Luis Severino’s deal worked for him but maybe not for all players


All baseball business these days comes with heaping scoops of outrage and scrutiny.

Had Luis Severino been in position, say, two years ago, to sign the exact extension he did Friday with the Yankees, a few agents might have called favored reporters to moan that the pitcher had undersold himself and a couple of websites might have mulled the merits and downsides.

Mainly, though, the information would have come and gone like spring training batting practice sessions — here, then poof.

But the offseason of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado not signing has bled into spring training. A couple of dozen viable major leaguers remain without contracts as a second straight free-agent class has endured a collective freeze. Veteran players have taken to microphones and Twitter to express fury and promise a day of reckoning is nearing.

So Severino’s four-year, $40 million contract with a 2023 team option does not go poof. It is dissected and disseminated amid worsening labor unrest, the same as the deal Philadelphia’s Aaron Nola signed earlier this week, and which created a framework to Severino’s agreement. Among the biggest issues raised is whether players are now open in a greater way to team-favorable accords because free agency has become a less dependable cash cow.

And here exists a union disadvantage, because what best serves players overall can be quite different than what most benefits one specific player. The group could use Nola and Severino going year to year in hopes they stay high-end aces and push arbitration boundaries and cash in on free agency at the first moment possible.

Severino, however, must independently weigh risk and reward.

He comes from humble means. As recently as 2016, he was banished first to the minors, then to the bullpen. A few months ago he stumbled down the stretch and playoffs amid a blitz of concern about tipping pitches, the quality of his third pitch and physical endurance. No qualified starter last year threw his fastball with greater average velocity and few threw their sliders as hard or frequently as did the righty.

Severino could have played the upside risk against considerations from his background and potential for health issues. By just being good and healthy (not even great) the next four years, Severino could have outperformed the $40 million guarantee and reached free agency a year earlier. The downside was losing arbitration ($4.4 million) and getting injured to the point where he got no raise in 2020 — so about $8.8 million over the next two years with mystery beyond that.

Severino elected a guarantee of generational wealth rather than gambling year to year on himself to exceed that threshold while perhaps helping set new financial benchmarks for players. His contract guarantees $5 million less than Nola’s four-year, $45 million, yet Severino’s is more favorable.

Despite similar stats, Nola was a service class ahead of Severino, so he faced three years of arbitration. Thus, his four-year deal with a club option covers two free-agent years. Severino faced four years of arbitration, so he is giving up potentially one year of free-agent control to the Yankees. If the options are picked up, Nola’s free agency would come after his age-30 season, Severino’s after age 29, as clubs weigh age more than ever in free agency.