2020 was a forgettable season for James Paxton. He missed time with a left flexor strain and was very ineffective when healthy. Injuries have been an issue throughout Paxton’s career and he likely won’t command much in free agency this offseason. Paxton has a career track record of being fairly effective when healthy, but he has missed time in all seven of his big-league seasons.
Paxton was drafted by his home country Toronto Blue Jays in the first round of the 2009 MLB Draft but elected to return to the University of Kentucky for one more year. He was then taken by the Seattle Mariners in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. Paxton spent his first two professional seasons between Single-A and Double-A before playing the 2013 season in Triple-A. Then, at the age of 24, he was called up and made his debut on Sept. 7, 2013. He pitched six solid innings, giving up just one run on four hits and one walk. He struck out three and earned his first Major League win. The left-hander made three more starts that September and surrendered just four earned runs over 24 innings while striking out 21 to seven walks.
“Big Maple” started the 2014 season in Seattle but landed on the disabled list due to a lat strain after two starts. He made just 13 starts that season after missing 11 weeks. 2015 was the second straight season in which he only made 13 starts. Paxton missed two months with a finger strain but returned to compete for a rotation spot out of camp in 2016. However, he posted an ERA over 9.00, so he started the season in the minors. He was called back up in June when Felix Hernandez was put on the disabled list. He ended up making 20 starts and held a 2.80 FIP. Paxton struck out 117 to just 24 walks over 121 innings.
The Canadian-born pitcher missed more time in 2017 on two separate DL stints. He missed five weeks from a strained left pectoral muscle and three weeks from a left forearm strain. Paxton had a sub-3.00 ERA that season in 24 starts, striking out a career-high 156 batters. 2018 was one of his best seasons despite missing a month due to forearm contusion and back inflammation. The good juju started when a bald eagle landed on him prior to his start on April 5. Less than a month later, on May 2, Paxton struck out a career-high 16 batters against the Oakland Athletics. Then, in his next start, he threw a no-hitter against none other than the Toronto Blue Jays in his home country. This feat gave him the title of the only Canadian-born Major League pitcher to toss a no-hitter in Canada.
On Nov. 19, 2018, the Mariners traded Paxton to the New York Yankees for Justus Sheffield, the Yankees’ top pitching prospect at the time, as well as Dom Thompson-Williams and Erik Swanson. Paxton went on to become the second Yankees pitcher (David Cone) to strike out 12 or more batters in consecutive starts in April. He had a solid overall first year with the Bronx Bombers. Over 29 starts, he went 15-6 with a 3.82 ERA, 117 ERA+, 186/55 K/BB, and 1.281 WHIP. Paxton missed a month with a left flexor strain, which was the same injury that made him miss the final three weeks of 2020 plus the postseason.
If it weren’t for his extensive injury history and age (32), Paxton would covet a lucrative multi-year contract. However, he won’t be able to demand much based on those points. He will likely earn a one-year “prove-it” deal worth around $8 million to 10 million. A team could add a second-year option that is vested on how many starts he makes in 2021.
Top Landing Spots
San Francisco Giants
The Giants are a clear rebuilding team and have four free agents in their starting rotation. Kevin Gausman, Jeff Samardzija, Trevor Cahill, and Drew Smyly are all free agents, so they will need to add as much depth as they can to it. A team like San Francisco, who is on the fringe of rebuilding and contention, can take a shot on a guy who has some things to prove.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox possess the offense needed to succeed in the American League Central. What they are lacking is pitching. Dallas Keuchel was a huge pickup for them in 2020 and adding another up-and-down veteran to their rotation could pay dividends. If he can stay healthy and consistent like Keuchel, Paxton’s veteran presence would be huge for the young team.
Los Angeles Angels
The Angels desperately need to surround Mike Trout with pitching and should sign whoever they can get their hands on. Paxton would be worth taking a shot on for them and would be a low-risk, high-reward situation. They also took a shot on another pitcher who eventually rejuvenated himself last year in Dylan Bundy.
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