The first major blockbuster of the winter has gone down as the Yankees have swung a deal to acquire left-handed pitcher James Paxton from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for three prospects. Justus Sheffield will headline a package also including righty Erik Swanson and outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams.
The Yankees will be able to control Paxton through the 2020 season and is eligible to receive a raise over the $4.9 million that he made in 2018 via arbitration. The 30-year old lefty was excellent last seasons, posting a 3.76 ERA and a 3.24 FIP over 160.1 innings including a very solid 11.68 K/9 next to a 2.36 BB/9. He averaged 95.9 on his fastball last season, while showing an excellent cutter.
I do, however, have questions regarding him moving to the hitter friendly American League East, seeing as how the longball has always been his Achilles heel. Last season, he posted a 1.29 HR/9 alongside a 39.6% ground ball rate. The number has fallen steadily over the past few seasons since 2014, when he posted a solid 54.8% rate. Paxton seems likely to serve as third starter for the Yanks this season behind Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Yankees continued with their pursuit of Patrick Corbin which could give them the best rotation in the game.
The M’s did very well in this deal, as they brought in three near major league ready prospects. The first, and perhaps most notable, prospect included was Justus Sheffield. The 22-year old lefty was ranked among the top 100 prospects in the league by all three major outlets. Baseball America had him at #41, MLB.com had him at #48 and Baseball Prospectus at #57. The young top prospect is coming off of a very solid season in which he posted a 2.56 ERA with a 3.13 FIP over 88 innings pitched.[email protected] ace James Paxton has been sent to the @Yankees as part of the offseason's first blockbuster trade. @OrsattiJoe has in-depth analysis on what each team is getting in the big swap.Click To Tweet
His control wasn’t great (3.68 BB/9) and he rode an exceptionally low 3.9% HR/FB rate through the year. His velocity typically sits in the mid-90’s and he has an above average slider that could eventually become a plus pitch. I see him as a three or four long-term, based on his control, and if he can improve his change-up, he could be a two or three. He seems likely to begin the season with the major league squad.
The 25-year old right-handed pitcher Erik Swanson was excellent last season posting a 2.66 ERA while walking just 29 (2.15 BB/9). He can hit about 97 with his fastball, but typically sits in the 92-94 range. He also brings with him a solid change and slider. Swanson has been considered to be a long-term reliever by most scouts, but I vehemently disagree.
As a player with the ability to control a fastball, slider and change-up, I think he’s a mid-to-back of the rotation starter with the ceiling of a three and the more likely result of a four. The Mariners will need to add him to the 40-man roster tomorrow to protect him from the Rule V draft, and I would imagine he makes it to the major leagues by seasons’ end. With the Mariners in rebuild mode, he could replace Wade LeBlanc or Mike Leake in the rotation following a potential mid-season trade. For now, he should be expected to begin the season in Triple-A pitching in a rotation that also includes Max Povse, Casey Lawrence and Anthony Misiewicz.
Finally, the Mariners will acquire lefty center fielder, Dom Thompson-Williams. The 23-year old spent the 2018 season between Class A and Class A Advanced slashing .299/.363/.546 with 22 home runs and 20 stolen bases. While I wouldn’t consider this level of production to be sustainable based on a .354 BABip over 375 plate appearances in Class A Advanced and a .360 BABip over 40 plate appearances in Class A. While he’s athletic, he’s a slightly below average fielder, but he brings speed and power to the table. He’s probably a fourth outfielder long-term, and is at least two or three years away. I’m interested to see how he performs coming off of such a solid season.
This is actually a nice deal for both sides, as the Mariners, who had a farm system that was panned as the league’s worst, get to bring in a trio of very solid prospects while the Yankees get another front line starter who can replace J.A. Happ. Nevertheless, I would probably give the Mariners the edge here, as both Swanson and Sheffield are likely to get a shot in the major leagues and have the potential to be above average starting pitchers each coming with six years of team control.
That being said, I wholeheartedly believe that Paxton helps the Yankees in an exceptionally competitive division and that he will provide an above average presence in the rotation. While I have some concerns regarding his tendency to allow home runs with the move to the American League East, he will be a welcomed addition to an already dominant roster.