Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

What about James Paxton?

Tanaka fever is subsiding a little bit in Seattle. For a few days it seemed like we were only counting down the hours until the Mariners announced their second big name signing of the off-season. But his recent trip across the Pacific seemed to indicate that the Japanese ace might not be as interested in Seattle as we had once thought. So while Jack and company try to weave their magic (and find some more money), we’re left waiting to see what the rotation will look like in April.

Yesterday, JJ took a look at some prospective pitchers the Mariners could pursue if the Tanaka sweepstakes doesn’t pan out for them. While there is certainly a great deal of talent available, and even more options through trade, the Mariners still have some decisions to make with regards to who to bring up from the farm system.

As it stands right now, the starting rotation will be (1) Felix Hernandez, and (2) Hisashi Iwakuma. Slots 3-5 are wide open. For a Mariners team that is employing the ‘win now’ strategy, it might be prudent to fill out those numbers a little bit more. For that reason I think we can fully expect to see at least one starting pitcher make their way to Seattle before the team heads to Peoria.

Lets assume they do that and there are two remaining spots in the rotation. The way I see it, (and JJ touched on this yesterday), those two slots should be filled by two of the following guys: Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez and Brandon Maurer.

By all accounts, Taijuan is pretty much MLB ready, the games he got in last September gave us a taste of what we can expect, and I think the Mariners would have a lot of explaining to do if they leave him off of the Seattle roster in 2014.

That leaves Paxton, Ramirez and Maurer up for one spot. Is it really feasible to see James Paxton in that spot?

Paxton is easily viewed as the front runner for that position. His incredible showing during the September call-ups in 2013 made us all think twice about just how many pitchers the Mariners had waiting in the wings.

Over four starts last September, Paxton went 3-0 with an ERA of 1.50 and WHIP of 0.917. Those are very, very impressive numbers. Especially if you recall that those starts were against four teams in the midst of a Wild Card berth. Tampa, St Louis, Detroit and Kansas City were all thwarted by the arm of the relatively unknown Paxton.

Those are some star caliber batters that Paxton was able to beat during those starts, and he certainly turned some heads while doing so. He has certainly earned the possibility of being in the starting five for the big club come April.

Where there is some cause for concern are his starts in Tacoma. I’ll admit, when I first heard that James Paxton was coming to Seattle to make a start in place of Felix (he was out with an injury at the time), I was a little bit amazed. His season in Tacoma was fine, but it certainly wasn’t anything that made me want him in Seattle.

In 2013 Paxton went 8-11 in Tacoma over 26 starts. His ERA was an inflated 4.45.

For comparison’s sake, those numbers are virtually the same as Kevin Millwood‘s numbers were in 2012 with the M’s (6-12, ERA 4.25 over 28 starts). I think we can all agree that we weren’t overly happy with that performance.

Paxton did win the PCL pitcher of the week award at the end of last June.  But he also threw a few elephants that same summer. In August he was pulled after only 2.2 innings and three earned runs, and then a week later went 4.2 innings and gave up eight earned runs on eight hits.

Streaky would certainly be the way to describe that.

I get it, he’s young, he threw some wicked games against some top caliber teams, and there is certainly room to grow. But I’m very hesitant to push him into that spot after only seeing him a few times last year. We were all quick to hop on the Brandon Maurer train after his incredible Spring Training session, but he came up to Seattle and got rocked a few weeks later. Maurer went back to Tacoma to get some time in at AAA.

It’s fine to hold onto a pitcher when he’s hot, and Paxton was very, very hot at the end of September. It’s going to be a real test to see if he can win out a slot in the rotation against Erasmo Ramirez and Brandon Maurer.

I like him, I was floored when we saw him last September, and I really want to see him again this year. If he can get hot, and stay hot, then I think there’s little doubt we’ll be hearing a lot more from James Paxton.


Tags: James Paxton Seattle Mariners

  • Robbie_Knopf

    Seems like no Mariners fans want Taijuan Walker being dealt in a Price trade, but would you be opposed to a deal headlined by Paxton? He’s in an interesting position as a player thanks to great stuff and a dominant 4-start debut in the big leagues, but he has also seen inconsistency in the minors and advanced age for a prospect (25). Do you think the Mariners should consider trading him?

    • Matthew Seto

      I wouldn’t be surprised if there have already been some offers for him that the M’s already declined. The problem is that he’s still relatively unproven, sure he had a few good games, but it’s not like you can throw him in the same boat as Taijuan and make an offer on Price.

      Any deal that the M’s saw for Paxton would probably be for less than what we, as fans, would have wanted for him. If he has another killer year then his value would drive up significantly higher, but for now I think most teams recognize he might have been lucky. The best bet may be to do what tedsfrozenhead suggested and simply hold onto all of their young pitchers and let them develop into a starting rotation, rather than trade them away and see them become number 2 guys somewhere else.

  • tedsfrozenhead

    I would like to see the Mariners hold onto their young pitchers until they have a year or two at the big level. This is a group that has so much potential, I would hate to see it realized for another team. The M’s might be in a win now mentality but the talent is not. Our young players might turn into something real special given the time

    • Matthew Seto

      Nothing would hurt more than seeing one of these guys go somewhere else and then become a staff ace or number 2 guy. But on the other hand, the rebuilding vision needs to be addressed, how long do we wait for them to develop? After a few years Cano is going to start to decline and that whole deal will have gone for not.

      I’m not saying they need to do anything crazy, but trading one of them for a top of the rotation pitcher wouldn’t be the worst thing the Mariners have ever done.

  • Scott Goin

    I certainly don’t see Walker as a lock for the rotation in April. A good cup of coffee doesn’t equal major league ready in my book. He could certainly use some extra seasoning in AAA. If we don’t think he’s totally ready, why start the clock on his free agency?

    Paxton struggled with his command all year. Was his sparkling September indicative of him figuring things out? Another big lefty, Randy Johnson, went from wild to Hall of Fame seemingly overnight. It’s not impossible. This is one case where I think Spring Training will tell us if Paxton deserves to be in Seattle on opening day. If he’s all over the place, send him to AAA.

    I’m not sure if the M’s could handle having two rookies in their rotation from day 1. Low pitch counts are going to mean an extra strain on the bullpen. That’s why I think Erasmo Ramirez has the best chance to join Walker or Paxton to begin the year.

    • Matthew Seto

      I would agree, two rookies in the rotation is certainly not ideal, and three would be horrendous, we definitely want to see another starting pitcher brought into the mix.

      The M’s are in an enviable position right now in the sense that they have quite a few pitchers who are on the cusp of breaking into the MLB. Give them another year of seasoning and we can hope to be competitive soon. In the mean time, they can lean on Erasmo the same way they did last year.