Keidel: Severino's Below-Market Deal Could Pay Off Big For Yankees

Jason Keidel
February 18, 2019 - 1:06 pm
The Yankees' Luis Severino pitches in the first inning in Game 3 of the ALDS against the Boston Red Sox on Oct. 8, 2018, at Yankee Stadium.

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If you knew the same Yankees pitcher who started last year's Opening Day would also start this year's opener on March 28, you'd figure this is a rich man. 

And by normal metrics, Luis Severino just became one. But does the Yankees' ace really make $10 million per season? Sure, he skipped his final year of arbitration to sign a real deal for real money. Still, it makes you wonder if this 4-year, $40 million (with a team option for a fifth year) were a result of Brian Cashman's bargaining prowess or Severino's sliding confidence. 

This year Severino's salary will be half that of fellow starter Masahiro Tanaka ($22 million). He makes much less than J.A. Happ ($17 million), and barely more than CC Sabathia ($8 million). Severino will be paid less than Zach Britton ($13 million), Aroldis Chapman ($15 million), and even less than DJ LeMahieu ($12 million). 

Yogi Berra once joked that baseball is 90 percent mental, the other half physical. The first part of his comical truism isn't that far off - especially with pitchers, who need fierce confidence as much as they need their fastball. And there's little doubt Severino lost some location, mph, and mojo late last summer. 

Four months into the 2018 season, Severino was moonwalking to the AL Cy Young award. He dashed out to a 14-2 record with a 2.12 ERA through 19 starts. Yet from July 12 through the end of the season, Severino was 5-6 with a 5.69 ERA in 13 starts. Without a mangled MRI to blame, you have to wonder why his numbers plunged.

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Severino cited his diet and exercise program, both of which have been tweaked entering 2019. He claims to be using lighter weights for lifting and has dropped up to 15 pounds to make him more durable. 

Fine. But Severino hasn't been pitching or acting like an ace for a while. Consider the Yankees are 44-19 in Severino's 63 starts since the first pitch of the 2017 season. The 44 wins are the most by any MLB club with one starting pitcher over that span. Severino also owns two of the top six single-season strikeout totals in team history, posting 230 in 2017 and 220 last year. 

You don't expect anyone to gamble in the same vein as Max Scherzer, who turned down $144 million from the Detroit Tigers and cashed in the next year with the Washington Nationals for $210 million. Scherzer has generational skill and otherworldly will. But when he's on his game, Severino is one of the five-best pitchers on the planet. Fans marveled at his fastballs tickling triple-digits, placing them impossibly close to the plate yet keeping it inches from the bat.

Severino, who turns 25 in a few days, didn't bet on his ability, opting for a warm financial blanket at half of what he could be worth in a year or two. Across the Harlem River, Jacob deGrom, who's still toiling in arbitration, is making $7 million more than Severino this summer, and even the Mets ace is making millions less than he's worth. 

If Severino pitches this year with the same wizardry that made him a star entering last year's All-Star break, then the Yankees got a deal, if not a steal, for his services. They just hope that weight was the only thing he lost after last summer.

Twitter: @JasonKeidel