Part 19 in a series analyzing the New York Yankees.
There is no denying if the season gets underway in July the Yankees will have benefited from the delayed start by virtue of having Giancarlo Stanton and possibly Aaron Judge, who each wouldn’t have been ready for Opening Day on March 26.
Since Stanton and Judge have higher profiles, the “blessing in disguise’’ description was affixed to the power-hitting outfielders. However, lefty starter James Paxton is also in that conversation.
Due to back surgery in February, the 31-year-old wasn’t expected to return until June, which would have left a hole in the starting rotation that also would have been without Domingo German (suspended) and Luis Severino, who was lost for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in late February.
Now, if the season starts in July, Paxton should be ready to fall in behind ace Gerrit Cole and join Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ and Jordan Montgomery in the rotation.
Paxton, who is pitching simulated games at his home in Wisconsin and eligible for free agency in November whether games are played or not, appears to have fully recovered from the back surgery that sidelined him in spring training.
“[His] issues look like they’ve resolved and he’s now just tuning up and getting ready,” GM Brian Cashman said on Thursday.
No one denies Paxton is talented. In five big-league seasons, he is 56-32 with a 3.50 ERA in 131 games (all starts). In his first Yankees season last year, Paxton went 15-6 with a 3.82 ERA in a career-high 29 starts. In two starts against the Astros in the ALCS, Paxton went 1-0 with a 2.16 ERA after a subpar start against the Twins in the ALDS.
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Paxton’s back problem surfaced at the end of the regular season but didn’t seem to bother him against the Astros.
The rub with Paxton is durability. Since 2014, he has been on the injured list at least once a year and has nine such stints in that time frame. He was shelved twice each in 2016, 2017 and 2018 with the Mariners. He was out from May 4-29 with an inflamed left knee in 2019 and, had this season started on time, Paxton would have made his 10th trip to the IL.
“If they start the season they are going to need him,’’ an NL talent evaluator said of the Yankees, who acquired Paxton from the Mariners following the 2018 season for three minor leaguers, which included pitching prospect Justus Sheffield. “Starting the season late could help him by reducing the wear and tear.’’
Considering the recovery time for Tommy John surgery is between 12 and 18 months, it’s conceivable Severino won’t return until next June and maybe not even then. German won 18 games last year but has a very shallow track record. Happ and Tanaka will join Paxton as free agents and will be 38 and 32, respectively, this fall.
Deivi Garcia, Clarke Schmidt and Michael King are solid pitching prospects, but nonetheless prospects at this point.
Paxton, who made $12.5 million last season, will be a free agent for the first time and represented by Scott Boras, whose track record strongly suggests clients test the free-agent waters. With all teams expected to take financial hits due to lost revenue what those waters will look like is uncertain.
Should there not be a season Paxton will leave interested teams, likely including the Yankees, with two of three postseason outings good and a dazzling 10-game stretch from Aug. 2-Sept. 21 in which the Yankees and Paxton went 10-0. Paxton posted a 2.25 ERA, allowed 35 hits and struck out 68 in 60 innings and held hitters to a .167 batting average and .514 OPS during that period.
Then his back issues surfaced on Sept. 27 when he went one inning against the Rangers in his final regular-season outing.
Paxton has no control over whether games are played or not, but he would seemingly benefit by pitching this year to show teams who might be interested in free-starters.
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