Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman entered this offseason vowing to bolster their starting rotation, and he made major progress on that Monday night.
The Yankees acquired left-hander James Paxton from Seattle in exchange for three prospects LHP Justus Sheffield, RHP Erik Swanson and OF Dom Thompson-Williams. Sheffield was the top prospect in their system, brought over from Cleveland in the Andrew Miller trader in 2016.
Paxton, 30 years old, had his breakout season in 2018, as he went 11-6 with a 3.76 ERA (160.1IP, 134H, 67ER, 42BB, 208K, 23HR) in 28 starts with Seattle in 2018, setting career highs in innings pitched and collecting the first 200-strikeout season of his career. He had eight starts with at least 10 strikeouts, tied for sixth-most in the Majors. Among American League pitchers with at least 150.0IP, his 3.27 FIP was ninth-lowest.
“I couldn’t be more excited about it,” Paxton said of coming to the Yankees. “It’s going to be a fantastic opportunity in New York, always expecting to win, the way I do. I’m looking forward to being a part of a fantastic team.”
Paxton will likely be slotted in the top of the Yankees rotation between right-handers Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino. CC Sabathia will likely be their fourth or fifth starter, and the team is still deciding on whether to re-sign J.A. Happ, who was phenomenal the last two months of the season after he was acquired from Toronto.
The Yankees have signaled that they will move on from right-hander Sonny Gray, as they are hoping they can move him for another arm.
Paxton is an upgrade over Gray or any of the other young arms they had filling the rotation out last season, including Luis Cessa, Jonathan Loaisiga, and Domingo German.
It is possible that Loaisiga and German could have a spot in the rotation next season or they could be used in a future trade this offseason for a more proven arm, the way Sheffield was moved for Paxton.
A statement moment for Paxton came on May 8 at Toronto when he threw the first no-hitter of his career (9.0IP, 3BB, 7K) and the sixth in Mariners history (five by individual pitchers and one combined no-hitter). A native of Ladner, British Columbia, Paxton joined the 1945 Philadelphia A’s Dick Fowler as the only two Canada-born pitchers to throw a no-hitter. The start immediately followed an outing in which he struck out a career-high 16 batters in 7.0IP on May 2 vs. Oakland.
Over parts of six Major League seasons with the Mariners (2013-18), Paxton has gone 41-26 with a 3.42 ERA (582.1IP, 523H, 244R/221ER, 168BB, 617K, 54HR) in 102 starts, posting a sub-4.00 ERA in each of those six seasons. Among American League pitchers with at least 500.0IP since the start of 2013, his 3.42 ERA ranks seventh, while his 3.11 FIP is fourth-lowest in the AL over the span.
In 2017, Paxton was named Mariners “Pitcher of the Year” by the Seattle chapter of the BBWAA after going 12-5 with a 2.98 ERA (136.0IP, 45ER) and 156K in 24 starts. He was named AL “Pitcher of the Month” in July after posting a 6-0 record with a 1.37 ERA (39.1IP, 25H, 6ER, 6BB, 46K) in six starts that month, while becoming the first Mariner in team history to win six games in a calendar month.
Paxton was selected by the Mariners in the fourth round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Kentucky. He will become the eighth Canada-born pitcher to appear in a game for the Yankees and first since LHP Jeff Francis and RHP Chris Leroux pitched for the club in 2014.
Sheffield, 22, made his Major League debut with the Yankees in 2018, posting a 10.13 ERA (2.2IP, 4H, 3ER, 3BB, 1HR) in three relief appearances. In 25 combined games (20 starts) with Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, he went 7-6 with a 2.48 ERA (116.0IP, 82H, 37R/32ER, 50BB, 123K, 4HR). Originally a first round selection (31st overall) in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft by Cleveland, Sheffield was acquired by the Yankees on July 31, 2016, with OF Clint Frazier, RHP Ben Heller and RHP J.P. Feyereisen in exchange for LHP Andrew Miller.
Swanson, 25, was 8-2 with a 2.66 ERA (121.2IP, 93H, 38R/36ER, 29BB, 139K, 10HR) in 24 games (22 starts) across three levels in 2018. He made eight appearances (seven starts) with Double-A Trenton, 14 appearances (13 starts) with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and two rehab starts with short-season Single-A Staten Island. Swanson was selected by Texas in the eighth round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft and traded to the Yankees along with two other players in exchange for OF Carlos Beltrán on August 1, 2016.
Thompson-Williams, 23, hit .299/.363/.546 (110-for-368) with 63R, 17 doubles, 4 triples, an organization-high 22HR, 74RBI, 33BB and 20SB in 100 combined games with Single-A Charleston and Single-A Tampa in 2018. Originally selected by the Yankees in the fifth round of the 2016 First-Year Player Draft, Thompson-Williams attended the University of South Carolina.