Phillies: High-risk, high-reward James Paxton a perfect fit

James Paxton #65, formerly of the New York Yankees (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
James Paxton #65, formerly of the New York Yankees (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

The Phillies should consider signing left-handed starting pitcher James Paxton.

The most likely path for the Philadelphia Phillies to make the postseason in 2021 is to spend money. If they were to sign catcher J.T. Realmuto, shortstop Didi Gregorius, a mid-rotation starter, and a couple of top bullpen arms, the team could compete in its second year under manager Joe Girardi. Unfortunately, it’s looking like Managing Partner John Middleton will “tighten the purse strings” instead.

In that case, their next best option would be to target high-risk, high-reward type players. Southpaw starting pitcher James Paxton fits this description, and should be one of their primary targets.

Paxton is an above-average pitcher. From 2016-2019, he racked up 15.2 fWAR in 101 starts. That averages out to 4.8 fWAR in a 32-start season. For comparison, Aaron Nola was worth an average of 4.5 fWAR per 32-game season over the same timespan. The problem is, Paxton has never made32 starts in a season. He has spent time on the injured list almost every year since his big-league debut in 2013. This past August with the New York Yankees, Paxton landed on the injured list with a left forearm flexor strain and missed the remainder of the season.

If it weren’t for that injury — and the spinal surgery he was recovering from at the beginning of 2020 — Paxton would probably be looking for a big contract right now. Instead, his future is uncertain.

MLB Trade Rumors predicts he will sign a one-year, $10 million contract. NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Corey Seidman made a similar prediction, while The Athletic’s Jim Bowden didn’t even include him on his list that predicts the contracts of the top 25 free agents. That’s precisely why Paxton is the perfect target for the Phillies.

There is an assumption that the Phillies will not sign any “big-ticket free agents” this offseason. Unfortunately, they need some star power if they want to compete. Mid-tier free agents, like Masahiro Tanaka or Jose Quintana, aren’t going to get the Phillies back to the postseason in 2021. Paxton will come relatively cheaply, but has the potential to bring at least some semblance of star power that this team desperately needs.

Trevor Bauer and Marcus Stroman are widely considered to be the top starters from this offseason’s free agent market. But from 2016-2019, Paxton actually had a higher fWAR than both — in fewer games played, too! While he’s a little older, he’ll only be 32 next season, so he shouldn’t be in decline quite yet.

If Paxton can stay healthy, he could end up being the steal of the offseason. Signing him would be a risk, and it could come back to haunt the Phillies. After all, if Paxton gets injured, we could be looking at Vince Velasquez in the rotation once again. That being said, if the Phillies want to compete without spending big, signing Paxton is among the smartest moves they can make.

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