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The dos and don’ts of the Mariners trading James Paxton to the Yankees

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The Yankees and Mariners made the blockbuster of the offseason so far. Here’s how to evaluate it.

Seattle Mariners v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Seattle Mariners traded James Paxton to the New York Yankees for pitchers Justus Sheffield and Erik Swanson, and outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams. This is a big trade, and we need to dig into it. Paxton was one of the most coveted players available in trade this offseason. Sheffield was one of the best prospects likely to be traded this offseason. It’s a fascinating trade, so let’s get into it.

We’ll sum this swap up with some important dos and don’ts for both teams.

DO: Be a little annoyed that the Yankees got better on paper

Paxton isn’t exactly an A-1, top-o’-the-rotation monster, but he is far more likely to help a major-league team in 2019 than Sheffield, Swanson, and Thompson-Williams put together. The Steamer projection system over at FanGraphs has Paxton with a 3.21 ERA in 185 innings next year, which would be worth about four or five Wins Above Replacement. That would be an improvement for any team, but it’s an especially substantial improvement for the Yankees, who had an extraordinarily deep lineup and bullpen but needed rotation help.

We can quibble about the merits of Paxton (and will in just a few moments) or what the Yankees gave up, but they’re unquestionably better on paper.

DON’T: Say things like, “The Yankees got an ace”

Paxton isn’t an ace. He’s more like the “Customers who looked at this item also bought” section on Amazon for people looking at aces. He is ace-adjacent.

He’s good, mind you. See the previous section. He’ll acquit himself well if he has to start Game 1 of the World Series, and he won’t seem out of place. But last year is the first time that he threw more than 136 innings or made more than 25 starts, and his ERA+ was 108, which was above-average but hardly dominant. He was more like Derek Holland than Max Scherzer, in other words.

Split the difference, then. Paxton has a 2018 Derek Holland floor with latent, eternal Max Scherzer upside. As long as he stays healthy, that is*.

* DON’T: Expect him to be healthy

Yeah, about that. Paxton will be 30 next year, and his top five seasons in innings pitched between the majors and minors go like this:

  1. 171 IP (2016)
  2. 160 IP (2018)
  3. 140 IP (2017)
  4. 97 IP (2014)
  5. 73 IP (2015)

Some pitchers spend their entire careers over a trap door. So far, Paxton has been one of them. If there’s good news, it’s that his last three years have been the healthiest.

DO: Wonder what it means that the Yankees used their silver trade bullet in this trade

Justus Sheffield has been mentioned in just about every trade rumor for the last few years, going from “untouchable” to the rumor du jour with every potential trade. He was the Yankees’ best prospect according to MLB Pipeline, and he was certainly the closest to the majors. While I don’t have the foggiest idea of exactly who the Yankees could have acquired in a Sheffield trade, it was not a small list. They could have traded for a lot of available pitchers. A lot of young pitchers under team control.

Pitchers like Sonny Gray, you know.

This will make the Yankees slightly more boring at the deadline, unless there’s a breakout performance in their system. With Sheffield gone, the Yankees don’t have that top-100 MLB prospect to dangle in front of everyone. They spent that chip on Paxton. We’ll see if it’s smart.

DON’T: Assume the Mariners are undergoing a full and total rebuild

Don’t call it a rebuild. It’s a reboot. A reload. It’s the Mariners getting younger while still having the tiniest of hopes that they’ll also be an interesting quasi-contender.

At first blush, it seems like a travesty for an 89-win team to give up on 2019 instead of double down, but the Mariners were outscored by a healthy margin and spent most of last season in the “How are they doing this?” section of baseball. Trading Paxton before he became a free agent or broke for good was wise, even for a team that felt like they were in it last year.

It’s just not a full White Sox-style teardown. Mike Zunino was traded for next year’s starting center fielder. Paxton was shipped for his likely replacement in the rotation. These aren’t A-ball fliers who might help in 2023; these are your 2019 Mariners, and you know that there will be another trade or thirty before the season starts.

Jerry Dipoto is the Mary Winchester of GMs. Replace every instance of “Winchester” with “Dipoto” in this passage, then replace every mention of “house” with “roster.”

However, the medium also claimed that there was an alternative, Mrs. Winchester was instructed to move west and appease the spirits by building a great house for them. As long as construction of the house never ceased, Mrs. Winchester could rest assured that her life was not in danger. Building such a house was even supposed to bring her eternal life.

It works perfectly. There will be more trades. The spirits demand them. And I don’t think they’ll fall into a neat rebuilding category.

DO: Assume the Mariners will be worse next year and extend the longest postseason drought in North American sports

There’s a chance that Sheffield will be more valuable for them than Paxton was last year. That’s the point of prospects, after all. It’s just not a great chance.

The Mariners will probably start the season with a weaker roster, but it’s worth noting that the roster they did have finished with a 77-85 Pythagorean record. They probably weren’t going to be as good as they were last year even with the same roster. Trading Paxton, though, almost guarantees it.

Though it’s possible that Jerry Transactions has a vision where he trades Paxton for a prospect under control for six years and then signs Dallas Keuchel to replace Paxton. It would be a nifty sleight-of-hand and totally on brand! Assuming that’s not likely, though.

Don’t: Accidentally mistake Dom Thompson-Williams for a gruff-but-endearing city councilman who always gives the local paper a good quote

Don’t bring your baggage about people’s names into here, man. We’re just talking baseball.

The Yankees are better, and the Mariners are more flexible, if a little worse. The Yankees haven’t quite done enough to be overwhelming favorites in the AL East, but they’ve certainly addressed what was their obvious weakness coming into the offseason. They probably aren’t done, and if you want to make them your World Series pick before the start of next season, I wouldn’t blame you.

Talking about the Yankees in that last sentence, just to be clear. I was referring to the Yankees.