It's still hot stove season, and there is a ton of smoke surrounding James Paxton and a possible return to Seattle. There are multiple signs pointing to the Canadian and former Mariner making his way home. MLB insider Chris Cotillo, who covers the Red Sox, penned an article today highlighting the lefty starter's probability of returning to Boston. By the looks of it, good news for Mariner fans, not so much for Red Sox supporters.
"The Red Sox have talked to Paxton about a return but it looks like the Mariners are in play for him again."- Cotillo on James Paxton
Then there was Paxton's good friend, Chad Dey, who's connected and in the know with this ambiguous X post during yesterday's National Hockey League Winter Classic.
Yes, Paxton was undoubtedly in one of the T-Mobile Park suites taking in the Kraken's 3-0 win over the Golden Knights. Why would he be in Seattle during the offseason other than to chat with Jerry Dipoto, the Mariners' president of baseball operations, about a reunion? That makes a lot of sense from both a trade and roster construction perspective.
Say Dipoto and general manager Justin Hollander hold onto their highly touted pitching staff. Bryan Woo will likely be on another innings limit. He hurled a career-high 87 2/3 innings in 2023, and STEAMER projects him to throw 134 innings next season. If Woo is your fifth starter coming out of Peoria, the team will have to manage his innings at the major league level. However, if Paxton is in the fold, they could have a six-man rotation or even have Woo start the season in the Pacific Coast League, keeping him on a pitch count in Tacoma. If that sounds familiar, the team opted to take that approach with George Kirby at mid-season two years ago.
Additionally, Robbie Ray, barring any setbacks, is primed to return near the All-Star Break. With Paxton around, you ease Ray into the rotation, continue to manage Woo's workload or move one of the three to the bullpen for the stretch run. Imagine bringing the Big Maple out of the pen, a la Madison Baumgardner, in 2019, facing some of the dangerous lefty bats in the AL West (Alvarez, Seager, Tucker). The moment is there for the taking. Let's hope the front office pounces on the opportunity to inject more life into the offseason and provide depth for their signature trait, pitching.