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Luis Severino’s 2019 extension made sense at the time

Injuries and struggles have marked the right-hander’s contract, but extending him under those terms was a no-brainer for the Bombers.

Kansas City Royals v New York Yankees Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

In February 2019, the Yankees signed promising young right-hander Luis Severino to a four-year, $40 million contract extension with a $15 million club option for a fifth season. Prior to inking the deal, he had pitched two excellent seasons in 2017 and 2018. He twirled over 190 innings of fantastic work in both, which helped erase the sour taste he left in 2016 (5.83 ERA) after his strong 2015 MLB debut.

In total, Severino had pitched 518 frames (96 games, 85 starts) of a 3.51 ERA and 3.38 FIP with a 41-25 record, a 2.50 BB/9 and 9.94 K/9. So it made all the sense in the world to extend him at that point: He was about to turn 25 and enter arbitration when he signed the contract. Some even argued that the two-time All-Star and Cy Young contender was leaving money on the table by agreeing to postpone his free agency.

It’s fair to say things have gone south since then, though. Since Severino put pen to paper on that pact, he has only been able to make 34 starts (plus four relief appearances in 2021 after Tommy John surgery) with a 4.36 ERA in 177.2 innings. During that time, he has had a 3.09 BB/K and a 9.47 K/9.

Until this season, the biggest issue has been the fact that injuries limited Severino to 22 regular season starts between 2019-22. Now in 2023, everything that could have gone wrong has indeed turned sour for him, even beyond normal ailments. He opened the season on the injured list and has been horrible when healthy, with a 7.49 ERA and 6.27 FIP in 57.2 frames, surrendering 15 homers in just 57.2 innings after only 14 in 102 frames in 2022.

Severino seems lost, and even said he feels like the worst pitcher in the league. He is not too far from the truth there, conceding seven or more earned runs in three of his last five outings. His confidence is at an all-time low.

A series of unfortunate injuries forced Severino to miss the vast majority of the first three years of the extension; then he returned for the fourth (2022) and was very good with a 3.18 ERA and 3.70 FIP across 22 starts. That made the Yankees to exercise their $15 million club option for 2023, but things have been rough once again.

A lot of people might say that extension has been a disaster and they shouldn’t have done it. It’s easy to think that way at this point, in the here and now, knowing everything that happened. However, the deal was not only fair at the time, but actually a bit team-friendly and we often lose sight of that. This wasn’t an Aaron Hicks situation.

There had been some concerns about Severino’s frame holding up, but he was coming off consecutive 190-inning seasons. The lone notable blemishes on his health record prior to 2019 were a triceps strain that only kept him out of action for a couple weeks in early 2016 and a three-week oblique injury as a minor leaguer in 2014. Pitcher health is an inexact science, and no one could have said with certainty that a litany of shoulder, lat, and elbow injuries would immediately follow.

Everything from the number of years, the money, and the option made sense back in the day. Let’s not get Severino’s 2023 struggles and prior injuries affect our judgment. He posted ace-like numbers for consecutive seasons prior to the extension, was young, on the rise, and about to start arbitration. He was the lone starting pitcher in the ascendant Baby Bomber core, and it was reasonable for the Yankees to want to keep him long-term.

Again, there were calls in the industry saying that Severino should have turned it down or asked for more money, and they might be right. He was an important cog in the Yankees’ machine back then.

Nobody knows what the future holds for the 29-year-old. There are legitimate questions surrounding him, from his role (should he be sent to the bullpen?) to whether the Yankees should “phantom IL” him to try to get him right. What we know is that extending him four years ago was a no-brainer, and plenty of us were actually really excited about it.