MLB free agency: Bounce-back candidate James Paxton could give Phillies bang for their buck

Corey Seidman
·4 min read

A bounce-back lefty who could maybe provide Phillies bang for their buck originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Phillies spent over $700 million on free agents the last three offseasons. Spending all over baseball could be impacted this winter by revenues lost because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that's not going to stop us from taking a daily look these next few weeks at some free agents who would fill needs and help the Phillies get better.

Today: Left-handed starting pitcher James Paxton

Career to date

Paxton made just five starts this season, missing half the summer with a left flexor strain.

Injuries have been a consistent theme throughout his career. 

  • 2020: Left flexor strain (missed three weeks)

  • 2019: Left flexor strain (missed a month)

  • 2018: Back inflammation (missed two weeks)

  • 2018: Forearm contusion (missed two weeks)

  • 2017: Left forearm strain (missed three weeks)

  • 2017: Strained left pectoral muscle (missed five weeks)

  • 2016: Left elbow contusion (missed two weeks)

  • 2015: Left middle finger strain (missed two months)

  • 2014: Lat strain (missed 11 weeks)

When healthy, he's been an effective left-handed starter who can slot in toward the top of a rotation. Paxton has a 3.58 career ERA and 1.21 WHIP with 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings. His ERA is about 15% better than the league average over that span.

Over the last four seasons, Paxton is 39-18 with a 3.68 ERA and 109 more strikeouts than innings pitched. He's averaged 5.4 innings per start.

2020 season

Paxton allowed 15 runs in 20 innings in five forgettable starts with the Yankees. He did not pitch in the playoffs.

His best start was August 9 in Tampa against the first-place Rays. Paxton's night began with six straight scoreless innings and 11 strikeouts before he gave up back-to-back homers in the seventh.

When he's on, that's the kind of dominant night he can have.

How he’d impact the Phillies

The Phillies do not have starting pitching depth after Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Zach Eflin and Spencer Howard. They also don't really know yet whether Howard can assume a full workload of 175+ innings in his second season.

Adding at least one capable starting pitcher this offseason is imperative for the Phillies, who had so little depth in 2020 that they had to give five starts to the group of David Hale, Blake Parker, Ramon Rosso and Adonis Medina.

Paxton would certainly give the Phillies a new look in the rotation as they have not had a deceptive lefty starter in years, probably since Cole Hamels. He'd also give the Phils another high-upside arm.

There will be plenty of interest in Paxton but he's more of a buy-low candidate given his rocky 2020 and long injury history. Of course, he's also represented by Scott Boras, so Paxton's next contract probably will not be too team-friendly.

Contract outlook

It was good news for Paxton that both Kevin Gausman and Marcus Stroman accepted their qualifying offers rather than reach free agency. It means that Paxton will be higher on the list for teams in need of a starter, which is pretty much the entire league.

Among free-agent starting pitchers, Paxton is obviously behind Trevor Bauer but closely aligned with the next tier of Masahiro Tanaka, Jose Quintana, Jake Odorizzi, Taijuan Walker, Corey Kluber and Garrett Richards. All of them have No. 2 or No. 3 starter upside but each comes with a knock, whether it's injuries, inconsistency, or poor 2020 performance.

Paxton is in line for a one-year deal in the $8-10 million range. Perhaps a team sweetens the offer with a second-year option that vests with a certain number of starts.

Paxton could make sense for the Phillies because what they need more than anything else is to find surplus value with a free agent. They need to sign a guy who outperforms his contract. The free-agent production the Phillies did receive under former GM Matt Klentak came from players who were paid a lot of money — Bryce Harper, Zack Wheeler, Andrew McCutchen, even someone like Jeremy Hellickson.

In order to build roster depth and push the ball forward, the Phillies have to "hit" on a contract without paying top dollar. Perhaps that could be achieved with Paxton. The flipside is a David Robertson-like situation where the guy gets hurt and can't contribute. Many teams this winter will be weighing Paxton's effectiveness against his fragility.

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