Is It Time for the Mariners to Extend James Paxton?

TORONTO, ON - MAY 8: James Paxton #65 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates after throwing a no-hitter during MLB game action against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on May 8, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - MAY 8: James Paxton #65 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates after throwing a no-hitter during MLB game action against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on May 8, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

The Seattle Mariners will have a lot of tough decisions to make this off-season. One of them could revolve around staff ace James Paxton, and whether or not he is worth investing in.

As with everything Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto will do from now until spring training 2019 he must first know the answer to this question: when will the Mariners be competitive again. If, as so many of us assume, his answer is 2019, could it be time to lock up The Big Maple, James Paxton?

If Dipoto decides his team will not compete in 2019, then James Paxton must become a part of the rebuild by being traded to the highest bidder. Paxton would undoubtedly return a nice haul of prospects to the Mariners, likely somewhere between the Sonny Gray package and the Chris Archer package.

However, until we hear or see otherwise, let’s operate under the assumption the team plans to compete in 2019. So does exploring an extension make sense for James Paxton and the Mariners? Let’s take a look.

Paxton will be 30-years-old entering the 2019 season and is under club control until after the 2020 season. While Paxton has 2 years of club control, arbitration will bump his salary significantly. After earning $5.5 million in 2018, Paxton will likely earn around $7.5 – $8 million in 2019 and roughly $12 million in 2020.

So already, the Mariners have Paxton on what is basically a 2 year, $20-$24 million deal. If they do not find a deal, Paxton will hit free agency November of 2020 as a 32-year-old. But what is the market value of an extension?

Over the past 3 seasons, Paxton has pitched like a low-end 1 or high-end 2. His 2.90 FIP, 10.3 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, and 3.54 ERA in that stretch point to a very good starter who can, on any given day, outduel any pitcher in baseball.

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However, there are a few strikes against Paxton. First, he is entering the back half of his prime season. He’s not 26-years-old, and teams will be hesitant to hand out big contracts to aging pitchers.

Second, Paxton has a history of injury, never throwing more than 150.1 innings in a season. However, the injuries in recent years haven’t come from throwing a baseball. Twice he has landed on the DL after getting hit square on the elbow by a line drive. Once, he landed on the DL after tripping during agility training.

His left arm also has fewer miles on it than most 30-year-olds, so it is possible that to spin the idea that Paxton could hold off the aging process longer than most in his position. Certainly, this is how his agent, Scott Boras would spin it.

That brings us to the third obstacle. Boras is notorious for not negotiating extensions with his clients, instead opting to test the free agent market as soon as possible. However, it is important to remember that James Paxton DOES NOT work for Scott Boras. In fact, Boras works for Paxton.

By all accounts, Paxton is very happy in Seattle and has no interest in leaving anytime soon. This makes sense, as his hometown of Ladner, British Columbia is just across the border.

So assuming that Paxton is open to an extension, and assuming the Mariners plan to compete in 2019, what does a Paxton extension look like? For starter, Paxton will almost certainly demand a raise over the next 2 years. If he goes to arbitration, he is looking at a 2 year, $24 million processes, at most. So bumping the AAV to $15 million makes some sense for both sides. Paxton gets guaranteed money now, and the Mariners are able to continue negotiating as they see fit.

Perhaps the biggest question in any talks would be the length. Undoubtedly, Boras will demand a ridiculous figure like a 6/$100 million deal. This is and would be a non-starter for the Mariners. The closest comp for Paxton over the past few years comes from Royals starter Danny Duffy.

Duffy signed a 5 year, $65 million extension in 2017. Duffy isn’t as good as James Paxton, but is a full year younger and has a longer track record of consistent success. A 5-year extension would make Paxton a Mariner until after his age 35 seasons, which might make it harder for him to hit on the second contract.

If the two sides can meet in the middle at 4 years, and come to an agreement on a salary close to Duffy’s AAV, a deal for a 4-year deal, worth $64 million could be beneficial to both sides. Paxton gets guaranteed money now, including a significant bump in salary for the 2019 season. He would also be able to hit free agency again at 34-years-old.

The Mariners lock down one of the better pitchers in the game, who still has upside potential to be even better than he is. The contract will also not prohibit the Mariners from finding trade suitors down the line, so there is a very little long-term risk.

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An extension in the range proposed above could be a classic win-win for player and team. And if the Mariners are going to continue to play a contender for the next few years, they may be wise to lock up their Big Maple.