After about two weeks of speculation, the Mariners have finally pulled the trigger on a deal for their ace James Paxton. Late Monday afternoon, Jerry Dipoto and co. agreed to a trade that sends Paxton to the New York Yankees for prospects Justus Sheffield, Erik Swanson, and Dom Thompson-Williams.
It’s a bittersweet day for the Mariners fanbase. Seattle’s front office has provided a breath of fresh air by finally acknowledging their own mediocrity; however, the forfeiture of their immediate future, by taking these first steps into their new direction, is still tough to witness, even if we all expected it and realize how necessary this truly was. James Paxton was a fantastic pitcher for Seattle, and an even better guy to root for, but he was one of the very few players the Mariners could sell high on to revitalize their horrific farm system and build a healthy dose of youth as they look to compete in the early 2020s.
With Dipoto’s comments about “reimagining” Seattle’s roster, anyone with two or less years of club control were immediately in danger of finding themselves elsewhere this offseason. Paxton, of course, being the biggest and most attractive player of all. Before we go into what the Mariners got in return for Paxton, prospect-wise, it’d be best to look at one of the more important positives in this deal for the M’s. By dealing Paxton, Seattle has cleared off an expected $9 million in payroll for this season, as well as $12-$15 million for 2020. Considering how tight finances are for them this season, any bit of extra space they can get helps.
With Félix Hernández and Juan Nicasio also coming off the books next Winter, the Mariners will now have about anywhere from $48 to $51 million in newfound payroll to play with. That’s huge for a team looking to re-open their window relatively quickly, especially with the likes of Chris Sale and Paul Goldschmidt hitting the open market in 2020.
Now, for the package coming back to Seattle. It’s pretty damn good. At the top, of course, is the widely-regarded number one prospect in the Yankees organization, Justus Sheffield. The 31st overall pick in the MLB Draft by the Cleveland Indians, Sheffield was acquired in 2016’s blockbuster deal revolving around Andrew Miller. While Sheffield isn’t an extremely dominant, high-strikeout type, his plus slider and changeup combo help him keep the ball on the ground which, in turn, keeps himself out of trouble.
In 20 appearances (15 starts) for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (shoutout The Office), Sheffield went 6-4 while posting a 2.56 ERA with an 8.59 K/9. Sheffield was then added to New York’s 40-man roster in September and appeared in three games, all in relief. He pitched well in his first two outings, versus the Rays and Red Sox respectively, but surrendered a three-run shot to J.D. Martinez in the season finale.
Sheffield will certainly finish his 2019 campaign atop Seattle’s rotation, but don’t be surprised if he either starts in the bullpen or in Triple-A Tacoma. But to clarify for those questioning exactly where he fits in the M’s future plans, Sheffield will be in their rotation sooner rather than later.
Joining Sheffield in the deal is right-handed starter Erik Swanson. The 25-year-old has been regarded as one of the Yankees’ most underrated prospects, dominating each and every level of their organization he’s pitched at. Swanson strikes a healthy number of opposing hitters out and doesn’t walk a ton of guys. He greatly relies on getting outs via the fly ball, posting a 45.6% FB rate in Triple-A last season. That likely wasn’t going to play well in Yankee Stadium, but shouldn’t be too much of a problem in Seattle’s more pitcher-friendly park.
Swanson doesn’t have much left to prove in the Minor Leagues, so it’s not entirely out of the question that he immediately slots into Seattle’s rotation on Opening Day. He’s a mid-ceiling, high-floor guy who should be a solid fourth or fifth starter for quite some time in the MLB.
The Mariners desperately needed young, controllable starting pitching, as their two top starting pitching prospects, Logan Gilbert and Sam Carlson, are still a couple years out from their respective debuts. Adding Sheffield and Swanson to the equation gives them immediate impact and control for years to come, especially when Gilbert and Carlson eventually enter the fold.
Perhaps the most interesting player in this deal, however, is outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams. The former South Carolina Gamecock has quickly rose through the ranks of New York’s system after an incredible 2018 season at High-A Tampa that saw him slash .290/.356/.517 with 17 home runs in 90 games. He also flashes a pretty nice glove and a ton of speed, though he more so projects as a corner outfielder rather than a centerfielder.
Thompson-Williams wasn’t always known for his power, however, as the 23-year-old made his money as a contact and speed type prior to his 2018 campaign. With the newfound power, though, Thompson-Williams compares similarly to top Brewers prospect Corey Ray. He’s someone that can make his way through a system pretty fast given his well-developed toolset. With the acquisitions of Thompson-Williams and Jake Fraley, who join the likes of Kyle Lewis, Julio Rodriguez, and Braden Bishop, the Mariners have a very exciting crop of young outfielders in their farm system.
While third party prospect rankings may suggest that this is an underwhelming deal for the Mariners, they’ve come away with one of the best pitching prospects in baseball, a solid third or fourth starter type, and a young five-tool outfielder who could transcend his early projections as a fourth outfielder. That’s a pretty good swing for Paxton, who has just two years left of club control and has yet to avoid the disabled list for a full season.
Before I conclude this article, I’d just like to thank James Paxton for his time with this organization. The Big Maple gave us plenty to cheer for in his five seasons with the Major League club, and I wish him nothing but the best in New York as he’ll get an opportunity to compete for a World Series. I was also at the Rogers Centre with my wife for his no-hitter this past May, just two days after our wedding, capping off such a magical week for the two of us.
Thank you for the memories, James.