By shipping James Paxton to the New York Yankees today, the Seattle Mariners signaled they don’t intend on being competitive next year. Essentially, the Mariners chose to retreat and it was absolutely the right move for an organization in the midst of a 17-year postseason drought.

Before considering the Paxton deal from the Mariners’ perspective, we should spend a moment reflecting on the pitcher heading to the Big Apple.

Farewell Pax

Two years ago, Prospect Insider discussed Paxton after his first 50 MLB starts. At the time, we noted the Canadian’s career was off to a slow start, but his numbers hinted at potential greatness. Since then, he’s been living up to that promise.

Over the last two years, Paxton has been top-10 among AL starters with 250-plus innings in numerous categories – ERA, ERA+, FIP, walk and strikeout rates, and WAR. Moreover, “Big Maple” threw a no-hitter this year and was beginning to appear in the Mariners’ record book.

Paxton leaves Seattle tied with Hall of Famer Randy Johnson and former teammate Hisashi Iwakuma for the second best ERA (3.42) among Mariner starters with 500-plus innings – only Félix Hernández (3.34) has been better. Furthermore, the former Kentucky Wildcat’s strikeout rate (25.7%) ranks second to the Big Unit’s 28%.

Undoubtedly, Paxton’s departure saddens Mariners fans – that’s understandable. Not only is he immensely talented, the 30-year-old is likeable and reportedly a positive clubhouse influence. Still, moving the southpaw was inevitable and something general manager Jerry Dipoto had to do. Otherwise, he’d be committing roster malpractice.

Reality Check

The Mariners won 89 games last season, but finished well out of contention and wasn’t positioned to be a serious threat heading into next year – even if some fans felt otherwise. The bloated and probably untradeable contracts of Hernández ($27.9 million), Robinson Canó ($24 million), and Kyle Seager ($18.5 million) were going to hamstring Dipoto’s attempts to upgrade his aging roster.

It’s plausible the Mariners won’t mount a serious challenge for a division title until at least 2021. Ironically, that year would mark the twentieth anniversary of the team’s last postseason appearance. Also, Paxton would be 32-years-old and a pending free agent.

Some may suggest the Mariners could simply spend their way into relevance next year. Perhaps, but history suggests this organization wasn’t going to overextend its budget to be a fringe contender. Taking a step back and looking beyond 2019 was the only realistic course of action for Dipoto and his staff.

New Blood

In return for Paxton, Seattle receives three prospects who immediately improve the organization’s low-ranked minor league system – pitchers Justus Sheffield and Erik Swanson and outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams.

Undoubtedly, Sheffield is the centerpiece of the deal for Seattle. According to MLB Prospect Watch, he’s the thirty-first best prospect in baseball. That makes the 22-year-old, who currently projects as a number-3 starter, the only top-100 prospect in the Mariners’ system.

Currently, Swanson appears to be a back-of-the-rotation type. The majority of the 25-year-old’s playing time came with Class-AA Trenton and Class-AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season. In 122.1 innings, he had a 2.82 ERA with an impressive 10.3 SO/9 rate.

Both Sheffield and Swanson could conceivably contribute to the big league club this coming season, while Thompson-Williams is a few years away from MLB action.

Thompson-Williams slashed .299/.363/.546 with 22 home runs this year, while splitting time between Class-A and High-A. It’s too early to tell whether the left-handed hitter with plus-speed can continue his success at higher levels. For now, the 23-year-old looks like a fourth outfielder, although he could change minds by continuing to hit.

Now What?

Today’s trade wasn’t a franchise-changing move, but the Mariners’ system gained something it didn’t have yesterday. Two starting pitchers with a chance of contributing by the end of next season and certainly by 2020. Where Dipoto goes from here will be a Hot Stove mystery Mariners fans will be debating until he pulls the trigger again.

Does Dipoto continue tearing down his roster by moving high-profile players, such as Edwin Díaz and Mitch Haniger? On the other hand, does he take a more conservative approach towards building a competitive team within a few years?

If I had a vote, I’d opt to move Díaz and Haniger.

Both players are keys to the club’s current success and exceptional performers, but there are reasons to move past the pair. Díaz just had a historically good season he may never be able to repeat – he’ll never be more valuable on the trade market than he is now.

Meanwhile, Haniger will be entering his age-30 season in 2021 with just two years of club control remaining. Depending on the duration of the Mariners’ rebuild, the All-Star outfielder may be a pending free agent by the time Seattle is relevant again.

Regardless of whether Dipoto opts to blow up his roster or employ a slow-burn rebuild, one thing is certain. It’s going to be a fun offseason in the Emerald City.

At least that’s how I see it.

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Luke Arkins

Luke is a native New Yorker, who grew up a Mets fan. After the US Navy moved him to the Pacific Northwest in 2009, he decided to make Seattle his home. In 2014, Luke joined the Prospect Insider team and is now a contributor at HERO Sports also. During baseball season, he can be often found observing the local team at Safeco Field. You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins

6 Comments

  1. The return still feels a little short despite that but I don’t think it’s as bad as everyone seems to be making out. I would have hoped for another Braden Bishop caliber prospect in the deal but maybe that wasn’t realistic. I’m also sceptical that waiting until the trade deadline is smart for a pitcher that probably has a 50/50 chance of hitting the DL for some stretch by then, not to mention losing half a year of control.

  2. Author

    What teams would Paxton have been an ace for? Not these teams in 2018…

    Astros
    Mets
    Nationals
    Red Sox
    Indians
    Rays
    Rockies
    Dodgers
    Cardinals
    Yankees
    Phillies

    Paxton may have better stuff. But Archer has demonstrated a quality that Paxton has not….availability.

    Archer has qualified for the ERA four times in his career. Paxton has never qualified. That’s the risk the Yankees are accepting. Paxton could win the Cy Young or miss half the season or more.

  3. The bigger question is this. If we are looking to competing in 2 or 3 years, will Dipoto let the farm mature?

  4. How would you compare the prospects Tampa received from Pittsburgh for Chris Archer to what we received for Paxton?

  5. I am underwhelmed by the return. There absolutely should have been another org top 10 prospect included in the trade. Paxton is a #1 starter on many teams and had 2 years of affordable control. NY also has the option to place a qualifying offer after his final year. Shouldn’t the qualifying offer net another org top 10 prospect? I would have loved something similar to the Tampa’s return for Archer, albeit Archer came with more control, less money but inferior stuff. This, combined with the return for Zunino, in a catching starved market has me concerned with Dipoto’s ability to orchestrate this rebuild.

  6. Agreed, will be interesting to watch. If they go for a fire sale and do a full tear down they could have a top 10-15 farm system almost instantly, if they’re willing to trade Diaz, Haniger, Segura, Gonzales, and maybe Smith. Even if they target for young MLB or near MLB talent, they could still put together a top 20 system, which could get even better over the next couple drafts. I don’t see the point in holding onto Diaz, Haniger, Segura, or Gonzales at this point, and with that pretty much everyone else that can be traded who is currently projected for the 25 man roster. Even Seager probably has some trade value if they ate some of the contract. They could be in really good shape 3-5 years down the line depending on what choices they make and how some of the PD turns out along the way.

    I don’t know how to feel about the Paxton trade. I don’t think it’s a disaster, and I understand with his injury history and possibly his contact management issues the last couple years, his value was lower than a lot of fans would like, and Sheffield is a good prospect, better than anyone else the team has, but I would have thought they could have gotten at least an extra 45+ FV prospect or something along those lines for him. Maybe I’m undervaluing the return, or overvaluing Paxton.

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