James Paxton is Hurt. What’s Next?

The 2019 season is dead; long live the 2020 season. Pitchers and catchers are reporting to camp next week, so it was only natural that we have our first major injury. Of course, I’m talking about James Paxton, who recently underwent back surgery and will miss 3-4 months to start the year.

There’s obviously a bunch of fallout here. Earlier today, Derek outlined some of the external candidates for pitching depth, so check that out if you missed it. I wanted to take a quick look at what Paxton’s injury means for the Yankees currently on the roster (and for Paxton himself) to complement that. Here are some rapid-fire implications:

1. So Much for That Extension: A few weeks ago, I looked at what a potential Paxton extension would look like. A week later, I tried to project what his free agent profile will look like. All of that is irrelevant now, isn’t it? Although, it was kind of irrelevant all along. As we learned, this injury flared up in that horrifying first inning in Texas in 2019’s final weekend. The team knew about this all along, making the extension even less likely than it already was.

It’s all too bad for Paxton honestly. As Randy said yesterday, the injury-prone label will stick with him for another year. It’s definitely not what you want if you’re Paxton entering a walk year. That said, he’s still well-positioned. He and Zack Wheeler have a very similar career trajectory, injuries included, and Wheeler signed a $118 million deal a few months ago. Seriously:

  • Zack Wheeler (Age 29): 749.1 IP, 3.77 ERA, 22.8% K%, 8.5% BB%, .687 OPS against, 9.7 bWAR
  • James Paxton (Age 31): 733 IP, 3.50 ERA, 26.5% K%, 7.4% BB%, .670 OPS against, 12.9 bWAR

Obviously, Paxton is older, which absolutely matters, but he’s also been a better pitcher than Wheeler. In a relatively weak upcoming free agent class, Paxton still figures to be one of the best pitchers on the market. He should still get paid — and maybe even by the Yankees, who may also lose Masahiro Tanaka. Hopefully, for everyone’s sake, he pitches like 2019 second-half Paxton. That would be cool for the Yankees as well as Paxton’s future bank account.

2. Yankees’ Timing: If you view this through the lens of the team, it becomes pretty clear that things could be worse. Nobody wants one of their top-of-the-rotation guys to get hurt before the season begins — anyone else having flashbacks to Luis Severino last year or is it just me? — and especially not to their back. It’s scary. In the words of a former Yankee skipper, it is not what you want.

Image result for it's not what you want girardi

Still, let’s assume the 3-4 month timeline is accurate for a minute. It’s February 6 today, and exactly three months from now will be the first full week of May. That slates him to return in May-June, which is neither ideal nor a true panic situation. The team is good enough — turns out signing a guy like Cole is good! Imagine how we’d feel right now if they didn’t? — to weather this storm. Of course, that assumes no other injuries, but he should be back for the bulk of the season. And, more importantly, he’ll be ready to go for October if all goes well after he returns. That’s the end goal here, after all.

3. Internal Options: As I mentioned, Derek outlined the external options earlier today. There are a few compelling options — sign me up for Colin McHugh, myself — but I have a very good feeling that the guy to whom the turn to will come from inside the house. Here’s a rough sketch of where the Yankees pitching depth chart surely sits:

  1. Gerrit Cole
  2. Luis Severino
  3. James Paxton
  4. Masahiro Tanaka
  5. JA Happ
  6. Jordan Montgomery
  7. Jonathan Loáisiga
  8. Mike King
  9. Deivi Garcia

You could quibble with the order of the last few but it’s a good general sense. Montgomery, Loáisiga, King, and Deivi will all be fighting for that final rotation spot this spring. Add that to the list. Honestly, we all expected some sort of a competition anyway. There was always a possibility someone could overtake Happ. This just adds some urgency to it.

As for right now, the betting favorite has to be Montgomery. Before his 2019 return, I wrote up a brief refresher on him, so check that out for an in-depth review. There are reasons to be skeptical of him in 2020 — it’s hard to come back from an injury like that when you’re a low-velocity guy — but our man was really, really good in 2017. The best rookie pitcher in baseball, in fact.

After him, I think the Yankees love Loáisiga’s stuff a ton — I sure as hell do — and they’ve given him opportunities to start in both 2018 and 2019. He even made the ALCS roster. With him, though, the big question is injuries and whether or not they slot him in as a reliever to start the season. I’d think about doing that as his stuff probably plays up in the ‘pen, but he is a definite option to start.

The other two options, King and Deivi, would surprise me. King had a very nice 2019 and even made his MLB debut, but I think he’d have to really impress in Spring Training to win the job. As for Deivi, the Yankees have been very cautious — and he got rocked in Triple-A — and he’s still so young. I expect him to start the season in Scranton, and, if we’re being honest with ourselves, he probably should. But ultimately, who knows? Yankees baseball is nearly back, and that means there’s injury-related intrigue. Exciting!

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4 Comments

  1. Zach

    This is why I wasn’t very satisfied with Cashman’s offseason. Yes, he signed Cole, but the team seemed perfectly content to do nothing else whatsoever. No interest in acquiring depth, and this is the result. I’m really not sure the team is any better than last year once you factor in the players that left.

  2. DJ Lemeddardhieu

    What’s next is that Dr. Ahmad, Stevie Donahue and the entire training staff is fired, Bobby. Why the hell wasn’t this surgery done months ago right after the season? They always do this and then the guy ends up missing half the year when he coulda been ready for Spring Training. They went one step in putting Stevie in a ceremonial role and hiring a trainer that actually looks fit and healthy but they need to go further and just get rid of them.

    The one and only option here is Monty. He lost his job to injury and should be given the chance to win it back. 2 years ago Monty was the next Andy. Cessa is not a starter. Lasagna is needed in the pen. I just hope and pray they don’t go with that dumb opener idea. All that did was wear Green down and come October he had nothing left in the ALCS. King or Deivi would be interesting. I’d much rather give a kid a chance than go out and get another 5 ERA geezer like Happ.

  3. Mungo

    IIRC, Paxton is a Boras client. An extension probably wasn’t in the cards. If the Yankees want to bring him back, it’ll be at market prices. It still could happen, but only after he files for free agency.

  4. RetroRob

    Cessa is another option, although not ideal. He was better as a reliever than a starter, but if Paxton looks to return by early May (the optimistic scenario), then giving four or five starts to Cessa is certainly doable before returning him to the pen. Suggestion aside, I have a difficult time seeing them select Cessa over Montgomery, but it will come down to how Montgomery looks. He didn’t look particularly sharp in his rehab assignment and the few innings he tossed in the majors. Maybe he’ll need a month or so in AAA. Command is the last thing to return post TJS.

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