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It kind of flew under the radar as smallish baseball news does this time of year with a week before the Super Bowl and the latest Kyrie Irving saga engulfing the Brooklyn Nets, but the news of the Yankees not wanting Luis Severino to pitch in the upcoming World Baseball Classic emerged over the weekend.
And the rationale by GM Brian Cashman is perfectly sensible and may even harken back to what unfolded in 2013 when Mark Teixeira participated in the event or least attempted to. Teixeira injuring his wrist, it did not heal properly and he was limited to 15 games, forcing the Yankees to use 10 players at first base during an 85-win season when extensive injuries dominated the landscape.
Teixeira did not have the injury history that Severino does so it could be chalked up to a freakish injury. Severino’s injury resume is significantly more extensive over the life of his current contract which has limited him to 26 games in 120 innings since his 19-win 2018 season earned him the four-year contract extension in Feb. 2019.
“We support our players going (to the WBC), but when a player like Luis Severino, who has had an injury history the last few years. That’s not in our best interest given losing him so far over the last few years,” Cashman said in an interview with 670 The Score in Chicago Saturday. “Having him pitch competitive, championship-contending World Baseball Classic innings in March, versus preparation innings in March for your long-haul season, that was a decision I had to make.”
Severino’s feelings on the topic may be revealed once pitchers and catchers report a few days after the Eagles or Chiefs win the Super Bowl.
Last year he did not hold back in his frustration about missing two months due to strained right lat sustained right before the All-Star break and the Yankees seemingly held him out for so long because of their sizable lead in the AL East that ultimately became a near collapse in August before a late season hot streak held off the Toronto Blue Jays and even when he came back the Yankees were cautious by taking him out after seven no-hit innings in his final regular season start.
It is certainly possible he may express similar sentiments. It also could be possible Severino realizes the value of pitching in a fun exhibition for national pride is not as significant as preparing for the regular season and building up the typical arm strength by going from throwing about two innings in the initial spring training start to six or seven by the final exhibition start.
Especially since this is a contract year. The Yankees picked up his fifth-year option shortly after they were swept by Houston in the ALCS and did so after he posted a 3.18 ERA, 9.88 strikeouts per nine innings. By picking up the $15 million team option, the contract is now worth $52.5 million and staying healthy along with pitching effectively increases the likelihood of Severino getting paid significantly more on his next contract.
“I respect he wanted to play, but I gotta protect the Yankees first,” Cashman said on the radio interview. “He’s too important to us. His injury history the last few years, it’s better to get him out of the gate nice and slow.”
And it’s also better to avoid any added chances of getting hurt, especially with shoulder inflammation costing Frankie Montas at minimum the first month of the season and uncertainty with the projected fifth starter role with Clarke Schmidt and Domingo German.
It also is the same plan being used in Seattle where GM Jerry DiPoto and Luis Castillo came to an agreement about the dynamic right-hander not pitching in the event.
The WBC can be a fun event for players. It also offers increased potential for injuries and with someone as extensive of an injury history as Severino, it is hardly surprising the Yankees quickly put the brakes on someone they are counting on exposing himself to those injury chances of pitching maximum effort in a series of exhibitions.
The Yankees have plenty of storylines such as whether Aaron Hicks can be a productive left fielder or if Josh Donaldson can bounce back (assuming no other moves are made at those positions). They would like to avoid an injury to Severino becoming another storyline, which is why he will follow the WBC from afar instead of participating in it.