Yankees: What Comes Next Will Determine Whether James Paxton Trade Was Worthwhile

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The New York Yankees were one of the first teams to pull off a significant trade this offseason in acquiring left-hander James Paxton from the Seattle Mariners. While Paxton certainly deepens their starting rotation, what the Yankees do the rest of this offseason will determine whether their trade for the Big Maple is worth the price of admission.

Two weeks ago, the Yankees, a team in search of starting pitching, sent young left-hander Justus Sheffield, Erik Swanson, and Dom Thompson-Williams to the Mariners in exchange for Paxton — who helps accomplish their goal of adding top-of-the-rotation starters.

Last season, Paxton was an All-Star Game participant and continued to serve as the Mariners ace. Recording a 3.76 ERA and totaling a career-high 208 strikeouts, he was a reliable force on the rubber. The year prior he recorded a 2.98 ERA. When he has his command, Paxton is one of the best left-handers in Major League Baseball. He gets good movement on his breaking pitches, hits the high 90s on the radar with his fastball, and pitches deep into games.

With all that said, there are serious red flags on the 30-year-old’s resume. For starters, shoulder injuries and pain have held him back over the duration of his career. As a result, he’s never started more than 28 games in a single season. Now, he started that amount of games in 2018, so one could argue that the Yankees are acquiring him at the right time. But if Paxton is going to record an ERA near the one he posted last season (3.76), manager Aaron Boone is not going to be getting the ideal production from a supposed ace figure.

As @RPStratakos writes, the @Yankees will need to justify the James Paxton trade by further bolstering a World Series-caliber roster with more offseason moves.Click To Tweet

Luckily for Boone and company, it appears general manager Brian Cashman intends to pursue more starting pitching. The Yankees have repeatedly been linked to left-hander Patrick Corbin, and if their pursuit fails, they could pull out all the stops for 2015 American League Cy Young Award winning southpaw Dallas Keuchel. The Yankees have also been said to have interest in re-signing J.A. Happ who started 11 games for them after coming over in a midseason trade with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Last season was the most well-rounded season of Corbin’s career. He recorded a career-best 3.15 ERA, totaled 246 strikeouts (another career-best), and stayed healthy. While injuries are a major concern with Corbin (Corbin has suffered elbow injuries in the past), the Yankees realize they need to add starting pitching, and a top-of-the-rotation trio of Severino, Corbin, and Paxton would be deadly. Of course, there’s the scenario where the Yankees don’t sign Corbin, or even Keuchel. If they bring back Happ, or sign a middle-of-the-rotation starter to round out their rotation, it would be hard to definitely argue that the Yankees are the best team in the American League East.

Sure, Nathan Eovaldi, Craig Kimbrel, and Joe Kelly are free agents, but the World Series champion Boston Red Sox still feature Chris Sale, David Price, and Rick Porcello in their starting rotation, and have one of, if not the best lineup in MLB. The Tampa Bay Rays won 90 games with one of the youngest rosters in the sport; that win total could rise in 2019. Considering the competition they will be faced with from the Red Sox and Rays in the AL East, as well as the Houston Astros, Cleveland Indians, and potentially Oakland Athletics in the AL, in general, it’s imperative that the Yankees shore up their rotation.

Throughout the first half of the regular season, Luis Severino was a leading candidate to win the AL Cy Young Award. In the beginning of July, he owned a remarkable 1.98 ERA, but he faded in the second half of the season. Severino, at times, didn’t have his command and looked like a completely different pitcher than the ace the Yankees consider him to be, as his ERA rose to 3.39 ERA by year’s end. But it’s the right-hander’s postseason woes that have the Yankees in search of an ace, or top-of-the-rotation starter.

While he didn’t surrender a run in their Wild Card Game matchup with the Athletics, Severino had to be removed from the mound in the fifth inning after his pitch count was high, and he labored through at-bats. In Game 3 of the Yankees’ AL Division Series matchup with the Red Sox, Severino surrendered six runs in three innings pitched which helped pave the way for an embarrassing 16-1 loss in Yankee Stadium. It’s the second consecutive season that Severino has struggled in October. In 2017, he had to be removed in the first inning of the Yankees’ Wild Card game matchup with the Minnesota Twins after surrendering three runs in the first inning, and he pitched through the fifth inning just once in four postseason starts.

Cashman has said, on a number of occasions, that he intends to trade right-hander Sonny Gray after a year and a half of struggles and disappointment, which included a move to the bullpen in 2018. The Yankees re-signed long-time starting fixture C.C. Sabathia on a one-year deal, but the left-hander doesn’t pitch into the sixth inning often and isn’t a top-of-the-rotation starter at this stage of his career. When on top of his game, Masahiro Tanaka has been a steady force, but he’s been wildly inconsistent over the last two seasons.

Regardless of opinions that are, all of sudden, being asserted that Sheffield isn’t going to be a top-of-the-rotation starter, the left-hander has been viewed as one of the Yankees most prized prospects over the last two seasons. Trading him for Paxton speaks volumes as to how committed they are to having a potent starting rotation in 2019 — which is admirable. But trading for a pitcher who has never started 30 games, or pitched in the playoffs is a huge risk. With that said, if the Yankees can ink another frontline starter, then trading for Paxton is totally justifiable and worth the price of admission. It would also put them in a phenomenal position to reach the Fall Classic.

Regardless of the potential departures of David Robertson and Zach Britton, the Yankees still have one of the most lockdown bullpens in the sport, headlined by Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, and Chad Green. At the plate, they have a prolific lineup, headlined by Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Miguel Andujar, and Gleyber Torres.

The Big Maple bolsters the Yankees pitching staff. But if he’s the only new face in their starting rotation in Spring Training, the Yankees could be in trouble when it comes to their World Series aspirations. Meanwhile, if they add Corbin or Keuchel, their starting rotation will be amongst the elite once again.

A verdict on the Yankees trading for Paxton cannot truly be made until their offseason, in terms of significant transactions, comes to a close.

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