Aaron Hicks played in 137 games in 2018, a Ripken-esque number for him. The Yankees signed him for seven years at $70 million the following February. He has played 145 games in the three seasons since.
Luis Severino started 63 games between 2017-18, the same as Jacob deGrom, one more than Corey Kluber, two fewer than Gerrit Cole. He received Cy Young consideration both seasons and was an All-Star each year. The Yankees signed him to a four-year, $40 million pact a few days before rewarding Hicks. He has started five times since, twice in the 2019 playoffs, none in either of the last two seasons. He is, at minimum, a month away.
The Yanks had gone under the luxury-tax threshold in 2018, resetting the penalty percentage. Thus, they were willing in multiyear extensions to pay Hicks and Severino a little more for 2019, believing they would be rewarded long term. Those contracts have been disasters, as much now as ever as the injury absences exacerbate Yankee issues.
It was not standard for the Yanks to extend Hicks and Severino. The Yanks had generally waited until players reached free agency to enlist them long term. Over the previous quarter century, they had only acted early seven times and four were for the Core Four — Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera. After acquiring Tino Martinez from the Mariners, the Yanks wanted to show a financial and emotional commitment to the first base successor to Don Mattingly. Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner were the other two.
All seven had various levels of success and none was an outright financial sinkhole, like Hicks and Severino have been so far. The Yanks are back trying to stay under a luxury-tax threshold, making the $20 million Hicks and Severino cost detrimental to roster construction. The Yanks project to roughly $207 million for this season and the threshold is $210 million.
The Yanks will probably have to add a center fielder this year and, especially if Severino cannot return to usefulness, perhaps a starter. So unless Hal Steinbrenner authorizes exceeding the threshold — and he should do that if trying to win a title is truly the goal — then the Yanks will likely have a limited pool from which to choose and/or will have to invest more in prospect capital to get another team to eat dollars.
Boone acknowledged before Thursday’s doubleheader against the Blue Jays what was pretty obvious, that Hicks will miss the rest of the year after tearing the tendon sheath in his left wrist. The Yanks had traded Mike Tauchman before Hicks was hurt and lost their two minor league depth pieces in Greg Allen and Ryan LaMarre to injury. They called up Estevan Florial to survive the doubleheader, but the team does not think he is ready. That leaves Gardner, at 37 by far the majors’ oldest center fielder, as the option. In losing 2-0 to Toronto in the doubleheader opener, the Yanks managed two hits, none by Gardner, who is down to .198, and the team’s center fielders are at .190.
Gardner was last the unquestioned starting center fielder in 2013. He was really good at it. Nevertheless, the Yanks signed Jacoby Ellsbury for seven years at $153 million. That was a bad idea. Yet, in the four seasons Ellsbury got on the field for the Yankees he played more games for them (520) than Hicks has in six (493). They have the same Wins Above Replacement as Yankees at 9.8. That is $223 million combined for Ellsbury and Hicks, who were easier to track for when they were available than the opposite. Hicks, who was hitting .194 in 32 games this year, still has four years at $40 million left after this season.
Severino is owed $11 million next season, then has a $15 million 2023 option or a $2.75 million buyout. As the righty rehabs from Tommy John surgery, he threw two batting practice innings Wednesday and has essentially a full spring training still in front of him. Boone indicated that the plan has always been for Severino to complete his rehab in the majors — so think just three- or four-inning outings initially when he does arrive.
And the urgency for his return went up with Kluber (shoulder) not due back until about the trade deadline. Will Severino beat him? Will either actually pitch this year? (Note that Noah Syndergaard, who underwent Tommy John surgery about the same time as Severino, had a setback that pushes him to around September.) Will the Yanks even know enough about Severino if he does return to keep them out of the starter trade market?
Hicks and Severino were supposed to provide answers and cost certainty for years; that was the Yankee belief in doing the long contracts early. Instead, they have extended the Yankees’ list of problems.