Only 15 days stand in the way of actual, meaningful baseball. On March 29th, the Yankees kick off the 2018 season against the Blue Jays in Toronto. As things stand, however, the team hasn’t named an Opening Day starter. It doesn’t sound like an announcement is coming anytime soon, either.
“We’re starting to hone in on it,” Aaron Boone explained to Bryan Hoch yesterday. “Nothing final yet. Could be a week from now. Could be less. But we haven’t finalized it yet. Those conversations are starting to happen with a little more urgency.”
As these discussions heat up, they ought to reach one obvious conclusion: Luis Severino should start on Opening Day.
Severino, 24, is fresh off a 2017 campaign that led him to a third place finish in the American League Cy Young Award voting. He pitched to a 2.98 ERA over 193.1 innings, making him the first Yankee to clear the 3.00 ERA threshold since Andy Pettitte and David Cone in 1997. His peripherals were also sterling. The right-hander managed a 3.07 FIP and 10.71 K/9 rate.
Starting Severino on Opening Day makes sense for a couple of reasons, the most obvious being his role as the staff ace. It’s pretty clear that he’s the best starter on the team. Heck, last season demonstrated that he’s one of the best pitchers in the entire league. From a strictly merit-based perspective, he earned the job.
The second, and more subtle, reason revolves around team identity. The Yankees have defined themselves by their youth movement. The Baby Bombers represent the face of the franchise. It makes sense then for Severino, an original member of the group, to take the ball on Opening Day. Having him on the mound with Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Greg Bird in the lineup sends a message to the baseball world. These are the new, young, and terrifying Yankees, it screams.
Sure, Boone has a number of strong candidates from which to choose. Masahiro Tanaka has started every Opening Day for the Yankees since 2014. Tradition suggests they keep this going, especially considering Tanaka’s decision to not opt out of his contract this winter. He also proved unhittable in the playoffs and played a significant role in the team’s postseason success last year.
The same logic could apply to CC Sabathia, who signed another free agent deal with the Yankees in December. It would make for a nice story to hand him the ball as the elder statesman. Sonny Gray, on the other hand, worked a pair of Opening Day starts during his time with the Oakland A’s. Jordan Montgomery, well, that would make for an unconventional decision, and I guess there’s value in the element of surprise.
Despite all of their impressive credentials, Severino remains the top candidate. He is the best pitcher on the staff and represents everything that defines the Yankees in 2018. While the Opening Day starter means little in the grand scheme of a baseball season, it’s still a notable honor. Severino fits the bill on every level. He should be Boone’s choice.