a swingman to a full-fledged starting pitcher.

The Padres rotation is in flux. Both Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove are returning from injury, and unless San Diego decides to spend some money on the likes of Michael Lorenzen or Noah Syndergaard, King is arguably the No. 3 starting pitcher in the Padres rotation.

King appeared in 49 games for the Yankees in 2023, but only nine of those were starts. For his career, King has started just 19 of the 115 games in which he's appeared. But something may have finally clicked for King near the tail end of last season. King's stats were actually better as a starter than a reliever.

Will Michael King’s full transition to Padres’ rotation ultimately succeed?

In King's nine starts last season, he posted a 2.23 ERA as opposed to his 3.08 ERA as a reliever. King compiled a better strikeout rate and walk rate when he started a game versus when he came in for relief. And the only stat that ticked up slightly was King's home runs per nine inning pitched. King's 0.89 HR/9 as a starting pitcher was slightly higher than his 0.85 HR/9 coming out of the bullpen.

King's final seven outings in 2023, all of which lasted at least four innings, should give Pads fans even more hope. The 28-year-old logged 35.2 innings over the final month-plus of the season and was striking out nearly 32% of the batters he faced. Even better was the minuscule 5% walk rate. If this is version of King that the Padres get in 2024, they'll be ecstatic.

The Padres have lost Blake Snell, Nick Martinez, Michael Wacha, and Seth Lugo this offseason. Losing one of those pitchers is difficult enough, but all four? Preller is attempting to cobble together some semblance of a rotation heading into 2024, but if King fails to match his performance from a year ago, San Diego is in big trouble.

At the moment, there is no backup plan. The rest of the Padres rotation likely consists of Pedro Avila and Randy Vasquez, but others like Jhony Brito and Michael Waldren will be given a chance to land a spot in the rotation as well.

It mostly hinges on King, though, who the Padres fought to be included in the Soto trade.