James Paxton Justus Sheffield
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The New York Yankees acquired James Paxton from the Seattle Mariners. While a good deal, it comes with great risk.

Josh Benjamin

The New York Yankees achieved one of their offseason goals last night in acquiring James Paxton from the Seattle Mariners. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports was first to break the news.

In return, New York sent three prospects to Seattle. Outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams, pitcher Erik Swanson, and top prospect Justus Sheffield. Paxton will immediately join the team’s rotation as a fine complement to ace Luis Severino, while the three rookies all need some minor league seasoning.


But is Paxton the right man for the Yankees? He did just turn 30 and has a lengthy injury history. Still, his performance last season established him as an arm to watch. For a team in need of pitching like the Yankees, he can be an immediate boon.

Just the same, New York gave up quite a bit in the deal. That said, let’s see how it makes the grade.

The man of the hour

Let’s start the conversation with the latest toast of New York, James Paxton. The Canadian lefty went 11-6 in 28 starts in 2018, posting a 3.76 ERA.

He posted a career-high K/9 of 11.68 and had a FIP and xFIP of 3.24 and 3.02. This means for what his ERA actually was, he pitched with the effectiveness of a pitcher whose ERA was in the low threes.

Paxton also earned a spot in baseball history in 2018 when he threw a no-hitter against the Toronto Blue Jays on May 8.

But, like every new acquisition, Paxton comes with some red flags. The main one is his injury history.

He missed two and a half weeks last season with back inflammation. Last year, forearm and pectoral injuries limited him to 24 starts. From 2014 to 2016, being regularly banged up limited him to 46 starts in three years.

Sure, Paxton is an ace-quality arm, but he’s coming to New York looking more like the guy from Operation.

Concerning metrics

Now, let’s talk about his pitching metrics.

Paxton had a solid 2018, yes, but his fly-ball rate skyrocketed to 41.1 percent from 32.7 percent in 2017. His ground-ball rate dropped from 44.9 percent last year to 39.6 percent this season.

Paxton’s hard contact rate also rose slightly, from 30.3 percent to 34 percent.

With Yankee Stadium’s short porch in right field and such a rise in fly balls, James Paxton could very well give up more home runs once he puts on the pinstripes.

Paxton’s pitch selection could also upset the apple cart, as he threw his fastball 63.8 percent of the time in 2018, per Fangraphs. With the Yankees moving away from fastball usage, Paxton may have to learn how to make his curveball, cutter, or changeup more primary options.

Granted, the risk could yield a high reward, especially with Paxton having two more years of arbitration ahead of free agency in 2020. But despite that fine value, what New York gave to Seattle in the deal is something of a head-scratcher.

The prospect

Given how much the Mariners could have asked for James Paxton, the Yankees, in hindsight, didn’t give up all that much. Thompson-Williams is a 23-year-old left-handed outfield prospect who hit .299 with 22 home runs, 74 RBI, and 20 stolen bases across two levels of A-ball last season.

Erik Swanson, who turned 25 in September, was 8-2 with a 2.66 ERA across three levels of the minors. He struck out 139 hitters in just 121.2 innings and issued just 29 walks, logging an impressive 1.00 WHIP.

Given the amount of pitching depth the Yankees have down on the farm, trading Swanson isn’t exactly a huge sacrifice. The team was also facing a deadline to add him to the 40-Man roster or risk losing him in the Rule 5 Draft.

New York Yankees

The one man who makes this look like an overpay is Justus Sheffield, who New York acquired from the Cleveland Indians in 2016’s Andrew Miller trade.

The 22-year-old went 7-6 with a 2.48 ERA in 20 starts in Double and Triple-A ball. He struck out 123 batters in 116 innings but also issued 50 walks. He was part of September call-ups this season and posted a 10.13 ERA in three relief appearances.

A rare overpay

Look at it this way. Just as was the case with the Yankees, MLB.com now lists Sheffield as Seattle’s top prospect.

The Mariners traded Paxton as the first move of what looks like a complete roster teardown. He was dealt so the team wouldn’t have to pay him.

Yankees GM Brian Cashman, meanwhile, has mastered the art of underpaying in deals like this. This is the same man who traded Aroldis Chapman’s expiring contract to the Chicago Cubs for Gleyber Torres; the man who traded two prospects out for the season with injuries for Sonny Gray; the man who got Giancarlo Stanton for practically nothing.

Now he gives up the organization’s top prospect for two years of a 30-year-old arm with a laundry list of injury problems? The potential reward with Paxton is through the roof, but so is the risk New York is assuming.

Final thoughts

All in all, it’s hard to be too upset about the Yankees making this deal. Joel Sherman of The New York Post tweeted that the team never really saw Sheffield as an ace, so maybe James Paxton is indeed an upgrade.

But now consider this. CC Sabathia is retiring after next season, and there is no clear successor to his spot in the rotation at this point. That spot could have easily been filled by Sheffield in 2020.

Moreover, given Paxton’s injury history, Cashman should have held firmer in giving up less. Even if Sheffield isn’t ace material, he is a lot to give up for someone with Paxton’s injury history.

That said, as I prepare to do my best Mr. Feeny impression and grade this trade, I’ll close with this.

The New York Yankees acquiring James Paxton is indeed exciting; however, the deal probably could have still been made without the inclusion of Sheffield. Someone like Chance Adams or Jonathan Loaisiga should have been just as acceptable to Seattle.

Thus, Cashman gets points taken away for that.

Final grade: B-

New York Yankees

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