The 3 things the Mariners’ signing of James Paxton accomplishes
The Mariners’ latest move is one that comes with a lot of familiarity as it’s a reunion with left-handed pitcher James Paxton, a 2010 Seattle draft pick who pitched for the team from 2013 to 2018.
While with the Mariners, Paxton was routinely one of Seattle’s best arms – when healthy. After setting career highs in innings (160.1), strikeouts (208) and strikeouts per nine innings (11.7) in 2018, he was traded to the New York Yankees for a package of three prospects headlined by left-handed pitcher Justus Sheffield, who quietly had a very good rookie season for the Mariners in 2020 and will be joined in Seattle’s starting rotation in 2021 by Paxton.
As far as what’s next with Paxton, it’s evident that he’ll be one of Seattle’s top starting pitchers in 2021 as he returns to the team he’s had the most success with. But what else does the signing of Paxton do for him and the Mariners? Jake Heaps and Stacy Rost of 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jake and Stacy, as well as producer Curtis Rogers, went through three things the move accomplishes.
1. Adds a veteran presence to Seattle’s young core.
In 2020, the Mariners were very clear in their goal of letting young players get the lion’s share of innings and at-bats. As a result, the Mariners were one of the youngest teams in baseball. With most of those same players back in 2021, the Mariners will again be a young club, which means the 32-year-old Paxton will be one of the oldest players on the team.
Paxton’s deal hasn’t been made official, but as of now, the Mariners only have five players on the 40-man roster who are 30 years old or older. Paxton, who confirmed that he’s signing with the Mariners on Twitter, will make that number jump up to six as he will become the team’s second-oldest player behind only third baseman Kyle Seager (33).
“It’s not what Kyle Seager does for you because Kyle Seager is also one of your better players, but he is also going to be the oldest guy in there. Now you bring in James Paxton as another veteran presence, this time for your starters,” Rost said.
The rotation was extremely young last season as well, and 29-year-old lefty Marco Gonzales, who has quietly become one of the better and most consistent pitchers in baseball, has become that unit’s leader. Paxton’s age, familiarity with the organization and success at the MLB level make him someone that younger pitchers should be able to learn a lot from.
2. It’s a move the fans want to see.
Aside from adding some arms in the bullpen and dishing out some minor-league contracts, it’s been a very quiet offseason for the Mariners, which has been upsetting to many in the fan base who feel the team could potentially compete for a playoff spot in 2021 if it makes the right moves. There was also a level of concern that the team isn’t wanting to spend going forward.
With the Mariners reportedly giving Paxton an $8.5 million deal that can get up to $10 million due to incentives, Rost and Rogers think that the signing changes the outlook of Seattle’s offseason.
“Bringing in a fan favorite always helps, but it also quiets a few of the complaints about a lack of movement with free agents or trades from a general manager we are very used to seeing make moves,” Rost said, referencing Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto.
Rogers said the excitement level from fans on social media has changed since the signing was reported Saturday night.
“You can tell there is an energy now surrounding the start of spring training among the Mariners fan base that I would say wasn’t at this level on say Friday night,” he said. “James Paxton is a known commodity to so many Mariners fans, he’s a likable guy who had some incredible seasons and incredible moments with this team and has been one of the best bright spots in probably the darkest era of Mariners franchise history.”
Many members of the Mariners have made it clear they hope 2021 is a year they can contend for a playoff spot, and Heaps thinks Paxton joining the rotation could go a long way in making that happen.
“It is a significant upgrade to the talent of their six-man pitching rotation, which puts them in a better position to actually compete in their division and for a wild card race, potentially,” he said.
3. Gives the Mariners a potential chip for the trade deadline.
Prior to the 2020 season, the Mariners signed right-handed pitcher Taijuan Walker on a one-year deal. Like Paxton, Walker was previously one of Seattle’s top pitching prospects who was eventually traded by Dipoto, and he was looking for a team to re-establish himself with after an arm injury.
Walker pitched well in his return to Seattle, which allowed Seattle to trade him to Toronto for the stretch run, and the Blue Jays made the playoffs with Walker pitching exceptionally for them.
Paxton’s 2021 deal is worth more than Walker’s was, but there’s a chance he could also be traded by Dipoto for the second time depending on how the Mariners are doing when the trade deadline comes up.
“You acquire a potential trade piece to help you continue to make moves,” Rost said. “… I think Paxton knows the deal but also has a seemingly good relationship with the front office here.”
Heaps agreed that Paxton “knows what the situation is” and doesn’t even think it’s wrong to discuss trading him in 2021 even though his contract isn’t even official yet.
“James Paxton, when he signed a one-year deal with the Mariners, he knew exactly the position he was getting himself in,” Heaps said. ‘”If I can showcase my talents at the beginning of the year, there’s a possibility I can get traded to a winning organization, go compete in the playoffs, maybe go after a World Series.'”
Heaps also noted that Paxton, even if the Mariners trade him for the second time, could come back to Seattle in free agency once again next offseason and potentially sign a long-term deal.
“It’s a one-year deal, so maybe after all that, I can still come back to the Mariners and sign a long-term contract if both sides really wanted to when it’s all said and done,” Heaps said of Paxton’s potential plans.
You can listen to the full discussion in the podcast at this link or in the player below.