Our worst fears concerning Luis Severino have come to fruition. Brian Cashman announced the talented right-hander will have Tommy John surgery. This is a tough blow for the Yankees, but an even tougher one for Severino. Between last season and his potential return from the procedure, Sevy would have thrown only twenty innings over that span.
Severino initially mentioned discomfort in his forearm back in October during the playoffs. Once the season ended, the team ran multiple tests on the pitcher’s arm throughout the winter. The results for those tests were clean. The discomfort didn’t arise again until camp began when he started throwing his changeup. Sevy was sent back to New York for more tests. Sweeny Murti has more details on the testing procedure that revealed the UCL tear:
One legitimate question is why wasn’t the medical staff able to diagnose this injury over the offseason. This is the first we’re hearing of a dye contrast MRI. Cashman noted that the other “normal” MRI tests taken over the winter didn’t show a tear. Why wasn’t the dye contrast MRI taken along with these other tests? I’m not a medical professional, but that feels like the appropriate course of action. Severino was coming off a major injury to both his throwing shoulder and lat. He rushed to make the playoff roster and was immediately thrown into high intensity innings. His arm obviously didn’t respond well to that scenario. How do you not exhaust all testing options over the winter knowing his recent medical history and the stress he endured on the field? It is really hard to give the medical team a pass for this one.
This sobering Severino news is joining a long list of team wide significant injuries. We all know about the 2019 injury run, but 202o is taking the baton with a little too much enthusiasm. Fans’ concern is even greater considering James Paxton shares a similar timeline to Severino. Paxton suffered back pain in September. He didn’t undergo back surgery until February. Why are these injuries not being treated when the player immediately indicates an issue? I understand a clean test suggests a problem doesn’t exist. But the Severino news is indicative of a medical staff not being extensive enough in their testing. These are two injuries that took place in 2019. Why are they impacting 2020 and 2021 so significantly? Quite frankly, this shouldn’t be happening.
The most pressing issue now is how do the Yankees fill out their rotation. The understandable reaction is to look outside the organization for help. After all, the starting rotation depth we were all excited about is quickly dwindling. It appears the Yankees first course of action is to focus on in house options. The team is confident Paxton will be back in May. Assuming no more catastrophic injuries (I know, I know), the rotation will be Cole, Paxton, Tanaka, Happ and one of Monty, Deivi, King, Clarke Schmidt, Luis Cessa or Jonathan Loáisiga.
This is still a pretty damn good rotation and one that can produce at a high level until Germán comes back from his suspension. There is still quality depth available. The team also has a deep bullpen to cover innings as well. They could also go the Chad Green opener route, but that doesn’t feel ideal. Cashman had this to say about potential replacements:
If the Yankees do go outside of the organization there are some options. They could pursue some version of the failed Joc Pederson trade between the Dodgers and Angels. I advocated for a Pederson trade a few weeks ago, but expanding the deal to include Ross Stripling would be fantastic. That deal would address two issues for the Yankees. Looking into future trade targets, Jim Bowden of The Athletic suggests Johnny Cueto, Matthew Boyd, and John Means. I would also like to add Mike Clevinger and Jon Gray to that group. Both pitchers are on teams who could look to sell if they don’t have strong first halves.
The free agent market does have some starter options. Some of the more prominent names are Ervin Santana, Drew Smyly, Danny Salazar, Dan Straily and Collin McHugh. There is also some guy named CC Sabathia, but he wants to travel the world and do podcasts for some reason. He also has that shoulder ripping apart from his body thing, but whatever. It is important to note that all of these realistic options (obviously not CC) are to help with depth and not replace Severino’s production. When healthy, Sevy is a top ten pitcher. The Yankees aren’t going to replace that any time soon. Salazar would be an interesting option if his stuff didn’t fall off a cliff due to injury. Santana and Straily could be worth a look in camp for the fifth spot. The interesting name is McHugh.
McHugh offers versatility that the other free agent options do not present. He can compete for a starting spot and also come out of the pen. McHugh has a six-pitch mix (four-seamer, slider, curve, sinker, cutter, change up) that he mixes pretty effectively. He primarily throws the slider, four-seamer, cutter and curve with the slider being his most frequently used pitch. Here are his 2019 statcast rankings:
There is a lot to like here. Yes, his fastball velocity is pedestrian, but the spin is in the 77th percentile. That means he’s able to play it up in a way that offsets the velocity. His curveball spin rate is elite and he is able to minimize hard hit damage. The walks were a little high in 2019 given the number of innings he threw out of the pen. Looking at his career numbers though, last year may be the outlier. He is worth a shot and I’m honestly not sure why the Yankees didn’t pursue him this winter. Maybe he doesn’t have a clean bill of health.
The Yankees will be able to survive this terrible loss. They have options both internally and on the market. They are still in a strong position to win the division, the pennant, and the title. Things have become a little harder, but the team is equipped to thrive this season. We’ve seen multiple depth pieces step up when called upon and this year will be no different. The lineup is fierce. Their bullpen remains an elite weapon. The starting rotation features a true workhorse ace and strong options remain at the top. They still have quality depth options for the back end. The Yankees also have the resources to fill holes when needed. They are a true championship contender even without Severino. Keep in mind, Sevy didn’t pitch for most of the year in 2019 and the Yankees won 103 games.
The more devastating aspect of this news is Severino’s well being. Ever since signing his extension, things have not gone well for Sevy. He wants to pitch. We want to see him pitch. There are ramifications not only for his future, but the future of the Yankees rotation starting in 2021. Those are things to discuss down the line. The most important thing is Sevy getting on the road to good health. We wish him the best on his arduous journey to recovery. We can’t wait to see him on the Yankee Stadium mound in the future.