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Why James Paxton is a great pick-up for the Yankees

The southpaw tossed a no-hitter last season, and appears to be on the cusp of becoming baseball’s next great starting pitcher.

Seattle Mariners v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Brian Cashman made his intentions crystal clear. The Yankees’ number one priority this winter is to upgrade the starting pitching. Although they have been linked to a number of free agents and trade candidates, the team’s first major move on this front was to acquire Mariners ace James Paxton.

The southpaw just turned 30 years old, and is in his second arbitration year. MLB Trade Rumors projects that Paxton will earn $9 million in arbitration this winter. He is due to become a free agent following the 2020 season, so the Yankees have him under team control for two full seasons.

Paxton pitched to a 3.76 ERA and 1.10 WHIP over 160.1 innings for the Mariners in 2018. He struck out a whopping 11.7 batters per nine, while allowing only 1.3 home runs and 2.4 walks per nine.

Although Paxton produced a career-high 3.8 WAR in 2017 and dropped back to 2.9 WAR this past season, he is a strikeout pitcher who appears to be on the rise. Paxton made baseball history last May when he tossed a no-hitter against the Blue Jays in Toronto. He also notched 10-plus strikeout games eight times in 2018, including a career-high 16 in May against the Athletics.

“It was filthy. He was nasty from the beginning of the game,” teammate Felix Hernandez told the Seattle Times. “I was just watching the reactions from the hitters. They had no chance.”

Prior to that outing, Paxton had never recorded more than 10 strikeouts in a game. He followed that overpowering performance with the no-hitter in his very next start. He topped off that 99-pitch gem by throwing his three hardest pitches of the night, with each clocking in at over 98 mph.

Only four pitchers with at least 150 innings averaged more strikeouts per nine than Paxton in 2018. Chris Sale (13.5), Gerrit Cole (12.4), Max Scherzer (12.2), and Justin Verlander (12.2) topped Paxton, while Trevor Bauer, Jacob deGrom, Patrick Corbin, and Blake Snell also averaged more than 11 strikeouts per nine. That list reads like a who’s who of this season’s Cy Young Award balloting.

Paxton features a four-seam fastball, sinker, and cutter, while he is also known for his wicked knuckle-curve. His fastball lives in the high-nineties, but does top 100 mph on occasion. What’s not to like about a left-hander of Paxton’s ilk making half of his starts for the Bombers at Yankee Stadium?

I’ve been beating the drum for awhile that the Yankees should seek to upgrade their rotation via trade, and acquiring Paxton is a great move. I honestly feel that he has a higher ceiling than any of this winter’s free-agent starters. The Yankees made baseball history in 2018 with their power pitching, which contributed greatly to the team’s overall success. Paxton is a player who can help the club take that next step.

Although Paxton has yet to be named on a Cy Young Award ballot, many within the industry feel he is on the cusp of becoming the game’s next great starting pitcher. All signs certainly point to that possibility. Paxton is a great pick-up for the Yankees, who arrives at precisely the right time during his career. Ninja Cash strikes again.