It seems as if James Paxton has been a Mariner a long time. Not Felix Hernandez long (since 2005) but long enough (2013) that he is a fixture. Which is why I’ve been amazed at his total accumulation in the simplest measurement of a starting pitcher’s contribution.
His career total is 41. For most of six seasons at the MLB level.
So if you are a little disappointed in the return the Mariners received from the Yankees for their No. 1 starter — three prospects, led by 22-year-old LHP Justus Sheffield, ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the organization — in a deal announced Monday, keep in mind that Paxton, who turned 30 last week, has a maple leaf tattoo on his arm that is far more indelible than the mark he left on the Mariners.
That is not a disparagement of him as a person, nor his competence as an MLB starting pitcher. But largely because of the breadth and depth of his injuries, Paxton has 52 fewer career wins than rotation mate Mike Leake, also 30.
Wins as a measure of value is under attack by data mavens as increasingly irrelevant. The pitch-by-committee-from-the-first-inning trend may indeed be here to stay, but that is not point. The point is that Paxton was outfitted to start 30-plus games and get to the seventh inning most games. You know, like, showing up.
He hit his career high this season with 28 starts and 160 innings pitched. His 11 wins missed tying his career high by one.
Yes, he was burdened by a Mariners offense apparently convinced that contacting the baseball was better done perhaps by text or call rather than tree parts. Nevertheless, his value was seen as insufficient for the Yankees to surrender a proven young MLB talent such as rookie infielder Gleybar Torres, 21, who hit .271 in 123 games.
Which means that the Mariners, in accepting three players virtually bereft of MLB experience, are in tear-down mode.
In a conference call Monday with local reporters, Dipoto admitted the Mariners were going to take a “step back” next season “with the hope we can take two steps forward,” he said.
Following the trade of C Mike Zunino, the Mariners are “re-imagining” — the word general manager Jerry Dipoto used after the season — the roster for 2020 and beyond.
Given that they are stuck with having to burn through the contracts of Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager, it’s the only way.
The dithering with incremental moves, hoping to grab a wild-card spot for a one-and-done appearance in the playoffs, lost its charm quickly when they won 89 games and were smoked in the stretch by the raggedy-ass Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays.
So Dipoto is moving his few attractive assets to re-stock the prospects bin while he waits for his draftees to go through the high-performance system directed by Dr. Lor . . . uh, never mind.
In a release, here’s what Dipoto said about his acquisitions:
“To add three dynamic athletes who are entering the prime of their respective careers, while also maintaining six seasons of club control for each, is very exciting.”
Justus Sheffield, LHP, 6-0, 200, 22, Tullahoma, TN: “An unquestionable prospect pedigree. With a combination of high-end velocity to go along with an advanced slider and a developing change-up, we think Justus has a chance to pitch at the upper portion of our rotation soon.”
Erik Swanson, RHP, 6-3, 235, 25, Cincinnati: “Has performed at every level, combining a mid-90s fastball as well as two effective secondary pitches. At 25, he is just entering the prime years of his career, and we think he will impact our Major League club in the near future.”
Dom Thompson-Williams, CF, 6-0, 190, 23, Sioux City, IA: “An electric athlete who we think will move quickly through our minor league system. He brings a powerful left-handed bat, speed on the bases and athleticism in the outfield.”
For what it’s worth, Sheffield was a first-round draftee (Cleveland, 2014), Swanson an eighth-rounder (Texas, 2014), and Thompson-Williams a fifth-rounder (Yankees, 2016). Since the Yankees’ lavish scouting system saw value in all three at one point, that may build a little cred for Dipoto, who in three Seattle drafts has yet to produce much in the way of even mid-term possibilities for the major league roster.
Given the seasonal results, the trades of Paxton and Zunino weren’t big surprises, but they were likely small shocks to those Mariners fans who enjoy getting familiar with players, however lame has been their collective productivity.
But sentiment is the first casualty in a baseball franchise tear-down. The second casualty is patience, with long-suffering fans giving up season tickets along with their expectations of success. The third casualty is usually the baseball bosses, but Dipoto and manager Scott Servais were given contract extensions the past summer when owners, media and fans went for the pump-fake provided by the season’s first half.
We’re all back on the baseball ground now. Where we shall be. For a long time.