According to Scott Boras, Paxton’s agent, the southpaw will be healthy for 2021 after not being ready for the 2020 season. He was recovering from back surgery, and per Boras, was unable to pitch at the level he wanted to.
Paxton made five starts at a 6.64 ERA this season. That follows a 3.82 ERA over 29 outings in 2019. The 2021 campaign will be his age-32 season. All of this combines for a potentially difficult offseason for Paxton.
There’s not going to be much money to go around this offseason. The top names – Trevor Bauer, J.T. Realmuto, George Springer – will still get paid, but those veteran, middle-tier free agents could get squeezed even further than previous winters. Paxton is into his thirties, he’s coming off an injury, and there are long-running durability concerns. He’s never made 30 starts in a season or pitched more than 160.1 innings.
A lot of teams need starting pitching, including the ready-to-spend New York Mets, but Paxton will not be the priority for many front offices. Any team investing in him will be betting on his health, and gambling on the fastball velocity returning (his four-seamer dropped over 3mph in 2020). Boras has given a qualifier to his poor performance and the lost velocity, but handing Paxton a hefty financial commitment is a lot of faith in a bounce back from a pitcher in his thirties. It’s a risk, and MLB front offices are expected to be extremely risk averse this offseason.
Ultimately, a one-year deal seems most likely for Paxton. There might not be much more than that out there for him. It’s a chance to rebuild his value ahead of hopefully a more fruitful free agency after next season. He needs the pitcher’s equivalent of the one-year pact Josh Donaldson signed with the Atlanta Braves.
Could the Yankees retain Paxton for a one-year, $12 million deal? Or will another team stump up a second year?
Rebuilding clubs could see Paxton as a potential asset if they can sign him up and get him pitching like he was in 2017 and/or 2018. Maybe a big market team spends to bring in a veteran starter, believing in Boras’ injury explanation.
Unfortunately for Paxton, there are plenty of good starters on the free agent market. Spotrac ranks him in seventh, but there’s little to choose between him and pitchers like Jose Quintana and Mike Minor. If a front office wants to roll the dice on an injury-troubled, experienced starter, surely Corey Kluber is the better option?
Paxton’s market, and the entirety of this MLB offseason, is unclear. The Giants, White Sox and Mets are all possible landing spots.
The Yankees also have J.A. Happ and Masahiro Tanaka heading for free agency. They could be players for Bauer, Marcus Stroman or Jake Odorizzi. Even so, Paxton would still be of use. He’s shown, when healthy, he can be a solid number three starter, and his struggles in 2020 should have suppressed his value. The Yankees can potentially take advantage of that and re-sign him on what could prove to be a bargain deal.
There will be other priorities. Adding Bauer alongside Gerrit Cole is a tantalising prospect. The Yankees would still need arms – starting pitching depth is as important as top-end quality. Paxton, who has struck out at least 28.3% of batters in each of the last four seasons, is a possible low-risk, high-reward signing.
Keeping him in New York should make life much easier for Cashman as he aims to construct a World Series winning rotation behind Cole.