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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Uncertain timetable on Luis Severino makes finding a replacement a difficult task for Brian Cashman

Yankees pitcher Luis Severino throws a bullpen session

Yankees pitcher Luis Severino throws a bullpen session at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla. during spring training on Feb. 14. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

In layman’s terms, this is how we can best describe the diagnosis for Luis Severino’s shoulder injury.

Bad enough to require a temporary in-house replacement, but apparently not quite serious enough to recruit a free-agent substitute, such as the top two remaining on the board, Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez.

As far as what’s really going on inside Severino’s shoulder —  even with the clean MRI results — the Yankees prefer to take an optimistic outlook regarding the rotator-cuff inflammation, in the hope that Wednesday’s shot, combined with two weeks off, will solve the problem.

There’s no guarantee of that, which is why general manager Brian Cashman finds himself in the uncomfortable spot of playing a waiting game with his 25-year-old ace. He really has no other choice for now —  as long as the Yankees truly believe Severino can overcome this in relatively short order.

We’ve learned to never say never, but for those who have clamored for Keuchel, the complicating factor is that the Yankees boxed themselves in with this rotation, and they did it early on by signing CC Sabathia to an $8 million farewell tour. Sabathia has been a great Yankee, deserves the victory lap and should be a solid No. 5 starter. But that didn’t leave the Yankees with any flexibility in that final spot —  as long as CC is healthy —  because he’s not someone who can be demoted or moved to the pen.

Otherwise, the rotation would appear to be full, so bringing in a 30-start solution, at significant cost, doesn’t really fit Cashman’s game plan. He’s told us repeatedly this spring that the Yankees have spent enough money, with the payroll at roughly $227 million, and insists his confidence in this group remains high.

When asked specifically Wednesday about getting free-agent help for the wounded rotation, Cashman stuck to his usual company line.

“We’re going to rely on what we have here in camp and be open to any opportunities that present themselves that make sense,” he said. “What I’ve got is what I’ve got, and we’re comfortable with that. But we also recognize that as the season plays out, we’re going to have to add to this group regardless. You can’t rule anything out, but I’d say the main focus is what we have.”

Odds are, Keuchel won’t be available much longer. It’s been a week since Scott Boras completed Bryce Harper’s $330 million contract with the Phillies, and Keuchel is the next one on his docket to be cleared, followed by Gonzalez. Problem is, the Yankees aren’t expected to have any clarity on Severino until much later this month, so the window on those free-agent pitchers is expected to be closed by then.

Thanks to Harper’s relatively low $25 million AAV —  the beauty of a 13-year deal —  the Phillies are a player for Keuchel, and it’s not as if they don’t have a good relationship with Boras these days. The same goes for the deep-pocket Padres, who gave Manny Machado a $300 million contract last month but still have available money to spend on a rotation spot.

It doesn’t seem as if Cashman has the appetite to get in a bidding war in early March, but that could always pivot on Severino’s progress. Wednesday’s anti-inflammatory injection is supposed to calm the afflicted area in his shoulder. It’s not a cure for the ailment, and for that reason, Cashman didn’t provide any hard timelines for his return.

“We need to make sure we give it the time that’s necessary,” Cashman said. “He’s an important piece and we’re not going to have him for a period of time. We’ll adjust. That’s what everybody has to do. But it’s a concerning situation until he’s on the mound for a consistent period, to the point you forget that it ever happened. We’re obviously a long way from that.”

Severino was haunted by a few question marks coming into camp, whether it was tipping pitches toward the end of last season or the suggestion that an undisclosed physical issue was the underlying cause of his disturbing second half (5.57 ERA, 1.429 WHIP). That didn’t stop the Yankees from giving him a four-year, $40 million extension last month.

They believed Severino was fine then, and have their fingers crossed he’ll be OK now. Hope may not be a strategy, but it’s the option the Yankees seem to be stuck with at the moment. If needed, they can always come up with another contingency plan at a later date.

 

New York Sports