The Yankees need starting pitching and with an eye toward remaining fiscally responsible, the trade market offers some strong opportunities, including Mariners left-hander James Paxton.
Here are the pros and cons of the Yanks trading for Paxton, what he might cost, and what the team should ultimately do...
What makes Paxton a better fit than others?
Paxton has been consistently among the stronger rotation performers in the AL over the last few seasons. More importantly, he turned in a career year in several metrics in 2018 -- starts (28), innings (160.1), strikeouts (208), strikeouts per nine innings (11.7), strikeout to walk ratio (4.95) and WHIP (1.098).
Replicating or improving over this type of production would place Paxton solidly near the top of the Yankees current rotation options of CC Sabathia, Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka.
Paxton has two arbitration seasons ahead of him, with a 2019 estimated salary of $9 million. This would make his payroll cost less than half of what potential Yankees free agent targets and fellow left-handers Patrick Corbin and Dallas Keuchel could net per season. The shorter two-year commitment for the 30-year-old Paxton is also a potential benefit over pacts with Corbin (29) or Keuchel (31) that could take them through their age-33 and age-34 seasons, respectively.
What makes Paxton a lesser fit than others?
A career-high in innings pitched in 2018 is nice, but the number of frames is a concern even in an age where starting pitchers are not expected to be workhorses. Paxton, who has endured seven trips to the DL in his short big league career (two in 2018), has averaged just over 139 innings of work over his last three seasons.
Corbin and Keuchel have had their own injury issues, but Corbin tossed 200 innings in 2018, while Keuchel threw 204 innings. The Yankees would clearly have to weigh the chances that Paxton's trend of missing substantial innings is worth the risk.
Paxton is a heavy fly-ball pitcher and until last season he was able to keep the ball in the yard. But In 2018, Paxton allowed 23 home runs, which equates to 1.3 homers per nine inning - by far his most as a big leaguer. This does not bode all that well as a pitcher in Yankee Stadium, even though Paxton would be pitching to the larger side of the field.
What is the expected prospect commitment to trade for Paxton?
We've already noted that the payroll cost for Paxton would be a huge benefit to the Yankees as they are seeking to fill multiple roles - expensive ones at that - elsewhere on the roster. However, a sticking point could be the prospect cost.
The Mariners believe they have an ace on their hands and will likely try to hold out for a package that reflects as such. Early rumors have them seeking a deal similar to the one the Pirates received from the Astros for Gerrit Cole. The Mariners would clearly ask for a top prospect arm like Justus Sheffield or outfielder Estevan Florial along with at least two more second/third-tier prospects.
The Yankees surely have the prospect depth to lure Paxton from Seattle, but they'll have to determine whether the loss of said depth will impair the club elsewhere, whereby a free agent signing or stronger trade target might make more sense.
Paxton has plenty of potential - that is inarguable. But the Yankees cannot ignore the fact that he is not exceptional, nor a very durable pitcher; the last point making him an instant issue for a pitching staff that has injury concerns.
No doubt, acquiring Paxton comes with the benefit of allowing for signing a free agent as well, making for strong consideration. But if the Yankees become serious suitors for him, it's imperative they keep the prospect expenditure outside of its top commodities in an effort to maintain the organization's best chips for other means. Paxton simply falls short of such demands.