Big Maple meets Big Apple. (I’m sure no one has said that already, by the way.)
The Yankees started their offseason with a few maintenance moves — bringing back CC Sabathia and Brett Gardner on one-year deals — but trading for James Paxton is the true opening salvo of the Bombers’ hot stove season.
The Mariners make noise and start off their rebuild, shooting a cannon at their own franchise — but in a good way.
Here’s how the trade shakes out.
Yankees grade: B+
In case you’re unaware, top-flight starting pitching doesn’t grow on trees, big maples or otherwise.
Paxton is a top-of-the-rotation guy when he’s healthy and on, and 2018 was a year of mostly good, some bad for Paxton. He pitched to a 3.76 ERA, striking out 208 in 160 1/3 innings of work for the Mariners. He also missed time with injury, which is an unfortunate theme of Paxton’s career.
The risky part here for the Yankees is that Paxton has yet to make 30-plus starts in a season, and has yet to make it to that magical (read as: arbitrary) 200-inning mark. While innings pitched are somewhat overrated in today’s game, Paxton is a 30-year-old with six seasons of injury-riddled baseball.
That’s not to diminish what he is, at all: he’s also a 30-year-old with two more years of team control and a career 3.13 FIP. Those are good numbers, and he’s not expected to carry the load with the Yankees, which helps. Not to mention he’s posted an ERA+ of under 100 just one time in his career (2015, 98).
The Yankees are going to run out a rotation that features Severino, Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka, two of which missed time with injuries in 2018. Paxton is a good name on paper and it makes a ton of sense, but he shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all, nor will he.
The Yankees aren’t done yet, and the only reason they lose points here is for giving up their No. 1 overall prospect for someone that’s talented but often injured. But hey, prospects are suspects until they prove otherwise.
Paxton is a proven, sure thing and the Yankees know exactly what they’re getting with him as they chase their 28th ring.
Mariners grade: A-
The Mariners made it abundantly clear that this offseason they would be more open than Odell Beckham Jr. in a 7-11, and this move solidifies that.
Getting back one of the top prospects in all of baseball in Justus Sheffield is a very good move for them. Sheffield, a lefty starter, is ranked No. 31 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 (No. 1 overall in the Yankees’ farm system) and was a centerpiece in the 2016 trade that sent Andrew Miller to the Indians and Sheffield, Clint Frazier and others back to the Yankees.
In 25 starts between Double and Triple A in 2018, Sheffield posted a 2.48 ERA. He had a short stint with the major-league club towards the end of the year, allowing three runs in 2 2/3 innings out of the bullpen. Sheffield still needs a bit more time to develop, as some scouts say he needs better fastball control, even though he pitches with good velocity.
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The Mariners also get back Erik Swanson, a hot name in 2018, though he’s generally been a mixed bag throughout his tenure: with a 2019 ETA, Swanson pitches with good velocity (which can reach 97), but has yet to develop a true out pitch out of the bullpen.
All things considered, unloaded Paxton for a top prospect is a good thing, even if he’s middle-of-the-road when it comes to all of baseball.
This is one of those rare trades where both sides got exactly what they needed: the Yankees got a proven, top-of-the-rotation guy to pair with (potential) ace Luis Severino, shoring up their rotation, while the Mariners start their tear-down with a bang, grabbing a prospect who needs a little more time to marinate in the minors before becoming a big-time arm in a major-league rotation.
The Yankees are in win-now mode and after watching Beantown win another championship, this is almost a move they had to make.
They’re not done yet either, and neither are the Mariners. With several enticing pieces left that can be moved, if the Mariners can pull some more moves like this, they’ll rebuild and restock sooner than many anticipated.