As good as he was out of the bullpen and as important as relief pitching has become in the major leagues, the Yankees still have every intention of keeping Luis Severino as a starter. Brian Cashman said Tuesday night “It is way too early” to pull the plug on the young righthander’s future [and present] in the rotation.
The general manager, appearing at the opening of the Orangetheory Fitness center in Manhattan on behalf of the firm that was named the club’s official workout studio, acknowledged Severino’s struggles as a starting pitcher last season after a stellar 2015. But he believes the year, which included a demotion to the minors, still can be considered an aberration.
Despite having allowed only one run in eight September relief appearances, striking out 18 in 15 innings, Severino will enter spring training as a candidate for the rotation. If he relieves, it will be because he fell short.
“He has all the equipment to be a starter. Last year was really the first year he lost his changeup. He never had it from start to finish,” Cashman said. “But it’s way too early to have a verdict in on whether he can be a starter. It’s something he’s always been and he’s always been successful at. He never really finished off his development because of our needs at the big-league level. We plan on continuing it.”
The theories about the 22-year-old’s dip in performance (from 5-3 with a 2.83 earned run average in 2015 to 3-8 and 5.83 last year) range from the fabled sophomore jinx to excessive bulking up with weights last offseason, the general manager said.
“Those are all theories. No one knows why one particular year he woke up and lost the feel for that changeup. So we’ll see. Even with all of those theories, he showed up in spring training and there was one game against the Tampa Bay Rays he looked like a Cy Young Award candidate,” Cashman said. “All I know is we’re certainly hopeful he stays in the rotation for his career because that’s what we need.”
Bird vs. Austin for first base
Competition for the starting first base job should be “an interesting fight” between Greg Bird and Tyler Austin, Cashman said, adding that track records do trend one way.
‘Listen, based on the projection and the ceilings, Bird would be the guy. From what we saw Bird produce in ’15, he would be the guy. In 2015, Bird was the best player in our farm system, position player-wise. That was including Gary Sanchez,” he said. “He got derailed with the shoulder injury. Tyler Austin had been a high-end prospect, had fallen off the grid and put himself back on the map this past season.
“We’ll see how it shakes out. Bird has the higher ceiling but whether he can reach that as early as April of ’17, I don’t know.
Youth trumps need for bats
There are several reasons why there still is a glut of power hitters available on baseball’s free-agent and trade markets, Cashman said. There is one reason why the Yankees are not pursuing Mark Trumbo, Jose Bautista, Chris Carter, Mike Napoli or others: The team is serious about continuing the move toward youth it began last season.
“We’re clearly not in the marketplace for a bat. It doesn’t mean we couldn’t use one. It just doesn’t make sense because if we acquire somebody it’s going to block one of the kids,” he said.
As for why those run-producers are still jobless this deep into the winter, he added, “Supply and demand. In many of these cases, these sluggers are only sluggers and therefore their lack of defensive flexibility has created a problem for their free agency. You can’t deny the talent. There are some impact bats there. It’s just where do they slot in and who’s got money to slot them.”