Every baseball club with realistic postseason aspirations requires an anchor for the starting rotation, the proverbial "ace."
World Series championship caliber teams are led by a stalwart, ever-dependent hurler that dominates more often than not or digs deep and wins when his stuff is not at its best. This pitcher exudes a bulldog mentality, provides 30-plus regular season starts and once games reach playoff intensity there isn't a hint of concern from his club when he's on the mound.
The Yankees believe they have groomed this type of pitcher in soon to be 25-year-old right-hander Luis Severino. But if he isn't what they're hoping for, they could be in serious trouble this season.
It is true that Severino can be unhittable for stretches and has demonstrated durability in his brief time in the majors. He appears to have the mindset that he's able to be the best pitcher in the game and that surely goes a long way. However, Severino has been unable to provide the Yankees complete comfort going by end-to-end in a season.
That's a problem because an even larger issue for the Yanks is that there is not a clear alternative.
Newly acquired James Paxton is talented, but he's hardly proven to be durable enough to count on for the long haul. J.A. Happ, CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka are fine pitchers, but each has reached the stage in his career where complete faith to rise to the top -- and do so every five days from March through October -- is unrealistic.
Severino provides the Yankees with the best chance to tout an impenetrable stopper in the rotation. The "Justin Verlander" of the rotation, if you will. We can argue that the Yankees missed their chance to add Verlander a couple of years back, and incidentally New York's organizational leaders might tell you it is in part because they believed Severino was ready to be Verlander-esque as a reason they passed on the grizzled veteran.
Indeed, Severino has been on the cusp, each season showing some improvement over the last. It's the next step -- the final step -- that is the most difficult for any pitcher to take. The jump from very good to consistently excellent distinguishes hurlers of Verlander's ilk from that of Severino's.
The Yankees absolutely need Severino to elevate his game to the ultimate level. And this necessity has every bit to do with trying to win a championship in 2019 as it does with roster configuration going forward.
If Severino fails to make the required leap in 2019, the Yankees might be forced to search elsewhere for a pitcher to carry them to a 28th title. New York is in win-now mode and while Severino is one of the keys to their chances of hoisting the trophy, the team cannot afford to wait for his final maturation stage to culminate much longer.
Additionally, Severino is just now reaching arbitration status, with the Yankees maintaining four years of control (including 2019) before he's a free agent. Beyond 2019, the Yankees would surely prefer to be paying for top-flight pitching at Severino's pay grade than feeling forced to add a substantial contract for a pitcher that might saddle the club with declining productivity as the deal winds down.
Put plainly, the Yankees will be hard-pressed to win the 2019 World Series without Severino leading the way. Internal alternatives may lack the capacity, while outside measures cost elite prospects that the Yanks are now running low on.
This might be a lot of pressure to heap on a 25-year-old, but aces don't fold under duress. They thrive. If Severino wilts, the Yankees could be in trouble in 2019 and in the future.