Despite the possibility of James Paxton leaving the Bronx next offseason, the New York Yankees should still win the four-player deal.
In November, it’ll be two years since the New York Yankees acquired James Paxton from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for three prospects.
In total, the Mariners received Justus Sheffield, Erik Swanson, and Dom Thompson-Williams from the Yankees. For New York, their desperate need for a top-tier starting pitcher made the trade possible. And despite the fact that Paxton may leave next winter, the Yanks should still certainly win this deal.
Paired with Luis Severino at the front of their rotation, the Yankees were expected to possess one of the best pitching staffs throughout the American League. The acquisition of Paxton wasn’t enough to surge past the Astros in the 2019 postseason though.
But despite the Yankees’ playoff woes from last year, Paxton was able to produce another quality performance during his first campaign in the Bronx.
Overall, the 31-year-old completed 150.2 innings and produced a 3.82 ERA (12th-lowest among all starters in the AL with at least 150 innings pitched). He also recorded a 3.86 FIP (tied for ninth-lowest), 4.03 xFIP (ninth-lowest), 1.28 WHIP (14th-lowest), .240 OPP AVG (tied for eighth-lowest), 29.4% strikeout rate (seventh-highest), 8.7% walk rate, 14.1% HR/FB rate, and 3.5 fWAR rating (12th-highest).
Heading into this season, the Yankees were hoping that Paxton would be able to at least replicate his production from 2019, if not improve off of it. But the veteran hurler underwent surgery earlier this spring to remove a cyst from his back.
Before Opening Day was delayed, Paxton was expected to miss at least the first month of the season. As a result of MLB’s hiatus, there’s a good chance he’ll be ready to take the mound if baseball returns this summer.
If Paxton remains healthy, he’ll likely be one of the top pitchers on the 2020 free-agent market. While there’s a chance that he could return for a third season in New York, playing somewhere else in 2021 is also possible.
Regardless of what happens next offseason, the Yankees won’t regret sending the Mariners three prospects for Paxton. Even if they receive just two seasons from the left-hander, it’ll still be more valuable than having six years of control with Sheffield, Swanson, and Thompson-Williams.
None of these players are currently expected to develop into All-Stars. Thus, the Yankees should still be considered the winner of this blockbuster trade.
Following his impressive 2018 campaign, the Mariners were expecting Sheffield to take the next step in his development last season. Although, the 23-year-old struggled mightily through the first half of the 2019 campaign.
During his 55 innings in Triple-A, Sheffield produced a miserable 6.87 ERA, 7.18 FIP, 6.05 xFIP, 1.82 WHIP, .267 OPP AVG, 18.3% strikeout rate, 15.6% walk rate, and 26.7% HR/FB rate. Furthermore, these pitching woes led to a mid-season demotion to Double-A for the former first-round selection.
Over his 12 starts in Double-A, the left-hander recorded a 2.19 ERA, 2.63 FIP, 3.19 xFIP, 1.03 WHIP, .216 OPP AVG, 27.9% strikeout rate, 5.9% walk rate, 5.9% HR/FB rate, and 43.5% GB rate. He found his footing after his demotion. Nonetheless, his struggles on the mound returned during his late-season promotion to the major leagues.
Starting in late August, Sheffield threw 33 innings and generated a 5.45 ERA, 4.27 FIP, 4.45 xFIP, 1.70 WHIP, .311 OPP AVG, 22.1% strikeout rate, 9.1% walk rate, and a concerning 13.8% HR/FB rate. Based on these results, it appears that the 6-foot hurler would likely benefit from starting the season in Triple-A.
Throughout Sheffield’s career, he’s been really effective at inducing a high number of ground balls. But until he becomes more consistent with his control, the long ball will continue to plague him.
Unlike Sheffield, Swanson was never a top prospect within the Yankees organization. If not for his breakout campaign in 2018, he’d still likely be a part of New York’s minor-league system.
During the 2018 season, the 26-year-old made just a pair of starts for Low-A Staten Island. The organization then promoted him to Double-A Trenton. Over his eight appearances with the Thunder, the right-hander completed 42.2 innings and produced a 0.42 ERA, 1.88 FIP, 2.92 xFIP, 0.87 WHIP, .155 OPP AVG, 34.8% strikeout rate, and 9.5% walk rate.
Since then, Swanson has failed to replicate his dominating performance as a starter. He’s now beginning to transition into a relief pitcher. This transformation started during his time in Triple-A last season and continued at the major league level.
Over the 6-foot-3 pitcher’s 19 appearances as a major-league reliever last season, he put together a 3.28 ERA, 4.75 FIP, 3.89 xFIP, 0.97 WHIP, .191 OPP AVG, 27.6% strikeout rate, 7.1% walk rate, and 48.4% GB rate.
Based on these metrics from the 2019 campaign, it appears that Swanson will become a multi-inning reliever. Since the Yankees already employ many pitchers who can fill that role for them this season, they definitely won’t lose any sleep over sending him to Seattle.
Similar to Swanson, Thompson-Williams would probably still be with the Yankees if he didn’t record a career-best performance in 2018.
After he struggled through his first two professional seasons, the 24-year-old outfielder exploded for 22 home runs, 74 RBI’s, a .247 ISO, .355 BABIP, 8.0% walk rate, 24.8% strikeout rate, 157 wRC+, and a slashing line of .299/.363/.546/.909 over his 411 plate appearances between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa.
Unfortunately for Thompson-Williams, he wasn’t able to maintain this production during his first season within the Mariners organization. In total, the left-handed batter earned 479 plate appearances and hit just 12 home runs, 41 RBI’s, a .157 ISO, .327 BABIP, 7.3% walk rate, 31.7% strikeout rate, 90 wRC+, and a slashing line of .234/.298/.391/.689.
The biggest concern for the former fifth-round selection is that his strikeout rate increased by 6.9% and his IFFB rate jumped from 11.2% to 17.9% in 2019. If these rates continue to rise this season, he likely won’t reach the majors until at least 2021. Thus, he’ll fail to alter his current ceiling as a fourth outfielder.