The hot stove has officially been turned on, and the first major move of the offseason (apologies to Mike Zunino) is the Yankees making a big November move, trading top prospect Justus Sheffield for Mariners pitcher James Paxton. New York is also sending prospects Don Thompson-Williams, an outfielder, and Erik Swanson, another pitcher, to Seattle in the deal.
Paxton was assumed to be on the move as soon as the Mariners announced they’d be undergoing a full rebuild, and now he’s landed in New York as the Yankees attempt to overhaul their rotation into something that can get them past the Red Sox in the AL East and other top teams like the Astros, A’s, or Indians (just kidding) in the postseason. They’ve made it clear that strengthening the rotation is their top priority in the offseason, and this probably won’t be their last major move to do so.
Paxton isn’t a free agent until 2021, and he put up a 3.76 ERA, a 3.23 FIP, and a 1.098 WHIP in 160.1 innings in 2018, despite multiple stints on the disabled list. He’s been a mostly reliable starter, despite having hit the DL six times in his career, and was one of the best pitchers available via trade this offseason. He also had an eagle land on him and threw a no-hitter this season, which has to count for something. Intangibles, baby!
His pitch count can sometimes get out of hand but as a third started behind Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka, it’s easy to see how he could work in the Yankees’ rotation.
Sheffield was named the Yankees’ number one prospect this summer and is widely considered to be one of the best pitching prospects in the game. The Yankees have been choosy in when and to whom they were willing to offer Sheffield as a trade chip, saving him for the right moment. Many teams asked for Sheffield as a return piece (the Marlins giving up Giancarlo Stanton without ensuring Sheffield came the other way remains one of the more egregious missteps from Miami’s new ownership), but time after time the Yankees declined to part with him.
In late September, Sheffield made his debut with the Yankees and completed a scoreless outing, although it took him some high wire walking to escape unscathed. In 2 2⁄3 innings over three games with the major league club, he allowed three runs off of four hits and a home run. Across two minor league levels, he had a 7-7 record with a 3.12 ERA in 98 innings over 19 games.
There are some doubts about Sheffield’s ability to be a top pitcher in the major leagues, but more has been made of lesser prospects. If he doesn’t pan out for the Mariners, New York will look even better here.
Multiple teams were in on Paxton, and would have made sense as a landing spot for the 30-year-old, but the Yankees made their play and got their guy as usual. This once again makes it look like there are only a few teams league-wide who are willing to make the big moves necessary to compete, giving the Yankees the upper hand without them having to give up a painful number of assets to get it.
Whether the pitching portion of the hot stove continues to revolve around the Yankees with many other teams sitting out the offseason again, we can’t know. This is an inauspicious start to the winter though, despite it being a big move, because we knew the Yankees were going to spend money and assets to compete. It would have been nice if another team in need of a reliable pitcher decided to do that as well.