ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Everything was in place at the Vinoy Renaissance Hotel for Luis Severino’s arbitration hearing Friday morning.
The panel was there, waiting to hear the cases presented by each side. Severino, the ace of the Yankees’ rotation, who was eligible for salary arbitration for the first time in his career, was at the hotel with his agents. They were prepared to make their pitch that he should be paid $5.25 million for the 2019 season. Representatives for the Yankees, who believed Severino was worth $4.4 million, were also present.
But just before Friday’s meeting, Brian Cashman, the Yankees’ general manager, called one of Severino’s agents to negotiate.
The hearing was hastily postponed, and soon the two sides had an agreement — one that underscored an increasingly wary climate between players and management across the sport.
The four-year deal guarantees Severino $40 million, according to people familiar with the deal who requested anonymity because the terms had not been made public. Instead of going year to year with Severino’s salary, the agreement buys out all four seasons in which he was eligible to go to arbitration. For Severino, who will turn 25 next week, the deal protects against injury or underperformance, and the Yankees guard against Severino’s value skyrocketing with a potential Cy Young-level season.
Severino forfeited what would have been his first season of free agency, in 2023: The deal includes a team option for $15 million that year or a $2.75 million buyout.
The contract also holds hints of players’ fears amid a contentious labor climate. Severino’s deal is front-loaded: He will earn $6 million in 2019 and $10 million in 2020, and then is to receive only modest raises to $10.25 million in 2021 and $11 million in 2022. In other words, he will earn $26.25 million of the $40 million guaranteed by the 2021 season.
Why? The current collective bargaining agreement between Major League Baseball and the players’ union runs through the 2021 season, so Severino is protecting himself against a potential work stoppage.
The deal is also a sign of the Yankees’ willingness to lock up the young core of players that has spearheaded their recent stretch of winning. Severino, who signed with the Yankees out of the Dominican Republic in 2012, when he was 18, blossomed into a hard-throwing ace who was named an All-Star in 2017 and 2018.
He has thrown at least 191 innings each of the last two seasons and posted a combined E.R.A. of 3.18 across both years. In that stretch, the Yankees were 44-19 in games he started.
“He’s a great pitcher,” said Manager Aaron Boone, unable to comment on the deal until it was announced later in the day. “I hope he’s here for a long time.”
Severino is the first in a long line of young stars the Yankees may try to secure for years to come. Once led by older players, the Yankees overhauled their roster in recent years and built around a core of younger homegrown players (Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Dellin Betances, Miguel Andujar and Severino) or players that blossomed after arriving in the Bronx (Didi Gregorius, Gleyber Torres and Aaron Hicks).
As that core grows together, starts earning more or inches closer to free agency, the Yankees are weighing ways of keeping it together. In particular, they like three standouts who can become free agents after this season: Betances, 30; Hicks, 29; and soon-to-be-29 Gregorius, although his recovery from Tommy John surgery hurts his value.
Judge and Sanchez are 26 and will be eligible for arbitration for the first time next season, so the Yankees may wait until then to broach long-term contract talks, as they did with Severino.
But the balance in negotiations seems to be tilting toward the clubs, as free agency is no longer the hallowed grounds that players once dreamed about. Off-seasons have turned into protracted dances with teams, evidenced by the superstars Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, and many other top players, remaining unsigned as spring training begins.
One effect has been an increasing number of players signing deals considered team-friendly before reaching free agency. While that trend has drawn some scrutiny — some frowned on the Philadelphia Phillies ace Aaron Nola’s recent four-year, $45 million extension, which could end up costing him two free-agent seasons and keep him off the market until his age-31 season — some players seem to have accepted the writing on the wall about future earnings.
In Severino’s case, if the Yankees pick up his 2023 option, he will be a free agent for his age-30 season, so he can still earn more if he keeps performing and stays healthy. Patrick Corbin, whom the Yankees wooed but failed to sign this winter, signed a six-year, $140 million deal with the Washington Nationals at 29.
An additional benefit of Friday’s agreement for both sides: avoiding the actual arbitration hearings, which can be contentious and leave a bad taste with players who watch their team list off their weaknesses as it argues for a lower salary. The Yankees engaged in an ugly war of words with Betances’s agent in 2017, and Trevor Bauer of the Cleveland Indians this week called an argument presented by M.L.B.’s labor-relations staff, which is also present in the hearings, “a character assassination.”
Severino, at the last minute, avoided all that. It was around 11:15 a.m. on Friday that one of Severino’s agents walked out of the Vinoy Renaissance and got into a car. Soon thereafter, Cashman emerged and also drove off. Word soon spread that the Yankees and their young ace had a new deal.
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