The Yankees will be without Luis Severino for the entire 2020 season while he recovers from Tommy John surgery. They will begin the season without their No. 2 and 3 starters. And they are still the best team in the American League, if not all of Major League Baseball.
After signing Gerrit Cole this offseason, we expected New York would have a super rotation to go with perhaps the team’s most potent lineup in years. Manager Aaron Boone wouldn’t have to worry about overworking his elite bullpen with such a staff. Brian Cashman even considered trading J.A. Happ because the Yankees finally had starting pitching depth. You know what they say about the best-laid plans.
Nothing about this is ideal, especially not for Severino. The electric young righthander who posted 3.18 ERA over a combined 63 starts in 2017 and ‘18 will return from surgery at age 27 having made just three regular-season starts in two years. For him, it means missing two prime seasons and jeopardizing the hefty payday Severino once seemed destined for in free agency.
For the Yankees, though, this seems a lot worse than it actually is. They won 103 games last season and were two wins from going to the World Series, and most of their roster remains the same. Scoring runs won’t be an issue—they were the second best offensive team in 2019, per OPS+, despite a extraordinary number of injuries that sent all but three of their position players to the injured list—and even without Severino, their pitching staff is still better than it was last year.
What’s more, the two teams that eliminated the Yankees from the last three postseasons—the Red Sox and Astros—both got worse this winter. The Astros are still one of the more talented clubs in baseball, but they’ll have their cheating scandal hanging over them all season. Everything they do or don’t do in 2020 will be met with extra scrutiny and contextualized through the lens of sign stealing. Oh, and to get through the Yankees, Houston will have to do it against Cole instead of with him. Meanwhile, Boston won’t sniff contention after trading Mookie Betts and David Price and firing Alex Cora.
The Rays, Twins and A’s, the other top teams in the AL, just aren’t as good as the Yankees, even without Severino. Tampa Bay, while ever-resourceful and better than last season, still isn’t good enough to win the division. The Twins are dangerous, especially after signing Josh Donaldson, but their inability to beat the Yankees in October is well documented. Oakland doesn’t have the pitching to be a true threat in the postseason.
Let’s not forget what made us look at the Yankees as the World Series favorite for 2020. Those expectations are almost entirely because of Cole, the runner-up for the AL Cy Young in 2019 and the best pitcher in baseball over the final five months of the year. He’ll essentially be replacing the recently retired CC Sabathia in the rotation. Talk about an upgrade.
James Paxton could be back as soon as May after having back surgery on Feb. 10, so assuming his recovery goes as planned, he will be there for most of the season. Happ and Masahiro Tanaka will both be back, leaving the Yankees with just the suspended Domingo German to replace. They’ll do that with either one of or a combination of the following: Jordan Montgomery (back from injury), Luis Cessa/Jonathan Loaisiga, Chad Green (used as an opener) and top prospect Deivi Garcia. Any of them should be just as good as German, and some of them, specifically Garcia, could be better.
Having Severino this season would have made things a lot easier, no doubt. But remember, the Yankees still won 103 games last year—101 of them without Severino on the mound. They added Cole, perhaps the best pitcher alive, to that group and will have one of the game's best lineups and bullpen.
With or without Severino, the American League title still runs through New York.