And. Here. We. Go.
The first big move of the MLB off-season has happened, and it involves none other than the New York Yankees.
The Yankees addressed a major need in their starting rotation by acquiring James Paxton from the Seattle Mariners.
Paxton, who turned 30 years old about two weeks ago, had a solid 2018 campaign. This past season he put together an 11-6 record with a 3.76 ERA and 208 strikeouts in 160 1/3 innings. Those aren’t exactly ‘Ace’ numbers, but for a number two or three starter, which is what he’s being brought to New York to be, they’re pretty damn good.
Paxton's Career Stats:
102 games started
*Threw a no-hitter on May 8, 2018 against the Toronto Blue Jays
"The Big Maple" as he’s called, is entering his second year of arbitration, which gives the Yankees two more years of control. This is great news for the Yankees, as they are not giving up significant prospects for just one year of Paxton, and his arbitration number won’t break the bank. According to mlbtraderumours.com, who have developed a fairly accurate system for predicting arbitration numbers, they project Paxton to receive around $9 million for the 2019 season. Much less than a player such as Patrick Corbin or even J.A. Happ will sign for in free agency.
The one problem with Paxton, however, has been his health. This past season was the first time in his career that he started more than 25 games. In the previous four seasons, he started 13, 13, 20 and 24 games. As you can see, he has gotten healthier in each season, but it’s still obviously a concern going forward.
Now, in order to get a great pitcher like Paxton, you have to give up something. In this case, the Yankees gave up three prospects. The Yankees traded away left-handed pitcher Justus Sheffield, right-handed pitcher Erik Swanson, and outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams.
I’m a big fan of Justus Sheffield. Ever since the Yankees acquired him in the Andrew Miller trade back in 2016, I’ve been excited to see what he can do in the majors. We got a small glimpse of that this season as he appeared in three games for the Yankees, but you can’t make any sort of conclusions based on a three-game sample. Before being traded Sheffield was the number one prospect in New York’s farm system and according to mlb.com, he has already taken over the number one spot in Seattle’s system. Sheffield has put together an impressive career in the minors, pitching to a 2.48 ERA in 116 innings this past season between Double-A and Triple-A. Sheffield projects to be a number 3 or 4 pitcher, which is why he was expendable to the Yankees. The very best-case scenario for Sheffield would be for him to become as good of a pitcher as Paxton. If that does happen, it’s not going to be anytime in the next couple of years, which is when the Yankees need it. This is a win-now team and Paxton will help them much more over the next two years than Sheffield would have.
Erik Swanson, who was the Yankees 22nd ranked prospect, now becomes the Mariner’s 9th best prospect after this trade. He had a 2.66 ERA and 10.3 K/9 this past season between three levels of the minor leagues. He would’ve been subject to the rule-5 draft if the Yankees didn’t add him to the 40-man roster, something that wasn’t going to happen, so the Yankees avoided losing him for nothing by including him in this deal. Another solid pickup for the Mariners.
Dom Thompson-Williams is now Seattle’s 14th ranked prospect. Thompson-Williams is still quite a way from the majors but has shown some serious potential at the plate in the minors. Between A and High-A this year he hit 22 home runs, stole 20 bases and slashed .299/.363/.546. He’s a solid prospect but with the logjam at outfield in the Yankees organization, he became expendable.
Some Yankees fans will undoubtedly be upset about giving up a top prospect like Justus Sheffield for two years of a 30-year old pitcher, but this is exactly why you build your farm system up. The entire purpose of a farm system is to grow homegrown talent into MLB starters, which the Yankees have done with Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, Gary Sanchez, Gleyber Torres -- they traded for Torres, but he was developed in the Yankees system for two years -- and Miguel Andujar. Once you have a core of young, homegrown talent, you use the rest of your farm system to acquire talent that is ready to help you win a Championship now. It’s incredible how much fans overvalue prospects. Sure, it’s nice to look forward to that blue-chip prospect playing for your major league team in a few years, but in reality, every prospect is a crapshoot. Just because a player is dominant in the minors, it doesn’t mean that it will translate to the majors. I’d much rather have the proven MLB talent, James Paxton in this case, over the uncertain MLB talent, Justus Sheffield in this case.
Another positive for the Yankees is that they didn’t deplete the farm system to make this happen. Sure, they gave up some talented prospects, but they still have more than enough firepower to trade for a player like Corey Kluber or Carlos Carrasco to further improve their rotation.
New York’s current rotation:
Expect another big name to take over the vacancy.
It’s going to be one hell of an off-season in Major League Baseball.
PS. An eagle once flew at Paxton and he didn’t flinch. Dude is definitely Yankees material.