When players return from injury in the middle of a season, executives and coaches sometimes have a tendency to frame it as a “midseason acquisition.” However, this logic is inherently flawed. While the returning player is an addition that you hadn’t had this season, he is not an “acquisition,” as in someone external coming in new to the organization.
The Yankees haven’t referred to Luis Severino as such yet, and it’s key that it stays that way. The Yankees’ rotation is dangerously thin right now, and if they do nothing to address it, it would be a risky bet on Severino to not only return, but at a high level. As of now, that’s not a sure thing.
Severino went under the knife on February 27, 2020. If Tommy John surgery takes 12-15 months for a pitcher to fully recover from, that suggests a June 2021 return for Severino to the mound in the Bronx. Furthermore, predicting pitchers’ performance after Tommy John surgery is an inexact science. There is no hard-and-fast evidence that pitchers come back from the procedure any better or worse than they did before – it really is a case-by-case basis. For as many pitchers that make a full recovery, there are dozens who have to get a repeat surgery shortly after returning, or simply fail to recapture their prior form.
Complicating things, Severino is a bit wiry for a traditional power pitcher. Listed at 6’2” and 218 pounds, it’s a marvel that he was able to average 97-plus mph on his fastball and master that tantalizing 88 mph slider with tremendous break. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that he may lose a bit of velocity after the operation, particularly when he first returns. He may be tentative in his eventual return to the mound after pitching just 12 innings since the end of the 2018 season.
This isn’t to suggest that Severino is done. In fact, I’d bet on the opposite. From 2017-2018, Severino went 33-14 with a 3.18 ERA, 137 ERA+, 1.09 WHIP, 3.01 FIP, 10.5 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 and averaged more than 190 innings per season. Those are elite, ace-level figures. But it would be a fool’s errand to think that he’ll get right back to that level after such a long layoff and more than two years of forearm and elbow troubles.
Knowing this, the Yankees have to treat Severino’s return as a bonus rather than a baked-in midseason addition. The rotation has Gerrit Cole as its ace, Jordan Montgomery as its depth, and Deivi García as its rookie. The group is at least two starters short of looking comfortably complete, and that’s without even considering Severino. Domingo Germán or Clarke Schmidt could provide an internal solution, but they are very much wild cards. The team could re-sign Masahiro Tanaka, but needs to find at least one veteran to replace the (likely) departed James Paxton and J.A. Happ.
With the rotation so thin, relying on Severino as a rotation “savior” would be a poor strategy. The unit doesn’t currently have the depth to withstand a setback from Severino. Right now, it’s almost feels as if the Yankees are expecting Severino to come back as their No. 2 starter, but while that could happen, it’s far from a lock. Whatever they get out of him in 2021 is gravy. At least for this year, Luis Severino can’t be counted on as the mid-rotation anchor the Yankees so desperately need.