On November 19th, Brian Cashman and the Yankee front office struck quickly by trading for the southpaw ace from the Mariners, James Paxton for the Yankees #1 Prospect Justus Sheffield and 2 other lower level minor leaguers. Paxton is a 30 year old left handed starter who is known for having a plus fastball, as well as an excellent slider. He even threw a no-hitter vs the Blue Jays this past season in Toronto. Paxton has a good resume, he is the owner of a lifetime 3.42 ERA across a little less than 600 innings total. This is where some of the red flags pop up regarding Paxton. Just this past season, Paxton pitched 160.1 innings, a career high. For a pitcher who has been in the league since 2013, his inability to pitch a full season is concerning. But in those 160.1 innings, he struck out 208 batters, which is quite the impressive number. He pitched to a 3.76 ERA last season which is certainly good, but not elite. If you want to look through rose tinted glasses, just look back at his 2017 season. In 136 innings that year, he pitched to a 2.98 ERA. That is most certainly elite, assuming he can harness those results over 32 starts in a season. Paxton is currently 2nd year arbitration eligible, which means that he is controlled by the Yankees this upcoming season, and the following season, he then becomes a Free Agent. Another positive in this deal is that Paxton is affordable, he is estimated to make $9 million next year, which is a value you certainly could not find on the Free Agent market for a pitcher of his caliber.
Now to discuss what the Yankees gave up. By all accounts, Justus Sheffield is the bulk of what the Mariners acquired. They also received a #26 prospect from the Yankees by the name of Erik Swanson, who is a starting pitcher. Many scouts from around the league weighed in on Swanson and described him as a #5 type starter at his peak. The Mariners also received outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams. Sheffield is certainly tough to see go, but it appeared that the Yankees weren’t too high on Sheffield making their rotation. Figure this- The Yankees suffered many injuries to their starting rotation last year during the season. Players such as Tanaka, CC, and Montgomery all spent varying amounts of time on the Disabled List. When these injuries occurred, who did the Yankees call upon from their minor league system? It wasn’t their “#1” prospect Sheffield, it was a combination of players like Domingo German, Jonathan Loaisiga, and Chance Adams. Sheffield by no means was a slouch in the minors this year though. He split time between AA and AAA, but spent most of his time in AAA. In 116 combined innings, he posted a 2.48 ERA which is certainly impressive. One of the concerns the Yankees supposedly had with Sheffield was his lack of control. In those 116 innings, he walked 50 batters. That is about 4 walks per 9 innings, which is a little elevated. Many scouts commented on Sheffield after the trade, and some shared the sentiment that if Sheffield couldn’t figure out his walk issue, he would slot as a back end relief pitcher for a team. Assuming Sheffield can figure out his control issues, many believe he could be a solid #2 or 3 starter. The Yankees made it clear last season, they were not comfortable using Sheffield to start in the middle of the season. Given that knowledge, they in all likelihood were not willing to entrust a rotation spot to him this upcoming year. Instead, they opted for a known commodity in Paxton. As for the Mariners, it’s not a bad deal. They potentially received a solid #5 starter in Swanson, and a potential frontline starter in Sheffield. And the most attractive part of all of this for the Ms is that they will have control over these players for 6 years at the MLB level, at an affordable rate. The Mariners have given it their all the past few seasons, in an attempt to end their playoff drought that dates back to 2001. They have failed, and it is now time to rebuild it. Their former ace Felix Hernandez is now a shell of his former self, and Robinson Cano is entering his decline years. Mariners fans may have to wait quite a bit longer for that drought to end, as this may only signal the beginning of an offseason fire sale.
After the acquisition of Paxton, only one more spot in the rotation remains up in the air. Brian Cashman after the trade reasserted that they would still prioritize pitching. This means that players such as Dallas Keuchel, Patrick Corbin, JA Happ, Corey Kluber, and Carlos Carrasco, among others remain a possibility. If Cashman could manage to acquire one more top tier starter, they would have one of the more formidable rotations in the American League. All in all, Cashman has been working quickly this offseason, and it’ll be interesting to see how long it’ll take for the next player to be announced. As to who that player is, it’s anyone’s guess!
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